August 2006 • Volume XI, Issue 4
Having seen in the last News that I
Corinthians 7:15 does not teach that a deserted believer is free to
remarry, we turn to the tradition of the interpretation of this verse.
Here we acknowledge that we differ from the Reformers.
However, we are far from alone in our position.
Amongst the commentators on I Corinthians who agree with us are men of
various theological persuasions: Bengel and Weiss (German), Godet
(Swiss), Grosheide (Dutch; NICNT), Albert Barnes and A. T. Robertson
(American), and Alfred Plummer, Gordon Fee and C. K. Barrett (English).
Other theologians include the New England Congregationalist, Timothy
Dwight, and the American Baptist, W. E. Best.
This is also the historic position of the Anglican
churches—as witnessed in the famous marriage vow "Until death us do
part"—and the doctrine of the Brethren assemblies. Many Dutch Reformed
churches around the world have also held this testimony. Moreover, the
early church and the medieval church were well nigh unanimous in denying
that desertion enables remarriage. The first recorded dissenter from the
catholic consensus was about 400AD and the next occurred about 800AD.
All the church’s synods, for the first 1500 years of her existence,
which addressed the subject, taught only one ground for divorce
(adultery) and that remarriage while one’s spouse is living is adultery.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, the ardent
free-willer, Erasmus, was the first in modern times to break the
catholic consensus. Perhaps the Reformers, in following Erasmus’ view,
were reacting in part to the erroneous Roman Catholic view that marriage
is a sacrament. In general, those who (wrongly) view the covenant
and thus the marriage covenant as a contract are the ones who
hold that it is dissolved by desertion, while we who believe that the
covenant and thus the marriage covenant is a one flesh union or bond
(Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5-6) confess that God alone breaks the bond at
death (Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:39).
Thus, on the basis of the Word of God, we have to
disagree on this point with the Westminster Confession (WC)
which allows the remarriage of those deserted by their spouse and the
"innocent party" (WC 24.5-6). Our appeal here against this
otherwise excellent confession is to the Word of God itself: "The
supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be
determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers,
doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose
sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in
the scripture" (WC 1.10).
We are not alone in seeing weaknesses in
Westminster Confession 24, "Of Marriage and Divorce." Many, if not
most, Presbyterian denominations do not hold Westminster Confession
24:4 which deals with degrees of consanguinity and incest (e.g., The
Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, p. 70).
While we believe that the confession errs by permitting two grounds for
divorce (adultery and desertion; WC 24:6) when Christ only
permitted one (adultery; Matt. 5:32; 19:9), many Presbyterians and
Reconstructionists criticise the confession from the other side, because
they allow divorce upon many grounds (e.g., "incompatibility"), like
many Pharisees (cf. Matt. 19:3).
While Westminster Confession 24:5 allows the
remarriage of the "innocent party" only, many Presbyterian churches
disregard their confession by also allowing the "guilty party" to
remarry. Other Presbyterian churches will not marry any divorced
persons, either the "innocent party" or the "guilty party," because of
the practical difficulty of ascertaining who was guilty. They thus
believe that Westminster Confession 24:5 is unworkable.
Noted Presbyterian theologian, John Murray, has
pointed out a "loophole" in Westminster Confession
24:6. This article states that "such wilful desertion as can no way be
remedied by the church or civil magistrate" dissolves the marriage and
allows subsequent remarriage. However, even if I Corinthians 7:15
allowed for remarriage after desertion—which it does not (News
XI:3 [July, 2006])—it would only allow a believer who had been deserted
by his unbelieving spouse to remarry. Westminster Confession
24:6 would allow deserted unbelievers or believers deserted by
professing Christians to remarry, which is contrary even to the
erroneous interpretation of I Corinthians 7:15.
Westminster Confession 24:5 seeks to justify
the remarriage of the "innocent party" arguing that it is "as if
the offending party were dead." However, Scripture knows nothing of any
"as if they were dead" concept which then allows remarriage. The "guilty
party" is alive; otherwise there would be no need for a divorce. Romans
7:2-3 (which WC
24:5 cites) and I Corinthians 7:39 state that a person is bound in
marriage unless his or her spouse is really and physically "dead."
Remarriage while one’s spouse is still living is not "lawful" (WC
24:5); it is adulterous: "For the woman which hath an husband is bound
by the law to her husband so long as he liveth … So then if, while her
husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an
adulteress" (Rom. 7:2-3). Rev. Stewart
God’s Wrath on Christ
A reader asks, "When Jesus received the wrath of God
for sin was this a new experience for God, who is an unchanging
(non-contingent) Being?" This issue is, while difficult for us to
understand, extremely important. It assumes that Christ, who is the
eternal Son of God, bore God’s wrath against sin. That is, God was angry
with God. How can that be? Or, as the reader puts it: "Was this a new
experience for God?" And if it is true that God was angry with Christ,
does this anger of God mean that God is changeable? Yet Scripture very
clearly teaches that God is unchangeable, but wrath towards Christ, the
eternal Son of God, would seem to indicate change, for God also loved
As "non-contingent," God is in Himself independent;
that is, He depends on no being or power outside Himself for His
existence. He is eternal. The creation is contingent; that is, the
creation is dependent upon God for its existence. The reader argues
rightly, unchangeability is rooted in non-contingency; while contingency
We must distinguish, first, between the Triune God
and our Lord Jesus Christ. While it is true that Christ is personally
the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and, as Nicea put it so forcibly,
"true God of true God," He is the eternal and unchangeable Son of God
in our flesh. He united the divine nature with the human nature in
the one Person of the Son. He is both true God and true man. This is the
mystery of the incarnation.
The relation between our Lord Jesus Christ and God is
a father-son relation. The Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Gabriel described to Mary how
she would be the mother of the Lord, he said, "The Holy Ghost shall come
upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore
also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son
of God" (Luke 1:35).
The Triune God eternally appointed Christ to be the
mediator of the covenant and to accomplish full and complete redemption
on behalf of the elect. He was chosen to accomplish God’s purpose as
God’s Son in our flesh so that God Himself accomplishes redemption. "God
was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (II Cor. 5:19).
Christ fulfilled His calling by coming into our flesh
in the womb of the virgin Mary, suffering the wrath of God, dying on the
cross, rising from the dead and ascending into heaven where He is
exalted as Lord of all.
We are told by the Scriptures that Christ bore the
wrath of God against sin from the beginning of His incarnation to the
end of His life on earth. Here is a wonder: while Christ bore the wrath
of God throughout His life, He was also conscious of God’s approval. At
His baptism and in the presence of His enemies a voice sounded from
heaven: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased" (Matt. 3:17).
Christ heard that voice and rejoiced in it. Thus Christ experienced both
God’s wrath and God’s favour.
How can this experience of wrath and favour be
present at the same time? The explanation seems to be along these lines.
It was indeed possible for Christ to know and experience both the wrath
and the favour of God at the same time, because in bearing God’s wrath,
He was obeying the will of God, fulfilling His calling and accomplishing
His Father’s purpose. He knew God’s favour because He was obedient to
God. That continued all His life. Perhaps an analogy can be found in a
son who is punished by his father for some misdeed, but knows that the
punishment is rooted in his father’s love for him.
However, as Christ neared the cross, the
consciousness of God’s wrath grew greater and greater, while the
consciousness of God’s favour grew dimmer. While on the cross, during
those awful hours when Christ suffered all the torments of hell, the
consciousness of God’s favour was completely swallowed up in the fury of
God’s wrath. All Christ knew was wrath.
That consciousness of wrath is expressed in Christ’s
cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). Christ
did not dare to call God "Father;" He could only say, "God," because the
wrath was too great. Christ was conscious only of being forsaken in the
deep, dark pit of the suffering of hell on the cross. So great was that
overwhelming wrath of God which Christ endured that He could no longer
understand the necessity of bearing God’s wrath. That heart-rending
"Why?" pierces our souls.
And yet at that moment when God’s wrath was
all-consuming, God was, if I may put it that way, most pleased with His
Son. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased; for He is
obedient even unto the death of the cross!"
But Christ knew only wrath, even though behind it was
God’s infinite love for Him. So with us in our relation to our earthly
fathers. Wrath is not incompatible with love. Our fathers can love us
and be very angry with us. In fact, their anger may be a manifestation
of their love, for they desire that we walk in God’s ways, and we have
been sinful. So it was with Christ.
And so, gradually Christ crawled out of hell’s pit
into the presence of God. "It is finished!" (John 19:30). And then, so
beautifully: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke
23:46). The wrath was gone, the favour was restored. Atonement for sin
and redemption was accomplished.
There is no change in God. He had appointed His Son
to accomplish our redemption. Christ perfectly bore the wrath of God and
accomplished all the Father’s purpose. He is now exalted on high as our
redeemer and saviour.
Let us marvel at the greatness of the suffering of
Christ, for in it is the measure of our sin, which required such awful
anguish. Let us marvel at the riches of divine grace displayed in God’s
gift of His own beloved Son to accomplish for us what we could never
accomplish ourselves. Prof. Hanko
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