It has been a long time ago that you wrote me concerning a problem of pastoral counseling in cases of abortion. Now that we have the time, we can come back to this matter. From your letter I did not detect any urgency in an answer, and so I thought it best to complete our discussion on practical preaching before we concentrated on this matter. Since your request to discuss this problem came a number of months ago, it might be well to get the matter clearly before our minds before we discuss it.
You wrote that you had a problem in this connection in your own congregation. I think it best to mention the problem because it has bearing on our discussion. You wrote concerning a young girl of your congregation who was married to an unbeliever. Through mistreatment by her husband, this girl lost her baby. You write that you consider this tantamount to an induced abortion. At this point you construct something of an argument. The argument, I think, goes like this. Abortion is, in the opinion of many, murder. But, it is clear from Scripture that murder must be punished with death. The law of the land does not agree with all this; in fact, it diverges at two points. The law of the land, in the first place, does not consider abortion a murder. In the second place, the law of the land does not permit capital punishment for murder except under particular conditions. (On this latter point, as you know, the law differs from state to state, the whole law is rather complex, and the Supreme Court has recently passed additional decisions on the matter. But we need not go into all this now.) But, because the law of the land is deficient in this regard, the Church must consider a person who commits murder to be what you call “legally dead.” Now this, in itself, means nothing; but you bring up the question whether this is not grounds for divorce. Some, you say, hold to this opinion. And the reasoning seems to be that if a person is legally dead, the marriage tie no longer exists.
You have written of what you have done. You say that you have sent the girl back to her husband, that you have given the girl into the care of an older woman in the congregation, and that you have urged the people of God to pray for them. Then you write: “1 would like to see you treat the pastoral implications in cases of abortion and separation from a man who ought to be dead.”
Before I actually enter into the matter, there are a couple of observations which are worth making. The first one is that one never ceases to be amazed at the terrible mess people can make of their lives through sin; And the point that needs emphasis is that sin is a dreadful monster which devours and destroys. God’s people must always be reminded of this. We can become so careless towards sin and we can so easily shrug sin off with a shake of the shoulders as if we need not really fear it. It is a toy to be played with, a fire which cannot bum, a dragon which we can keep as a pet. In fact, however, sin is a frightening monster. It consumes all in its path. It leaves devastation and broken lives in its wake: It, when it is permitted to enter the door of our lives, soon becomes our master and binds us in chains from which there is no escape—except by the tremendous and marvelous power of the grace of God.
But secondly, it is well also to observe that sin always carries with it consequences from which there is no escape. Sin, because it is the sin of the human heart, is so extremely complex that our lives become so tangled that it is scarcely possible to sort out the threads. The problems which sin creates are so involved that there often seems to be no solution. And the consequences of sin are consequences from which tie cannot be delivered and with which we shall have to live the rest of our lives. This is even true when sin is forgiven by God. After all, David’s sin of murder and adultery was forgiven. But David had to live the rest of his life with the sword in his house. And how grievously that sword wounded and destroyed in David’s family. The repentant drunkard, or dope addict, or fornicator is forgiven. But he carries with him to the grave a broken and ruined body ravaged by disease. And who can tell what untold harm is done to the man who gives himself over to the sins of pride, or lying, or hatred, or the like?
God’s people must understand sin’s dread power—not only that they may learn to flee from sin, but also that they may see the wonderful power of the grace of God which delivers from such horror.
But, to turn to your questions.
In the first place, I do not think it proper to argue in this connection the whole matter of criminal abortion and capital punishment as a just punishment for premeditated murder. You know my position well. Abortion for any other reason than to save the life of a mother is indeed murder, for it is the willful slaughter of a person. God’s Word is clear enough on the principle that the man who sheds another’s blood willfully and deliberately, must himself suffer the punishment of being put to death. We need not argue long about this. It is a Scriptural injunction. I just finished reading a rather lengthy series of articles in the Reformed Journal which was devoted to this latter question. It struck me that in all the writings of the authors (the articles were a kind of symposium), there was not one reference to Scripture. Many arguments pro and con were raised; but Scripture was not consulted on the matter.
There is also no question about it that this surely implies that the abortionist ought to be put to death. This follows in the nature of the case. Those doctors who perform abortions are murderers. Those who operate abortion clinics ought themselves to be put to death. There can be no question here.
But whether this applies to the case you mention is another matter. I do not think it does. Although the young man who harmed his wife so badly that theirbaby was aborted surely committed a grievous sin, he did not willfully and deliberately take a life. In the deeper sense of the sixth commandment which prohibits even hatred, he was certainly guilty of murder. But he did not, with premeditation, take a life. Scripture speaks of this as murder. The law of the land must uphold this outward keeping of God’s commandments. The law of the land cannot judge the heart. Only God can do this. It is important in our country (and in any country) that the outward observance of God’s law be enforced by the magistrate. But the inward observance of the law which requires love for God and our neighbor is beyond the reach of him who wields the power of the sword. The young man was not guilty of murder in this latter sense. He did not willfully kill his child.
I think too this answers the question concerning divorce. You did right in sending her back to her husband. There is no grounds here for divorce. Indeed, Paul writes concerning this problem in I Cor. 7:12-17: “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: if any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband: or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt saves thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.” If you have not already done so, you should read Rev. Engelsma’s discussion of this passage in his book: “Marriage, The Mystery of Christ and His Church.”
I think it an excellent idea that you have put this young girl in the care of one of the older women in the Church. It may be, in fact, that Paul suggests something along these lines in I Timothy 5:2-14. I do not think we do nearly enough of this in the Church. In fact, we very seldom make use of such help as that which older mothers are able to supply. I am sometimes concerned about this matter. There are many young married girls in the Church who soon become mothers. Many times, of course, they have their own mothers to whom they can go for help and guidance. But many times this is not possible for various reasons. These young wives and mothers not only face many and difficult problems of which they cannot speak very well with their husbands, but they are also uniquely subject to temptations—especially in the times in which we live. These temptations deal with such matters as abortion, birth control, bringing up children, etc. They are intensely personal problems and it is not easy to speak of them, even to their pastor. There are also many mothers in Israel who have borne and raised many children, and who have done so faithfully and with devotion to their covenant calling. They have acquired a deep understanding of God’s Word and a practical wisdom which is from above. They can understand and sympathize, help and guide; but in such a way that the Scriptures are always followed. I like your idea very much and encourage this practice.
But, of course, all this leaves you with the problem of continual pastoral labor in this situation. And pastoral labor is extremely important. The ultimate hope is, of course, that God will bring this young man to repentance. And God may be pleased to use his wife for this purpose. Scripture speaks of this both in that passage in I Corinthians 7 and in I Peter 3:1. This young wife will need a lot of help, though, to learn what it means to be in subjection to her husband. This is, no doubt, especially true with respect to the question of future children.
If the Lord is not pleased to bring this husband to repentance, then surely you have other problems. Especially if she is forced to leave her husband because life with him becomes impossible. I do not believe that there can be any grounds for a breaking of the marriage bond however. And that means that the young girl will be unable to marry as long as her husband lives. She must be made to see all this, for this is the clear teaching of Scripture.
Please feel free to write again if I have not touched upon the exact problems which you wanted me to discuss. I would like to talk about this matter of pastoral counseling sometime in a general sort of way; but we can do that in the future.
May God bless you in your labors.
Fraternally in Christ,