Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Contraception has become so common that the whole practice is hardly called into question any more. Even in the one denomination which forbids the use of contraception, the Roman Catholic Church, over half of the members are reported to practice it. For many years it has been hailed as a major medical breakthrough, which will succeed in curbing the earth’s population. It has been rigorously promoted as a valuable tool of population control. The doomsayers who have bombarded us with propaganda about terrible times of overcrowding and famine on our planet have looked to contraception as the answer to the world’s woes.
Recently, however, especially among Western countries, an entirely different note has been sounded. So successful has contraception been, along with legalized abortion, that now leaders in Western countries especially are beginning to fear that their efforts have gone too far. In the December 16, 1985 issue of U.S. News and World Report this whole matter was discussed at some length. The article begins by saying:
A growing “baby bust” that is destined to reshape the nation well into the 21st century is now generating intense controversy over the politics of fertility.
Never have U.S. birth rates been so low in this decade. If present trends continue, deaths in the U.S. will exceed births by the year 2034 and the population will decline sharply—a development that some experts fear will jeopardize the nation’s economic and political might around the world.
The 3.7 million children born in the U.S. last year represented a slight increase over 1983 because of the large number of women of childbearing age. Yet a woman today will have an average of only 1.8 children, 52 percent below the peak years of the baby boom and too low to maintain the current population.
The so-called birth dearth is even worse in Europe. West Germany has the lowest birth rate, with an average of fewer than 1.3 children per woman.
This will, according to U.S. News and World Report, create all kinds of problems. For one thing it
is likely to have dramatic consequences for the economy. Without more children to follow the baby-boom generations, the “Graying” of America will accelerate with 1 out of 5 people 65 or older by 2035. Social Security and private pensions funds will be severely stressed. By then, according to one estimate, there will be only 1.5 workers to support each Social Security beneficiary—compared with 3.4 workers today.
Certain industries will feel the effect of a shrinking pool of young people much sooner. . . . This will slow the rate of home building.
A similar situation confronts firms that manufacture desk-top computers. They also look to young people coming into the workplace to expand sales.
Shortages of young workers may even curb innovations . . . .
And worst of all, if present trends continue, America will cease to be a world power. Not only will a shrinking pool of young men be sufficient to keep the armed forces at their necessary strength, but
when you have a smaller tax base, it is more of a strain per capita to provide for the national defense, particularly if you have an adversary whose population is growing and whose per capita tax burden for weapons is consequently diminishing.
How true it is that wicked men can never do anything right when they flaunt the law of God.
But all of this presses upon us the question of the place of contraceptives in the life of the child of God.
We have pointed out in an earlier article that some forms of contraceptives are wrong in the nature of the case, because they are not in the truest sense of the word contraceptives, but are really instruments of abortion. This is true of so-called intra-uterine devices, which, while not preventing conception, prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum in the uterus of the mother. The result is that the fetus is aborted, though this takes place very shortly after conception. The same thing is true of the “morning-after” pill. It is designed, not to prevent conception, but to prevent the newly conceived baby from developing in the womb of the mother. These must be condemned out of hand as part of abortion techniques. And since we have discussed this subject in other articles, we will not speak of them here.
By contraception I refer to whatever means are used to prevent the conception of a child. This may range from various types of materials used to prevent conception, through sterilization procedures, to what is usually called the rhythm method.
There are three points which need to be made at the outset. The Scriptures give us no warrant to condemn the use of contraceptives or contraceptive procedures out of hand. This is evident from two considerations: 1) Various contraceptives, such as “the pill,” can be used for medicinal purposes to correct various malfunctions of the body, even though they, at the same time, make conception impossible. 2) There are circumstances when parents have no choice but to make use of contraceptives, especially when the life of the mother is threatened by pregnancy.
The second point that needs to be made is that God’s people are called upon to live consciously and responsibly before God in every area of their life, including marriage and bringing forth children. People are not to breed as animals, by instinct; they are to use marriage and sex within marriage as gifts of God to His glory, consciously seeking the honor of God’s name also in this important part of their life.
The third point is that intercourse itself is a gift of God to be used by husbands and wives within the marriage state as an expression of their love for each other. It can be and is an expression of love entirely apart from the conception of children. This is clear from the fact that to hold to a different position would simply mean that husbands and wives who are unable to have children or who are beyond the age of child-bearing would then not have the right to engage in intercourse.
All of this means that contraception belongs to the realm of Christian liberty and the rightness or wrongness of it must be judged on the basis of the motives in the hearts of those who make use of these methods.
We all know that liberty can easily become licentiousness. Paul speaks of this in Galatians 5:13: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Liberty becomes an occasion to the flesh when young people outside the marriage state engage in fornication, but use contraceptive methods to avoid the consequences of pregnancy. This is an abomination to the Lord, and no fornicator can enter the kingdom. Liberty becomes an occasion for the flesh when married people engage in adultery and use contraceptive methods to prevent pregnancy. This too is an abomination to God and will surely bring upon the sinner God’s just wrath.
But even within the marriage state the use of contraceptive methods can be and is judged by God to be wrong and sinful when their use is for the wrong motives. Those motives may be many and we mention only a few of them. It is part of the “climate” of our sophisticated age not to have large families. I myself well recall how shocked some people were when I or my wife told them we had eight children. Besides, children are a bother and a nuisance. It is not fun to have howling babies in the house, to have to get up in the middle of the night to feed them, to mop up their vomit when they are sick, to put up with their incessant demands, to rinse out their dirty diapers, etc. There are people who do not want to have children because the “strain” of bringing them up is too great. There are people who do not want children because they are too expensive to feed, clothe, educate, and prepare for life. There are parents who do not want to have children because children keep them from vacations, parties, skiing holidays, bowling, and all kinds of pleasure which their Souls crave. There are parents who do not want children, at least not very many, because the mother wants to work. The parents like the extra income because it enables them to buy the good things of life. All these motives are sinful and God hates them. To use contraceptives for such purposes is evil and brings God’s disapproval.
The Bible takes quite a different view of life than this. The purpose of marriage is to bring forth children; specifically, the purpose of a covenant marriage is to bring forth covenant children. While God does not always make that possible because some parents are prevented from having children, nevertheless, the institution of marriage is for that very reason. When God joined Adam and Eve in marriage, He added this word to the institution: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.”
Covenant parents bring forth covenant children. Covenant parents are deeply impressed with their calling and obligation, not only to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord, but to bring forth children, for God has given them the great privilege of bringing forth the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. In a wonderful and mysterious way, God uses covenant parents to bring forth that number of elect whom He has chosen from all eternity, whom He has given to Christ, who are redeemed through the blood of the cross, and who are destined to live in covenant fellowship with God through Christ in the new heavens and the new earth. God will, of course, see to it that His church is born. He has His own elect number, engraved on the palms of His hands. Not one shall fail to be born, to be saved and to be brought to heaven. Covenant parents, conscious of this and conscious of the privilege of bringing forth this church, understand that marriage is the institution which God has provided for this church to be brought forth.
Godly parents, therefore, consider children to be a great blessing. How different this is in the world, where children are a curse and a bother. Children are a heritage of the Lord, and blessed is he whose quiver is full of them. In the covenant family, children are like olive plants round about our tables and the parents who are blessed see their children’s children and peace upon Israel.
So true is this that in the Old Testament we have many instances of godly women who saw their barrenness as a curse and who prayed earnestly for children. They did this in the consciousness that in having children they would have a part in bringing forth the Christ, Who would be their Savior. This has not changed in the New Testament. A woman is still saved through child-bearing. None of us can be saved unless all of God’s people are saved. The whole body of elect goes to heaven, or none goes. Christ will not return until the last elect is born and brought to repentance, as Peter teaches in II Peter 3:9. In eagerness for the return of Christ and the full salvation of heaven, God’s people bring forth children. And they do so, greatly in awe that God has given them such a wonderful privilege.
In the light of all this must contraceptive methods be considered and used. It is, you see, a matter of the motive; but God knows the heart and judges every man according as he does things out of a true faith, in keeping with the law of God, and to God’s glory.
There are times when contraception is necessary. When parents, in deciding when to have a child or another child, want to wait a bit for good and spiritual reasons, abstinence is the honorable way. You will say that this does not always work and is by no means “safe.” That is true. But the believer stands in the consciousness of the fact that God gives us our children, and that ultimately each child fashioned in the womb is a work of God delicately and carefully done according to God’s own counsel and will.
There are times when other methods must be used. When the believer faces these times, he does so prayerfully and carefully, asking always, “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” He is clearly concerned about the approval of God. Husbands and wives know that God’s blessing on their marriage is indispensable and they live in the great fear that they will find themselves displeasing to God in this important and blessed part of their life. But they know that when they decide that God has so arranged the circumstances of their life that they must put off having children or refrain altogether, God will bless their decision.
Pharaoh attempted to impose birth control upon the Israelites while they were in Egypt when he commanded all the baby boys to be drowned in the river. Israel refused to obey the king in this respect and did all they could to continue to have children and to hide them from the king when the children were born. The mid-wives cooperated in this. And God blessed them. The bringing forth of children was more important than the king’s command.
It does indeed cost a lot of money to have children, bring them up, and educate them in the fear of the Lord. But we easily put a higher priority on earthly possessions than we do on children; and then we sin. Paul urges upon the church: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (I Tim. 6:6-8). The Lord has promised us that He will provide for all our needs. His promise has never failed. If we are content with our needs, we will be satisfied when the costs of children keep us from possessing the good things in life. We will find greater delight in our children than in houses and lands. We will know that we labor for eternity when we take care of our children, instead of laboring for things which pass away with the using. And when we and our children are finally safe in glory we will praise and honor Him Who has given them to us.