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THE NATURE OF THIS INSTITUTION, AND THE OBLIGATIONS
IMPLIED IN IT.
In forming this union, man leaves," to use the words of the institution, “ father and mother, and cleaves to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh.” Hence an union is created, the most intimate and endearing that can exist on earth; and which is to continue during the lives of the parties concerned. The tender affection from which it takes its rise, and which is so necessary to render it a source of happi. ness, has been alluded to in a former part of this work.
This union is formed by a vow or contract, in which God is appealed to, and which appears to me to have all the solemnity and obligation of an oath. However much the mere ceremony may vary with particular circumstances, the husband in all cases promises love, fidelity, and support, to his wife; and the wife, affection, honour, and obedience to her husband. The stipulation of personal fidelity is reciprocal.
Though an equality may prevail in the sexes as to original intellectual endowments, and though in many instances there be a manifest superiority of understanding in the woman, yet, as the designs of the marriage institution render it necessary that there should be a determining authority somewhere, nature points out the propriety of lodging it in the husband. “ Since from various circumstances, natural and face titious, man is everywhere in possession of physical and political superiority,-since his education is usually less imperfect, and since the charge of providing for the support of the family, in almost every instance, belongs to him—it is surely, from all these circumstances, fit, upon the whole, that if the power of decision, in doubtful matters, should be given to one rather than the other, it should be with the man that it is to rest." The divine law has made the decision. “Let the wife be subject to her own husband in every thing. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.”
Though, according to the divine law, the presiding authority rests with the husband, this law enjoins him to exercise it with the most affectionate tenderness. " For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."-" In the general circumstances of conjugal life there should be absolute equality, because, where love should be equal, there should be that equal desire of conferring happiness which is implied in equality of love; and he, who from the mere wish of gratifying his feeling of superiority, can wil. fully thwart a wish of her whose wishes—where they do not lead to any moral or prudential improprietyshould be to him like his own, or even dearer than his own, if they did not truly become his wishes, when known to be hers,--would deserve no slight punishment, as the violator of conjugal obligation, if he were not almost sufficiently punished in the very want of that better affection, the delightful feeling of which would have saved him from his tyranny of
The person to whom the conjugal duties are to be discharged is to be the object of choice; to whom affection and esteem leads us to give the preference; and whose happiness we become bound by the most tender ties to promote. This is implied in the marriage vow; and should well be considered before this vow is made. Nor can it be any justification of the carelessness of either party toward the other, that they cease to love, because they discover that the object is unworthy of continued affection. This discovery, if, indeed, it be well founded, ought to have been made, and would have been made, had they been careful to consider who it was with whom they were about to enter into the most solemn engagements,-before they had appealed to Heaven to witness their vows. The plea, after this appeal, is inadmissible; and to offer it is nothing less than “ to plead one crime as the justification of another.”
It is indeed of infinite importance to the happiness of the married life, and especially to the happiness of woman, that she should only engage where love is felt. In acting otherwise she not only violates truth, but as the punishment, sacrifices her happiness. She may secure, in exchange, wealth, and equipage, and distinctions, in consigning he person to him for whom she has no affection; but she misses that happiness which Providence has designed the married life to be the means of communicating.
If the affection which gives rise to the conjugal
union is maintained, the discharge of the duties involved in this relation will be a source of delight. This will prompt the wedded pair to anticipate each other's wishes, to bear each other's burdens, and to think of whatever may contribute to each other's happiness; as time advances, and those attractions of form, which perhaps first awakened the tender passion, disappear, they find that they “are lovers still." With mutual love, there will be mutual fidelity, and the zealous performance of all the duties in regard to each other, which love can suggest as devolving on those who are united by such a close and endearing bond.
THE DESIGNS OF THIS INSTITUTION,
The importance of the marriage institution in the view of the divine Legislator, appears from his having made it the subject of one of the commands of the decalogue, and rendered its violation, under the Jewish economy, punishable by death. In the New Testament, special judgments are denounced against whoremongers and adulterers; and it is declared that “they shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” The utility of this institution to the virtue and happiness of mankind, will be manifest from the following considerations.
I. The comfort of the wedded pair. This is one of the reasons assigned for the origin of the institution.
“ The Lord God said, it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.". This end, unquestionably, and more especially in regard to the female sex, has been attained to an incalculable extent. Amid the manifold sorrows of this chequered scene, enjoyment has flowed from this source to gladden the families of mankind.
That there have been, and still are, unhappy marriages, no one will deny, who is acquainted with human nature, and the state of the world. Vice will not suffer those who continue in its practice to enjoy comfort and tranquillity in any situation. When persons form the matrimonial union, whose views, principles, and tempers, are wholly unsuited, is it surprising that their connexion should be the occasion of disappointment and misery? or, when their chief objects in marriage are, alliance to a powerful family, the acquiring or repairing of fortune, the obtaining of rank, the gratification of ambition, or avarice,-can it be wondered that the happiness which was not sought, is not realized ? marriage was not designed to be a source of comfort in such cases. It cannot reverse the fixed ordinations of Providence; and give to ignorance the pleasures of knowledge, to sordid meanness those of generosity, or to vice those of virtue.
But the history of mankind will bear us out in the affirmation, that where there exists an adaptation in the views and dispositions,—where the union proceeds from previous affection and esteem, and not from paltry and selfish considerations, this institution is pre-eminently calculated to be to both parties a source of continual comfort.