"From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
"And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh."
Marriage is the most sacred and intimate relation that can exist between human beings. Man was created male and female, that each one might find some object out of himself to love, and that by reciprocal affection the spiritual natures of both man and woman might become enlarged in their capacities for the reception of the Divine life, and, by mutual help, that they might become one. And in the Golden Age of humanity they did become one by a process of orderly and harmonious development. As the distinctive nature of man and woman unfolded, each one put forth tendrils of thought and affection that were clasped by the other; and while the man became more distinctly masculine and the woman more distinctly feminine, they grew together into a more indissoluble and perfect unity. Each one helped the other to a more distinct personality; and the currents of their lives, having their source in the fountain of the Lord's life, flowed into each other, and flowed on together in unfailing and ever deepening streams. The spiritual degrees of mind of those innocent men and women flowed down into all human relations, bringing the life and the light of heaven into all their natural thoughts and affections, into all their words and deeds. The spiritual degrees of mind were harmoniously developed. They grew into each other's likeness and into the likeness of the Lord.
When man fell from a spiritual to a merely natural life, the whole order of his nature became inverted; the spiritual planes of his nature became divorced from the natural, and having no basis and no means of development, they became as dead, and man began to live wholly for himself. His thoughts and affections centred in himself. His regard for others was measured by what he could make them do for him. Man and woman became spiritually divorced from each other by everything that was false and evil in their natures. But while there were many causes that tended to drive them asunder, there were many still remaining that drew them together. Before the fall there was not a principle or a faculty, from the inmost to the outmost of the masculine or feminine being, which did not lead each to seek the other. By the death of the spiritual life the highest and most powerful sources of this conjoining power were cut off, and many of the merely natural tendencies to union were perverted. But many external links binding man and woman together still remained. Man and woman in every age and every state have been drawn towards each other; and while there has been much to hinder and repel, they have still found and must ever find mutual help in bearing life's burdens, in performing its labors and in overcoming the obstacles to their regeneration, and in regaining the interior union and perfection of the state from which they fell. I ask your attention to a statement of some of the ways in which marriage, even in the low and imperfect forms in which it now exists, assists the husband and wife in putting away their natural evils and falsities, and tends to the development of a genuine spiritual life.
The principal obstacles to man's regeneration are the love of self and of the world. Marriage is the great and most perfect school for learning and practising self-denial, and the exercise of those spiritual affections which constitute a spiritual life; and this is the special aspect in which I propose to present the subject.
The woman was created that she might convert the love of the man for himself into his love . for her. The end of marriage, therefore, so far as it relates to spiritual culture and regeneration, is the prevention of self-love, or its subjugation. It effects this end in various ways, and is one of the most beautiful examples of the manner in which the Lord provides for man in every state, and employs the same means to develop his spiritual nature, to restrain him from going farther astray; and to bring him back to unity with the Divine life and to harmony with the life of his fellow-men.
In the present state of humanity it is hardly possible that there will not be many obstacles to a complete spiritual union between husband and wife. Persons who have been educated in different families and in circumstances widely unlike must have acquired different habits and tastes; must view many questions in various if not opposite aspects, and there must be much that has become a second nature, to hold in abeyance, to change, and to surrender, before the unity of interior life can be established in external act. The first jar that disturbs the harmony of the union between husband and wife often arises from these diversities of taste and habit. Self-love delights to have its own way. It always feels that it ought to be gratified even when it does not insist upon it. If it keeps silent, a little is gained, for when self-assertion is restrained in the least, a step is taken in the right direction. If it yields from regard to another, it enters upon the most difficult work of regeneration.
The first state of married life is very favorable to the beginning of this work. The young husband and wife invest each other with many ideal perfections. The natural imagination is active, and throws a halo of light over every beloved object. It magnifies virtues and overlooks defects and clothes all things with its own hues. This ideal life is the blossoming of those faculties which are to ripen into fruit; the sweet prophecy of joys which may spring up all along the pathway of life, as the essential character is developed, growing brighter and purer as the spiritual and heavenly planes of the mind become unfolded. Those who mistake the flowers for the fruit are no doubt disappointed when they fade and fall. But this very illusion calls off the attention from real difficulties and disguises habits of thought and life, until objects of common interest in the various household arrangements and in the many plans for the future become absorbing. Thus, as one bond weakens, others become stronger, and the fibres are forming which are to be woven into the web of their mutual life, and bind husband and wife into one. We may suffer the bright hopes and expectations, which shot up wild and disorderly in our young imaginations, to live about our homes, and, without robbing them of their savor and bright hues, may sort each with its kind, and hedge them round with the binding growth of family attachments. Thus even in the beginning the conditions are most favorable to meet the exact wants and difficulties of married life. If marriage were invested with no hues of fancy, if it were not made roseate and glorious with hopes issuing from the opening fountain of life, if nothing but the hard and unrelenting facts appeared, we might shrink from this contact, and fail to obtain the rich blessings they are the rough instrument of conveying. The same law operates in every relation and duty of life. We never should gain the goal we value above all price, if we saw from the beginning all the difficulties which lie in the way.
But when the dissimilar habits and contrarieties of taste and opposite views begin to appear through the dissolving mists of youthful fancy, a multitude of mutual hopes and mutual fears have been formed; there are many pleasant memories whose influence still lingers like the fragrance of flowers; there are a multitude of events constantly occurring in which the husband and wife have a mutual interest. If they look to the future, they cannot fail to see that their happiness depends upon their mutual forbearance and helpfulness, and a most powerful motive is presented to yield their own predilections and to conform to the habits and tastes of each other. If they have any wisdom they will yield to the necessity, and they will find their happiness in it.
When the love of husband and wife for each other is genuine and unselfish, this renunciation of self for the sake of the other will be spontaneous and delightful. Self will be forgotten in the de sire to live solely for another, and the greater the external contrariety of taste and habit the better the opportunity to show the depth and strength of affection. When this is the case the beginning of regeneration becomes pleasant even, and we become initiated into the great and most important work of our lives without pain and conflict, and even by processes of delight. The husband and wife begin to render to each other the service for which they were created and destined. They are a help to each other in becoming all that their most glowing fancies ever conceived, and ineffably more.
But this is only the beginning. We have all much more to put away than diversities of taste, or dissimilar habits, or opposite opinions on matters of natural interest. A man or woman of even temper and established principles may meet these difficulties with composure, may yield without much apparent self-sacrifice and without any humiliation. But no persons can hold such intimate relations as husband and wife long, without penetrating beneath the surface and unveiling the secret springs of life. The mask we have worn, unconsciously to ourselves perhaps, will be removed, and our little weaknesses which, it may be, we cherish more than anything else, will be exposed; or the secret and selfish springs of action which constitute our inmost life are discovered by the sharp eyes of vigilant love. That is a discovery at which self-love may well tremble. There is just cause to fear that we who have been almost worshipped as a superior being shall fall from our high position, and there is no more certain or terrible cross for self-love than this. And when we find, as we shall often and always find when there is any real love for each other, that such discoveries are regarded with that beautiful charity which thinketh no evil and invests the objects of its affection with its own robe of whiteness, we shall be humbled and the force of our own selfishness will be weakened. Our evils appear more hateful to us than ever before. We shall keep a more vigilant watch over our hearts and lips, and strive more earnestly to be all that innocent and unsuspecting affection has ever imagined us to be.
There is another principle of our nature which tends to repress and prevent any selfish act, and that is fear; not the fear that we may be injured, but that we may injure and alienate affection. This fear must ever attend any profound and delicate regard for others. We are too ignorant of ourselves and others; we are continually liable to misapprehension. We know how impossible it is for us to express ourselves clearly, and how prone we are to mistake a casual outburst of feeling for a settled principle of character; and the more fully we are aware of these defects in ourselves the more carefully we shall guard against putting a wrong construction upon the words or actions of others. We shall fear to do them wrong, and this will lead us to strive to give them no occasion to distrust us. It will lead us to repress and put away everything in our conduct and in our thoughts and affections even, that will cause them a moment's pain. This holy fear acts as a constant watch against selfishness, and presents a powerful motive to repress and overcome it.
But the work of regeneration cannot be effected suddenly. It is not the work of a day or a year, but of a life. It is the putting off of our selfish, evil nature, and the putting on of an unselfish and good nature. And this can only be done little by little. It cannot be effected in general without descending into particulars. It is only those who are faithful in the least that are faithful in much. We must enter upon the work and carry it on, thought by thought and act by act, in the most common and least things. No condition can be conceived more favorable to this necessity of the work than married life. It is a daily and constant life. It is not merely contact upon great occasions, but upon all points, at all times. The moments and the hours run as small filaments through the whole web of life. There is nothing that tries our temper and tests our resources like this. It is not difficult for the most unamiable and selfish to be agreeable for a time on set occasions. But no mask can withstand the attrition of daily and homely contact.
When there is no real love, this daily and constant attrition annoys and frets, and, like rust, eats away all the external beauty and polish of manner and formal intercourse. It forms the Liliputian cords which bind the strong man to the earth, and the poisoned arrows which nettle and sting the spirit to madness. But where natures are homogeneous, continual and intimate relations have the opposite effect. They serve to communicate the life of each to the other, and to give mutual help in the great work of spiritual culture. As the blood is propelled from the heart through the arteries to the inconceivably fine net-work of vessels which covers and penetrates the whole system, and there exerts its power to build up new tissue and to restore strength to the body, so the life that dwells in the heart of husband or wife must flow forth into innumerable uses and duties which cover and penetrate with their fine meshes the mind and soul of each. Here they come in contact. Here they give and receive mutual help. In the proper performance of these little things the wastes of life are repaired, and the great vital organs within are kept in vigorous and healthful activity. It is this faithfulness in these least things that renders us faithful in much. A pleasant look, a tone molded with the winning harmonies of affection, a kind inquiry, a cheering word, the pleasant surprise of anticipated want, the cheerful surrender of some personal pleasure, a promptness to lend a helping hand to bear life's burdens and perform its duties, these are the bonds which link souls together, and the medium through which they interchange their life.
These are also the most favorable opportunities for the subjugation of self. We can commence and carry on the work little by little, as all great and permanent changes are wrought. We are not disheartened at the greatness of the work. It is only a little surrender that must be made at any one time. Self-love and pride do not take the alarm, and thus we undermine and sap their strongest citadels. The work is not too great for our strength and goes imperceptibly on, until the force of our self-love is broken, and a natural affection gives place to a spiritual one. Spiritual affections and thoughts flow down into the natural and gain a lodgement in these orderly forms prepared for them, and begin to assume their proper office of restraining and guiding them.
It is also through these little channels, these common courtesies, these little unremembered acts, which, as has been well said, form the best portion of a good man's life,-it is through these sweet charities which we bring to the domestic altar that the interchange of life goes on. It is through these mediums that the electric fires in each heart play and fill the whole being with peaceful and interior delights. The husband and wife soon find in this reciprocal interchange of life that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that giving does not impoverish but increases the store of love. They soon learn, by the faithful practice of these little duties, that their happiness is on the side of unselfish affection, and lies in the direction of self-surrender and along the path of regenerate life.
This transfusion of the life of each into the life of the other is the very order which our infinitely wise Father has instituted by which to lift us up from the low level of self and the world, and to imbue us with His own Divine life. Each possesses what the other needs. Man is cold, hard, rugged, and obstinate. He needs some power to soften and mould his nature to more beautiful forms. He needs the warmth and ruddy life of a woman's affection to blend with the cold whiteness of the pure intellect, to warm it into a glowing activity. Woman is quick, ardent, impulsive, liable to be carried away by tides of natural feeling; she needs the strength, the firmness, and persistency of the masculine intellect to keep all her graces well balanced and give them harmonious play. Her own loveliness is enhanced when the pure intellect shines through the ruddy glow of her affections as lilies and roses blend in her fair face. Thus the beauty and strength of each is heightened, and the whole nature in every respect is perfected by what is given and received, and there is an actual advance in the regenerate life. Each one becomes more distinctly and fully an intelligent, conscious, and orderly recipient of the Divine life. They become more and more one flesh, and are approximating to the most noble human form, which is produced when two beings by means of marriage become one. The two do not become merged into one by sameness, by a loss of personality. Each one becomes more distinctly personal and gains in freedom. This union is not in any sense the losing of one's self, but of self-love. And this is the great work in regeneration.
But life is not made up wholly of these little daily duties. There are great events which constitute epochs in the history of married life, and are crises for good or evil. And these are necessary. The work of self-culture and regeneration is always a difficult one. Self-love and worldly affections operate as a constant hindrance. We are disposed to remain satisfied with low attainments, and we need something out of the ordinary course of every-day life to arrest our attention and to call into conscious activity new powers and, it may be, new forms of selfish and worldly affections, that we may combat and overcome them. Married life furnishes us with many such occasions.
With the birth of parental love a new world is opened in the father's and the mother's heart, a world bright with many hopes and shadowed with many fears. New fountains are unsealed in the heart, fountains which may send forth both sweet and bitter waters. A little child is always the center of attraction in the family, towards which the affections, the hopes, and fears most powerfully gravitate. Here is an object of mutual interest. Here the affections and thoughts of parents meet in pleasant interchange and perpetual play. Their tenderness is called forth by the helpless innocent, and their watchful care by its ever-recurring wants. Their curiosity is excited by its rapidly unfolding powers. They forget themselves. Here in this little form is a great magnet which draws all thoughts to it. Can we conceive any means better adapted to draw out our affections for others and to lead us to forget ourselves? It is true this affection may be natural. But it is none the less the gift of the Lord, and an actual derivation from that love which joins all human beings together and unites them with the Lord. It is the selfishness of the natural mind that must be overcome. This love is with many the beginning of a new life. They begin to live for others in a fuller and more unreserved manner. The true mother does not think of herself. Her hopes and fears and affections are drawn out of and away from herself. She lives for another, and her heart and head never weary of loving and providing for her child. The father's love may be less demonstrative, and may manifest itself in different forms, but it is none the less persistent and powerful for that. He has a new motive to labor; and while engaged in his daily employment, his thoughts are busy with the hopes or fears that center in a beloved child. In this way husband and wife are bound together in the child, and the life of each is flowing forth in a perennial stream of affection, thought, and act to the other. Self and the world find powerful rivals and their power is weakened, if not entirely broken.
And sooner or later most parents are called upon to resign into the hands of Him who gave it, a child dearer perhaps than life itself. And this great sorrow may be the means of blessing. What parent can stand by the grave of a beloved child who has passed into the heavens, and not feel that much of the hardness and selfishness of his nature is dead and in the grave with the material body of his child? If parents have any idea of a life after this, they will follow the child in thought and affection to that world, and they will feel an interest in it which they never felt before. They have a treasure in heaven. Their eternal home lies beyond the veil of this life, and they must feel some drawings towards it. They resolve to live more for that world, and they make an effort to do it. Thus we find in our brightest joys and darkest sorrows something to crucify our selfishness and to bring into fuller activity those spiritual and heavenly affections which constitute our union with each other and our conjunction with the Lord.
It is not alone in the greatness of these joys and sorrows that we find help in the work of regeneration, but in the common interest of husband and wife in those who are the objects of their affections. There is a bond of mutual sympathy running through every act. Every shock brings married partners closer together; every new joy is a new link in the golden chain of affection; every common association is a fine filament running through all the forms of their life and weaving their natures into one. Thus in all states there is a communication of the life of each to the other.
In the beginning of married life, our hopes and anticipations were serviceable in blinding us to many of the hard realities and sacrifices of self, alluring us on in the difficult work of self-renunciation, by bright visions of ideal joys; so when our earthly sun nears its setting, and life's pilgrimage draws towards its close, memory takes the place of hope and helps to complete the work which the glowing fancies of early manhood and womanhood helped us to begin. There is no sight on earth more touching than that of an aged husband and wife who have been faithful and devoted to each other during the long journey that lies behind them. The fervors of youthful passion have subsided; there may be less of the outward expression of affection, but there is a tenderness, a subdued, calm, and peaceful affection, a confidence born of many a struggle and many a triumph over self; a love seven times purified in the furnace of affliction. There is an innocence not of the ignorance of infancy but of wisdom, shining soft and clear through the decaying walls of the body, like a bright day in autumn. As they look back along the pathway of life, they can see nothing in all its memories that does not draw them closer together and lead them to put away every remaining hindrance to their union in heart. In the far distant past they stood at the altar together and formally took upon themselves the vows which their own hearts had before made. From that mount of youthful hope, with all its brightness and strength about them, they descended into the plain of life's trials and duties and conflicts, and, as they follow their course in memory, many events of peculiar interest rise before them. There, in that dark valley, distrust threw its shadow over the brightness of early confidence; here selfishness tarnished the golden links of affection; care began to write wrinkles upon the fair face, or sorrow dimmed the eyes, and they looked at each other through the mist of tears. Again they stood upon the mount of some noble affection, and the heaven above and within was clear and bright. There the husband or the wife faltered, weary and disheartened by the way, and gave occasion for a more absolute renunciation of self, and brought into fuller consciousness the tenderness of a manly heart, and the untiring constancy and persistent vigor of womanly strength. Now the Lord places a little child in their midst, and they forget themselves in their devotion to another, and in the glad surprises with which they watch the unfoldings of a new life. Again, they stand by an open grave and bury some of their evil and much of their natural life with the material garment of their child. And so the years roll on. They have shared many joys and many sorrows. They have made many mistakes. They have resigned much and they have gained much. But through these mutual labors and sorrows, hopes and joys, they have learned to forget and renounce self. Their experiences have been so many lessons in the knowledge and practice of true charity. And as they review it they see still more clearly the necessity and use of overcoming every worldly and selfish affection. Whenever they have renounced self and have shared each other's joys or sorrows, they find without exception that the burden of sorrow and labor has been lightened and the joy increased. The eternal law of the Divine order, that there is no true life but in living for others, has been learned and established as a principle of their own lives, by long continued and most varied practice.
When marriage becomes a spiritual and heavenly bond, it
reunites the divided soul and gives completeness to the masculine and
feminine nature. It gives delicacy to strength and strength to delicacy.
It breathes the warmth of love into the coldness of the intellect, and
tempers the ardor of the passions with the cool light of the
understanding. It gives strength to the understanding and guidance to the
will, in the mind of both husband and wife. They grow into each other's
likeness by processes of delight; they share and multiply each other's
joys; they divide and bear each other's burdens. Each one possesses all
and becomes the other's self. God joins them together. They twain become
one, and to the degree and extent of their unity they are forms of heaven.
Even in this life they have a foretaste of its joys, and when they throw
aside the veil of clay, they will pass on and become the mutual and
reciprocal sharers of its endless and ineffable and ever-increasing