Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
Dating must die. And Grace Life, you will recall, has been all for its swift demise. There have been several articles (cf. SB, Dec. 15, 2001; March 1, 2002; April 15, 2002; June, 2002; August, 2002; September 15, 2002). In them we have written just what convicts and condemns dating; it is everything she is about. For this is she:
The unbiblical coupling and cavorting of two who are not yet ready for marrying,
The pairing off of those who confess Fun, but who have not yet confessed their Faith,
The Thing of the Youth Subculture done in the name of Rights and Liberty, Defiant of
Covenant authorities, namely Parents and Church,
The dating which is unsupervised trysts in the night,
That Monstrous of Worldly Sensuality which delights devouring, nibble by nibble, especially all those who are baptized in the Name of a Holy God,
The trial and error “playing of the field”…
The Evolutionist, Idolator, Feminist, Unruly, Voracious, and whatnot … Dating!
This Dating, all too common even among Christians, is, we must realize, a terrible, if subtle, evil. It is a hellion hurting young and not-so-young people, disturbing covenant families, assaulting sacred marriage, weakening the church in her confession of Christ, and her calling to learn and to teach not the way of heathen, but His way. To the dateless, Dating is a cruel respecter of athletes and cheerleaders. Around the intwined bodies, pulsing passions, and racing emotions of those dating, Dating is a spiritual tourniquet. To the dated, Dating is a shameful memory.
Grace Life, out for the blood of a thing, has at the same time been concerned, positively, for the life of something else. That is: the life of the covenant way of a man with a maid. And so from the Word of God, the very Word of life, we have been examining and discussing the great principles of covenant, namely family, and fatherhood—principles given of God to direct and encourage the godly marrying of the covenant seed.
With this article I would now attempt to address somewhat at length the subject of the practical application of the principles of what might be called “covenant marrying” or “covenanting.” This is done by the presentation of theses. These theses set forth responsibilities humbly and gladly to be shouldered and pursued for biblical, covenantal marrying. These theses are not exhaustive. The explanations I give of them are just a beginning. They all are for discussion and debate. They are to bring us back to the Word. To promote responsible parenting. Holy youth. Sacred relationships. Church of the antithesis. Covenant blessedness. God-honoring, lifelong marriage. A godly witness. Praise! And Grace Life all around!
For Dating’s death, and for the Life of the Covenant Way … may God write His Truth on the chapel of our hearts, and may the way of our men with maids be … His!
Explanation: A main question marriageable young and not-so-young adults have is “How do I know whom I am to marry?” A fair enough question, but not the first one, not even the most important one!
The first and most important question is “How does father know?” This follows from all we know of the biblical truth that the father of the home, who is lord of the home (I Pet. 3:6), is lord also of the children, and, therefore, of their marrying, in order to establish other godly homes (Gen. 24). The father sends off his covenant sons to pursue the godly wife, having warned them of the “strange” woman (Prov. 5), having instructed them in godliness, and having considered it a large part of his fatherhood, and indeed its culmination and goal, to guide them to particular godly families and godly women in these families. The same father either keeps, or gives away, his covenant daughters ( I Cor. 7:37, 38), solemnly superintending Sally, suitors, roses, rings, and romance.
This “send off” of the son to marry, this “keeping” or “giving away” of the virgin daughter is father fulfilling his calling, his part of the covenant of grace. The State may not do this for the father. Nor may the Pope (cf. John Calvin’s exposition of I Cor. 7:37ff!). Nor may the children themselves. Nor may the schools. Nor may ministers and chaperones at the Young People’s Conventions. Indeed, father is sovereign here, sole authority here, reflecting his position as representative of God Himself.
To fulfill this calling of being, under God, lord of covenant marrying, and not merely to presume upon the mercies of God in this matter, the father of the home must do everything he can to know just who is Miss Just Right for his son, and who is Mr. Just Right for his daughter. And we are not talking generalities here (for very few people marry generals, and no one marries generalities!), but names of people whose characters and whose families are known.
Solemn calling! As elders must know that the specific men they nominate for officers in the church must be truly qualified (I Tim. 3) before they are even nominated, and do not merely presume that membership in the church means qualification for office, so must fathers know, and that, sometimes, from a list of a whole bunch of Christians, just who is a potential mate for his children, and who would be the best for his children.
Explanation: We fathers must know God. This is our life, men—knowing God, and praising Him and enjoying Him for ever. Beginning now! Above all things precious is the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. This knowledge of God is not barely creedal, nor creedally bare … but is the sweet communion knowledge of God that delights in both the doctrine of the Bible and in the Deity of the doctrine.
When by the grace of God there is a man-father who actually abides and thrives in communion with God, certain things (called blessings!) do happen which are crucial for the furtherance of the godly way of father’s men and maids. These things that “happen” are indeed manifestations of the family blessing of God, which blessings He gives as we seek the knowledge and glory of Him above all.
First, what happens is that this man-father will in all things show He is a man of God’s Word, who leads His home biblically, and to whom, thus, to listen, is to listen to God. Second, the father who loves God loves his wife. This relationship of husband-wife and this love that father nurtures in the marriage is and will be the pattern for children to follow, and the hope, too, that is planted, for their own homes of love. Next, what happens is that the children entrusted to the care of the man whose life is to know God will see God in their father, and submit to him, and trust him, therefore, to provide, and to guide, in all matters, also when it comes to finding a mate. Fourth, father, in knowing God, will be given to know and truly empathize with his children—their needs, talents, desires, weaknesses, maturity, or lack, and he also will be leading them, constantly, in the knowledge of God. In addition, the father who knows God will also know others, other families, other children of those families in whom dwells the Spirit, and who might be and ought to be mates for his own children.
Explanation: It is biblical wisdom for one to discern the nature of fruit by understanding and examination of the tree from which the fruit has come. Hence fathers will know families, and parents of families (the tree), if he will successfully and responsibly know the children (the fruit) of those families, and, therefore, who ought to marry his own children. Communion of the saints (which we believe!) is about many things. It is vitally about relationships among families with a view to relationships among children of the families with a view to the marriage of those children in those relationships among those families.
This pursuit of mates through relationships with and knowledge of believing families is because we know that God works mercy, and calls the godly seed through families, and through their instruction of their children, His promise being unto us and our children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call (Acts 2:39).
Concerning this knowledge of families, fathers will truly seek to know families and the young of those families in order to know personalities, their strengths, weaknesses, work habits, how they get along with each other, if they are a thankful people, or grumpy, seeking to be as holy as they can be, or if theirs is a “marginal” Christianity (whatever that may be!). Yes, especially must we look for the fruit of the Holy Spirit of Christ in families. And the fruit should be abundant. We should not have to call in the FBI.
Thus godly fathers will communicate to the families with whom they have contact that one of the main purposes of the family friendships is precisely this: for the children and their future mates. The parents of the families will talk about this, pray about this, and nurture the godly relationships of their children with one another. They will not just “let it happen,” or “let nature take its course,” or first of all “see what the children think.” Family relationships, cultivated by fathers, will be for the covenant in the next generation.
Explanation: We want a Christian mate. God provides them in providing Christian churches. Worship is there. Means of grace are there. Communion is there. Single godly men and women are there—in church. And so are you. So fathers, and marriageable folk too for that matter, will not scope out things at parties, or look in the bowling alley, or McDonalds, combing the lanes and the booths for mating material. They will look, by faith, in the church!
Nor will mates be sought in any old church (and certainly not in just any new church!). In fact, if denominations mean anything, if you are convicted that you and your children must worship and are worshiping where there is the pure teaching of the gospel, then you must believe your mate is there, somewhere in your denomination, in sister churches, or in such churches as are one with yours in spirit and in truth.
But the “field” of our looking for love can be narrowed even further. Covenant trust, covenant faithfulness, means we consider first the possibility that God may well have provided mates for our own in our own local church home. True, this would not apply if everyone in our local church home were cousins. And, to be sure, some local churches are united in truth with one another, and the members of these churches are very well known to each other, and so “looking down the road” is not looking far. As well, some churches are small and the marriageable ones are few. But think of this: if God, in covenant mercy, has established us as a local church, and by this, we believe, He has provided there so many things necessary for life and fulfillment and blessing, might not also our heavenly Father provide (generally, and more often than we might think!) right in our covenant church home, for everything, even including our mates?!
Consider also this, in this age where travel and long-range communication are so easy, temptations are great to avoid the realities of our own shortcomings, and our past fumbling in relationships with those who go to school and church with us, i.e., with those with whom we may have grown up. So, in the realm of relationships our temptation is that we begin looking elsewhere. We might even move elsewhere. Or parents, whose child has had a rather difficult time of things in his youth and perhaps with relationships in her youth might with gladness ship Sally or Sam east, west, north, or south, so she or he can, on her own, get a new life, and get hitched. There is, indeed, a powerful temptation born of frustration, or immaturity, or discontent, and even wanderlust which whispers: the guys and girls are always hunkier, or friendlier, and life is always rosier on the other side (of the Mississippi)!
Let us remember, dear readers, that “starting over,” from a biblical point of view, does not equate to “moving,” or “giving up” on ever relating to (let alone marrying!) those to whom in youth you were a bully, a flirt, or nothing but a basketball hero. Starting over is God working repentance for sins of youth. God cleansing us. God remembering no more, and we too. This is grace—grace in the morning of our mature and believing realization that Christ has made us new! Now moving on … and up, thankful for the relationships and families of our youth. And believing that the person of God’s choice for our marriage, the best one for us, already known of God, is probably already known by us.
Explanation: Ministers should not be the last ones to know, nor the elders, about two in the church who are seeking marriage. Fathers should communicate this sacred thing, the covenant marrying of their children, to the men appointed to watch over the soul-life of the congregation. And those seeking marriage should be very much concerned right from the beginning, and even before, to have the approval of the church in their pursuit. When covenant Girl-X walks arm-in-arm into the church with Guy-Y, and nobody knows the Guy, or if we know the Guy and do not approve, this is not good. We coddle this anti-covenant, church-ignoring cuddling to our shame.
This all, this church-involvement, makes for a formality, a solemnity, a publicity, an orderliness, and wisdom which becomes the path of marriage, and honors the God of covenant. Such (formality, solemnity, etc.) must not wait till a certain wedding day, but should be characteristic of the way. To be sure, one would not expect the covenanting man and maid to wear a tux and a bridal dress when they have just started pursuing marriage with one another. But just as on the day of marriage it is important, as the Marriage Form tells us, that N. and N. be concerned to make their vows before “this Christian assembly,” and “this his holy Church” (whether in an official church worship service, or whether the church is with the couple “in spirit”), so grace and truth and God’s church should mark the way the Lord leads two to become one. For good counsel, for godly encouragement, for prayers, that the couple may be an example for other godly couples to follow, and for honor … let our way with men and maids be the way of the church family!
Explanation: Single men of the covenant must know God. They must know Him personally, delight in Him always, love His Word, long for the sweet hours of prayer-conversation with their heavenly Father, and seek His kingdom first. They must follow hard after righteousness (Is. 51:1) and flee all manner of unrighteousness. In this way they show the image of the Son, as all members of the body of Christ must, and also as those men who will, in their marriage, be called to be as Christ in relation to the wife.
In the faith-cultivation of this primary relationship with God, the covenant man is blessed with the knowledge of God’s will for him concerning marriage. For godly men will know, in their knowing God, if they should marry. Marriage is not for all men. Marriage is not good for all men. This is precisely what the inspired apostle means in I Corinthians 7:7, 8ff. Should I live single for the Lord? Do I have the gift of self-control? Does the present situation of the world and in the church call for my being single to serve Christ (I Cor. 7:26, 27)? These questions a godly man asks—his concern being to be in the position, married or single, which is spiritually necessary for himself, and most profitable for the service of the kingdom of heaven.
As well, the godliness of the man who is walking in communion with God, the godliness which is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (I Tim. 4: 7, 8), is profitable unto, and has promise of, attracting godly women. Godliness is the best “scent,” men. It is the sweet smell of the divine. Put it on! Many will not come. That is good. One will. And that is really good.
And finally, men who would know God, and know God’s will for them for marriage, must know their godly father’s godly will—and make it their own. One, even our Lord Jesus, came to do not His own will, but Father’s. You come too, though it be the road not taken by many. You! You, dear reader! You who are born and born again to come from your youth to adulthood, from your family, to seek the good beginnings of another family. You, as Christ, come now to please your father in serving your God in whose stead your father stands, also and especially in your seeking the bride of his good pleasure.
Explanation: Godly men will, as Christ, pursue their lover only when ready to marry, and then ready to provide for their wife—for body (physically and economically), and for soul (spiritually). It will be the fullness of the time of their life. All will have been readied by God. The men will know it. They will know to do the will of God and take a bride.
This means a man will certainly not say, “Honey, let’s date—but we can’t even think of marrying till I pay off my snowmobile, SUV, and Uncle Sam.” Nor will he be ready to party with a woman, and never ready to pray.
Christ’s men, when ready, will pursue, courageously and confidently and ardently, and will not be pursued (by some feminist feline who calls them up to go to the party).
They pursue, as pictures of Christ (and His relation to His Father), knowing their godly father’s will, and that they are on father’s mission, which they make their own for father’s honor and Father’s glory.
The godly man who would pursue a mate must show by his participation and leadership in spiritual and edifying activities in the home and church that the life of a disciple of Christ, the life of seeking to have the Word of Christ dwell in him richly, the life of service, giving, and fellowship in the body of Christ … is not a part of his life, but is his whole life!
The godly man pursues, knowing the one he pursues, and that hers is a covenant home, and that she is confessedly and decidedly godly, and that it is the time of her love (that is, she is not twelve, and she is ready to forego, if necessary, her quest of a double doctorate).
He pursues, heading straight to the father of the maid, seeking his permission to pursue further his course, honoring him who must give her if she is to be given.
He pursues, solemnly and seriously, ready to commit to a relationship and to walking a path which, it is hoped, will lead to marriage.
His pursuit. A Christ-like, honorable, virtuous-through-and-through covenanting of a man with a maid in the covenant of grace!
… to be continued and concluded in the next Grace Life.