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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
T. T. Eaton
From Talks on Getting Married, 1891
"For the daughter of Ahab was his wife." (2 Kings 8:18)
Few nobler characters are mentioned in the Bible than Jehoshaphat, a son better than the sire, and who continued the work of Asa, his father, in all his plans for the benefit of his people. But alas, what a frightful change came when Jehoram reigned in his stead.
Judah was peaceful and prosperous and happy when the good king died; idolatry had been rooted out from the land and wise and just Judges, who acted in the fear of God, had been established in all the cities. Trade and commerce were flourishing, and the neighboring nations were tributaries or allies, anxious to keep the good will of Judah. Peace within and without, a happy, united and prosperous people, with a well-filled treasury; these were bequeathed to Jehoram by his father. Never did a king ascend the throne with brighter prospects for happiness and glory than did Jehoram. All difficulties had been removed from his path, if he will only go on in the way of his father and grandfather.
But alas! With all his goodness, Asa had committed a sin, which, though a little thing seemingly, bore bloody fruit in after years. When attacked by Baasha he had recourse to the King of Syria for help, against the warning of the prophet. Then when Jehoshaphat came to the throne Syria became so troublesome that he entered into an alliance with Ahab, and to strengthen this alliance he married his son to the daughter of the idolatrous king, a sin which the house of David expiated in rivers of blood.
A brilliant match this was, and one approved by the statesmen of the time as contributing to the national advantage. Here is a prince married to a princess, the daughter of a neighboring king with whom his father had formed an alliance, offensive and defensive. Surely one would think it was a fitting match, but of the terrible results of that marriage the after history tells us.
Jehoram seems to have been an upright young man. He was trained by pious parents and reared in the midst of the true worship. And although we are told that his brothers were better than he, it can be explained on the ground that he was the oldest son, and hence more flattered by the courtiers anxious to ingratiate themselves in the favor of the future king. That he was not an evil man, to begin with, is proved by the one reason the Scripture alleges for his wickedness “for the daughter of Ahab was his wife.” It was the wife he married that ruined him.
I beg you who have marriageable sons to take warning from Jehoshaphat. If so great and good a man as he did wrong in this matter, do not imagine that you are safe. Though you are not a king, yet the same motive that influenced Jehoshaphat may influence you. He desired such a marriage for his son as would be for the worldly advantage of himself and his kingdom. In thinking of whom your son shall marry, does no thought of worldly advantage to be gained come into your mind?
Note the many attractions Athaliah possessed. She had high position; her father was a great king. She was beautiful in her person — and think what a mighty power over the hearts and lives of men female beauty has been in all the ages. She was a woman of great talent. The world has seen few rulers of more consummate ability than those two women, Jezebel and her daughter. Both were brave, too; never were men braver. Witness how Jezebel defied Elijah in the very height of his triumph, and frightened him so that he fled out of Samaria across Judah and a day's journey into the wilderness. It was no weak and silly woman who could terrify such a hero as Elijah.
See, also, how Athaliah, unattended, and knowing she was in the midst of enemies, unflinchingly faced Jehoiada in the temple. These two women had wonderful ability, also, in devising means to carry out their schemes, and they had that iron strength of will which bent all around them to their sway. High position, wealth, beauty, culture, ability, and courage —Athaliah had all these. What more could Jehoram desire? Was not this an eligible match? So he thought, and so his father thought, and yet that marriage brought him only retribution and ruin.
We cannot help feeling a degree of admiration for the genius and brilliancy of Athaliah. For twenty years alone and in the midst of a hostile people, who hated while they feared her, she was supreme ruler, since she governed not only while she was Queen regnant, but during the life of her husband and her son. But along with our involuntary admiration for the wonderful force of character of Jezebel and Athaliah, we have a contempt for Ahab and Jehoram, that they were weak enough to give up their worship of God at the dictation of their wives.
We are inclined to wish that Jezebel had gotten hold of a man like Asa, who was strong enough and brave enough to do right, no matter what disturbance he made in his own household, who never for a moment sacrificed principle for domestic peace, and who could stand throughout "a continual dripping in a very rainy day…"(Prov. 27:15), and the sudden thunderstorm of wrath.
THE RESULTS OF A BAD CHOICE
There is no need that I should speak in detail of the sins of Jehoram, his cruel murder of his brother, his base idolatries, his shameless vices, or that I should tell of his sufferings and miserable death after a brief reign of eight years, leaving the sad epitaph inspiration has given him, "He departed without being desired." (2 Chron. 21:20)
The life of this bad man, as set forth in Scripture, is full of important lessons for young men, which I may not here discuss. I simply point to him as a man whose life was wrecked by the wrong choice of a wife. The one comprehensive reason the Bible gives for his career of crime is, "For the daughter of Ahab was his wife." How could greater emphasis be given to the vast importance of a man's choosing wisely in selecting a companion for life?
BEAUTY NOT THE PARAMOUNT GRACE IN A WIFE
And now, my friends, you who often think, and who ought to think of the sort of woman you will marry, what are the points you consider as essential? That she shall be beautiful? Well, I admit there is a great attraction in female beauty, and great power in it over the hearts of men. The great and stern Emperor Theodosius was deaf to all arguments and entreaties in behalf of Valentinian, but when the beautiful Galla appeared before him to intercede for her brother, her beauty did what nothing else could accomplish, and the obdurate emperor yielded, and heartily espoused the cause of Valentinian.
Beauty is rightly valued by women, though it is apt to be too highly valued. A woman is morally bound to make herself as good-looking as she can do, consistent with the other duties incumbent upon her, though she must not neglect higher things to be beautiful. But while beauty is desirable in a wife, it has often been the attraction which lured men to their ruin.
Witness Mark Anthony. Other things being equal, it is right for you to prefer the most beautiful girl; but, alas, other things never are equal, and there is great danger that beauty will be accompanied by vanity, and that in after years, when beauty fades, as fade it must, your wife's disposition will become soured, and your love for her will cease. You must love your wife till death do you part, and therefore your love must rest only upon such things as will abide; those graces of heart and of character which brighten with the passing years.
WEALTH NOT THE CHIEF OBJECT TO BE SOUGHT IN MARRIAGE
Do you regard wealth, and have an eye single to the amount of property to be gained by your wife? Marrying for money is a thing I hold in such contempt that I hardly dare trust myself to speak of it. What language can fitly describe the taking a solemn institution of God and making it a mere means of getting money? The man who sells his vote for money betrays the great trust of his citizenship, and forfeits the respect of all right-thinking people. But what is that to a man's marrying for money and thus selling himself?
No matter how much wealth a young lady may have, unless you are man enough to give her a decent support, have too much respect for her and for yourself to ask her to become your wife. The most unmanly and the most contemptible thing in this world, so full of baseness, is to sponge one's living out of his wife or her relatives. The man who does this is an Iscariot who betrays his manhood and barters his soul for thirty pieces of silver.
THE HUSBAND MUST HAVE A CHARACTER OF HIS OWN
Will you chiefly regard position and family influence in the choice of a wife? This is not so bad as to marry for money; but still it is unworthy of true manhood. No right-thinking man is willing to be a mere appendage to a powerful family. He wishes to make a name for himself, and to be known and honored for his own sake, rather than to be talked of simply as "the man who married Miss So-and-So."
Many men have been eclipsed by the distinction of their wives and their families, and have been overshadowed by their high position. Prince Albert would have been recognized as a great man had he married some good woman unknown to fame, but for all time to come history will know him simply as Queen Victoria's husband.
What fame is possible to Mr. Bartlett, if that is his name, now that he has married Baroness Burdette Couts? He can never hope to rise above simply being her husband. Jehoram made a brilliant match; Athaliah was beautiful, wealthy, and a princess, and yet—and yet—it was a fatal match and wrought his ruin. All his sin and shame and suffering came upon him because “the daughter of Ahab was his wife.” Brilliant matches are not always true marriages, they are often far otherwise.
LOVE, THE CONTROLLING PRINCIPLE IN MARRIED LIFE
Do you ask what points, then, you shall consider in selecting a wife? I answer. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." (Matt. 6:33)
Consider first of all and most important of all the laws God has given concerning marriage and the obligations matrimony imposes:
"Husbands love your wives and be not bitter against them." (Col. 3:19)
"Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them [your wives] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel." (1 Pet. 3:7)
"Husbands love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." (Eph. 5:25)
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” (Eph. 5:31)
Love, first of all and the foundation of all, is a love which shall resemble the great love of Christ for his people. If you do not love a woman thus, you sin against God in marrying her.
THE WIFE SHOULD BE WORTHY OF HONOUR
Second, you must honour her, and you have no right to marry a woman whose character you do not honour. You would not for a moment think of marrying a vicious woman, and I would to God that women were as careful in this as men. But you may be in danger of wedding a wife who is vain, and selfish, and frivolous, though she may be rich, and beautiful, and accomplished.
The wife is to be a helpmeet for her husband. In choosing a wife, therefore, God requires that you seek a helpmeet for you —a woman who will devote herself to your highest good here and hereafter, and by whose molding influence you will become nobler and purer as the years go on. Men need wives more than women need husbands. Adam needed a wife, and therefore God created Eve; it was not that she needed a husband. And while a woman may innocently remain unmarried, a man may not. It is his duty to find a suitable wife, and no earthly treasure that can be sought is to be for a moment compared to a good and true wife.
Ruskin was right in saying: “No man ever lived a right life who had not been chastened by a woman's love, strengthened by her courage, and guided by her discretion." And there is a lesson we can garner from the old Greek myth of Theseus. With all his prowess and genius he could not make his way through the Cretan labyrinth and slay the Minotaur till Ariadne gave him a ball of thread. Feminine tact was indispensable to the greatest of heroes. No man can thread rightly the labyrinth of life and overcome the enemies that beset him unless helped by a noble wife. It has been truly said that the soul's armor is never well set to the heart unless a woman's hand has braced it.
"For the daughter of Ahab was his wife." All over the blackened ruined life of Jehoram is that warning written in letters of blood, that there is nothing of more vital importance to a man than the character of the woman he marries. His own character will, to a great extent, be made or marred by her. He learns to see people and things through her eyes. Is she narrow and selfish? He becomes so. Is she wise and helpful? How is his wisdom strengthened and his courage increased.
One of the wisest men I ever knew used to say, when someone spoke of a promising young man: "There is no telling what sort of a man he will be till you see the woman he marries." If Jehoram had only had wisdom enough to choose rightly how different would have been his own fate and that of his descendants and his nation! Yet that marriage with Athaliah seemed a most excellent one from a worldly point of view — quite a brilliant match as I have said, for Ahab had wider dominions than Jehoshaphat, and was wealthier also, from his league with Tyre —that great city of the merchants of the earth.
Athaliah had wealth and beauty and rank and power and courage and culture. If she was in Louisville today, how many suitors she would have? Yet she was selfish and scheming and unscrupulous. Looking upon Jehoram's murdered brothers and children, upon the ruin of his nation and his own dishonored grave—for the people would not bury him among the kings—we can see that there are other and higher things to be considered than the worldly advantages of a marriage with Ahab's daughter.
WHAT THE MAN MUST BE AND DO
Upon the man rests the first responsibility in choosing a woman to be his wife. She is only to accept or reject him. It should therefore be his first care to make himself worth having —fit to be the husband of a noble woman. No man who is not fit to be a good husband has any right to ask a woman to become his wife. His second care is to determine what is to be his life work, and then he should select a woman who he has good reason to believe will be a true helpmeet for him in that life work.
The capitalists and the laborers do not need the same sort of wives. The woman who would suit a merchant would not suit a missionary. Find out what your life work is to be, what you are to live for in the world, and then find a wife who can give you intelligent sympathy in that pursuit. A statesman's wife must know enough of statecraft and be sufficiently interested in it to enter into her husband's plans and give him the benefit of that particular tact for which women have ever been famous.
And so it is for all other pursuits. But she must really know what she pretends to know, however little. If she misconceives the questions at issue, and misunderstands the points involved, she will not help her husband; she will only tease him. It has been well said of the wife of Thomas Carlyle: "If she had not devoted her life to him he could not have worked. She lived to see his work completed and to see him recognized in full for what he is and for what he has done."
HOW TO SETTLE THE QUESTION
Do you ask, "How can I tell in advance whether a particular lady will suit me?" It is difficult, at best, I confess, and the usages of our society increase the difficulty, but remember that it is generally the most difficult things which are the most needful things; and you may be sure that no earthly thing is more important to you than the wise choice of the companion to whom you will link your life. Avoid haste in making up your mind, and do not allow yourself to be so much interested in a lady that your judgment will not be clear.
Eschew and put far from you all foolish thought of "love at first sight;" for true love is ever founded on a knowledge of character. "Love at first sight" is apt to prove hate at second sight, and the parties will fulfil the old adage, "Marry in haste and repent at leisure."
No, you should investigate the character of the woman you think of marrying far more diligently and carefully than you would investigate the obscure title to a piece of property in which you proposed to invest your all. I cannot here go into details; only be determined that you will know, and pray to God to guide you, and you will not be likely to make a mistake.
Do not imagine that you can marry an unsuitable wife and afterward mold her into the form you desire. Surely, one would have thought, Athaliah withdrawn from Jezebel's influence and brought to the court of pious Jehoshaphat, where the true worship was maintained and the circumstances were so favorable; surely, her mother's lessons eradicated, she would be molded into a good wife for Jehoram.
Just as the experiment failed then, so it will ever fail. A recent philosopher has put it: "You can chisel a boy into shape as you would a rock, or hammer him into it as you would a piece of bronze, but you cannot hammer a girl into anything. She grows as a flower grows." If the girl you admire has grown to womanhood without those qualities which would make her a helpmeet for you, you may be sure she will never have them by any efforts you may put forth.
THE WIFE THE LIGHT OF THE HOME
It is the wife who makes the home. She gives to it its order, comfort and loveliness. And there are in our language no dearer words, as there are in the world no dearer things, than mother, wife and home. To be a helpmeet for her husband, to make him purer, wiser and nobler; to give him intelligent sympathy and to make his home happy, this is the wife's great obligation.
A beautiful and accomplished lady may make an elegant parlor ornament, but only a woman with an unselfish heart and a noble soul, sanctified by grace, can make a true wife, who is neither a servant, nor a plaything, nor a pet; but a helpmeet as God intended her to be.
It was said of one of the truest women and best wives in this century: "Nobody could help loving her, and nobody but was the better for doing so. She had the gift of calling forth the best qualities that were in people."
"A prudent wife is from the LORD," (Prov. 19:14) and when by the favor of God you have such an one, then cherish her as your greatest treasure, “for her price is far above rubies." (Prov. 31:10) Your heart can safely trust in her and she will do you "good and not evil all the days of her life." (Prov. 31:12)