Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.…
I. DUTY OF WIVES. "Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands."
1. Ground of subjection.
(1) The husband represents Christ to the wife. "As unto the Lord." The original of the position of husband is to be found in Christ. It is in this character that he appears in the forty-fifth psalm, in the Song of Songs, and in other parts of Scripture. He is the absolute impersonation of the idea (the Husband by pre-eminence); and what we find in the human family on earth is only a faint copy of the original. It is true, too, that the husband is not in the family in his own name. He derives his authority from Christ. He is there as representing Christ. He is there as though Christ were there. What, then, the wife is in duty bound to render to her husband, she is not to render to him simply, but to him as representing Christ.
(2) It has its foundation in nature. The natural relationship. "For the husband is the head of the wife." It is not implied in this that the husband is superior to the wife in all qualities, but only that he is her superior in those qualities which fit him for being head. Especially his superior strength and self-reliance mark him out for taking the leading part. He is husband, or band of the house - what keeps it undivided and keeps it up. He has to come between his wife and the world, to shield her from its glare and its harm. While she is a keeper at home, he has to go out and work for her, that he may provide for her maintenance and comfort. It is therefore fitting that she should lean upon him and be guided by him. The Christian analogy. "As Christ also is the Head of the Church." The headship is a great doctrine for the Church, already taught in this Epistle. As the wife in her weakness and distrustfulness of self leans upon her husband, so the Church in her weakness and felt insufficiency is to lean upon Christ. Worldly powers may be hostile, but she can never be deprived of the protection of her Head. Protected by him, she must be dictated to by none, but must take the law, pure and simple, from his lips. In the analogy there is an important difference. "Being himself the Savior of the body." It must very seldom have happened that one has made a wife of her whom he has rescued from a watery grave or other form of death. But it is true of Christ that he has made a spouse of her whom he has delivered from everlasting destruction. He is Savior of the body, i.e. the Church. That makes his headship peculiar (without analogy in the earthly type), and gives him a peculiar hold on the obedience of the Church.
2. Manner and extent of subjection.
(1) Manner. "But" (that is, though Christ is more than Protector, is also Savior of the Church) "as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands." The ideal set before her is that, as the Church deports herself toward Christ, so she is to deport herself toward her husband. It has this advantage (high as it is) that, by entering into the spirit of her relationship to her husband, she should be greatly assisted in subjecting herself (as her husband under some disadvantage must also subject himself) to Christ.
(2) Extent. "In everything." The necessary limitation here is - in everything that he, acting in the Name of Christ, has a right to expect of her. If he were laying anything sinful or purely arbitrary and tyrannical upon her, she would be justified in resisting him (appealing from him to Christ). But if it is within his right, and what he judges important, then (even when she cannot give her approval) she should be willing to fall in with his arrangement.
II. DUTY OF HUSBANDS. Husbands, love your wives. As the husband excels in the governing qualities, so she excels in the lovable qualities.
"For softness she, and sweet attractive grace." If it can be said that he has more power, it can be said that (by her pure and modest feeling, her deep tenderness and devotion) she has more influence.
1. Manner. Christian analogy. "Even as Christ also loved the Church." We are to think of the love of Christ here only under the special aspect in which the apostle presents it, viz. his conjugal love, or love of espousals.
(1) His devotion to his spouse. "And gave himself up for it" (or "her," as in the original). "Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep." Years of servitude he had to give for Rachel; yet they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he bore to her. It was a hard price he had to pay for her; but we read here of what was infinitely harder, of One who had to give himself for his spouse. He had to forget himself in humiliation and sorrow and death for her, and yet, hard as that was beyond all conception, it appeared as though it was nothing, for the love he bore to her.
(2) Purpose of his devotion.
(a) Immediate purpose (process of sanctification). "That he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of baptism. The water with the Word. The language is taken from the ordinance of fact is pointed to that the Church needs cleansing. Baptism goes upon the supposition that we are all by nature defiled with sin. It says this, "We are all as an unclean thing." The Church was in this state of impurity when the Son chose her for his bride. To this the words apply - He loved her foul that he might make her fair. Washed certainly she must be (as the bride used to be before marriage), to be fit for associating with the highest purity. The blessed fact is also pointed to that there is what has cleansing power. "By the washing of water," it is said here. It is the water used in baptism that we are to think of, and that water in what it signifies, viz. the purifying influences of the Spirit. As water washes defilement from vessels, from the person, so the Spirit washes moral defilement from our hearts. This washing of water must be accompanied with the Word. For the Spirit cannot purify alone, but only through what the Word reveals, especially that blood of Christ which is said to cleanse from all sin.
(b) Remote purpose (result of sanctification). "That he might present the Church to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." By this we are to understand that Christ is to have in the Church a bride of incomparable beauty. When the cleansing process has been completed, the Church will be glorious ("all-glorious" is the language of the forty-fifth psalm, and the effect of the description here), more glorious than any material substance can be, more glorious than the sun in the heavens. There will not be spot or trace left of her former defilement. There will not be wrinkle or sign appearing of coming age (such as come.'s to an ordinary bride). To make it more emphatic, it is added that there will not be any such thing, nothing whatever to mar her beauty. But still the description proceeds; she will be holy. Her beauty (as it will not be imperfect or fading) will not be outward, but will be the beauty of holiness. And she will be without blemish, so transcendently beautified that to add to her beauty would be (in things that are less)
"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet." At present the Son's bride has many a spot, many a wrinkle (her cleansing must still go on, her beauty needs bringing out), but the time is coming (in the Divine purpose which cannot fail, in the conception of Christ which must be realized) when she will be a fit bride for him. And then it is that, as is said here, he is to present her to himself. He is to leave it to no other (say, angelic attendants) to present her, but he is to take it into his own hand (notwithstanding the double character in which it requires him to act). And this done (the marriage an accomplished fact), then, as is said in the Prophet Zephaniah, he will rejoice over her with joy, He will rest in his love; he will joy over her with singing. This, then, is the ideal which is put before husbands. It is what we could not have dared to have put before us of ourselves. It would have seemed profanity to have conjoined things so far apart. But thus it has been dictated for us by the Spirit of inspiration: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church." The husband is to possess, to cherish, and to manifest devoted love toward his wife. And if his is the position of authority, yet is he (an all-requiring love being also his) to forget himself in services rendered to her. And specially is he taught from the high model that he is not to pamper his wife (or to be careful how to please his wife, as Paul puts the case of the married), but he is to regard her as given him for a higher end, and to seek that she may possess all spiritual beauty.
2. Ground. "Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies." The ground of the duty is that the wife is one flesh with the husband. There are two points (not immediately connected, but brought up afterward) which go to prove this. The first is that woman derived her being from man. Eve was taken out of Adam, and the language was used regarding her by Adam: "This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh." The second point is that, in the marriage union, man and woman are said to become one flesh. "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh." The wife, then, being one flesh with the husband, there comes into operation (in support of the duty of the husband) the principle of self-preservation. "He that loveth his own wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it." The Christian analogy. "Even as Christ also the Church." Christ bestows a fostering care on the Church; and this is not only lovely, but it is thoroughly natural. For:
(1) The Church is one flesh with Christ by derivation. "Because we are members of his body." Her spiritual being is from Christ as much as Eve's physical being was from Adam.
(2) The Church becomes one flesh with Christ in the marriage union. Here the words of the marriage ceremony ere quoted with the added comment, "This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the Church." The language, "one flesh," has a strangeness in its application to an ordinary marriage union, but the apostle is careful to let us know that he uses it in reference to the mystical union of Christ and the Church (by no distortion, for that is the archetype, or original pattern of all marriage, and, we must believe, was in the Divine mind when the words were uttered in Paradise). Shall we think of the Son leaving his Father's house and cleaving to his bride in human flesh? But we must not (as some have done) pry too curiously into it; for it is a mystery, and we must simply lay hold upon the great fact that it points to the union between Christ and the Church being so intimate that he loves her as he loves himself.
III. RECAPITULATION (order of duties inverted). Duty of husband. "Nevertheless [i.e. not to press the mystical bearings of the subject] do ye also severally love each one his own wife even as himself." It is again an ideal of very difficult attainment. What a fostering care is conjoined with his authority! And this to be Christ-like (in that fostering care which he is now bestowing upon his Church, and which he will one day bring to a mature result)? Duty of wife. "And let the wife see that she fear her husband." He may personally be deficient (in comparison with her) in those qualities which fit him for being head, but nevertheless she is to show deference to him in respect of the position which he holds. In the precept here it is supposed that he has Christian worth (which is what the representative of Christ should have, what is the adornment of his position). And even when a Christian wife cannot look to Christian worth in her husband, yet must she preserve reverence toward him, while at the same time seeking to win him over to Christ. Two lessons may be learned here.
1. Marriage is a Christian ordinance. It is not, indeed, to be raised (as it is by the Roman Catholics) to the rank of a Christian sacrament; but neither is it to be reduced to a mere civil arrangement. It is here associated with the sublimest Christian thought. This, and the presence of Christ at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, give it a thoroughly Christian character and throw a Christian halo around it of the brightest nature.
2. It is not to be lightly entered into, but in a Christian manner. Man and woman must belong to the Lord before they belong to each other, and are to enter into the married state that they may help each other to be more entirely the Lord's. A Christian is not at liberty to marry one who is not a Christian (even in the hope of making him or her a Christian). A Christian even among Christians is to seek from the Lord.
"And now, before the word we speak
That knits the bond man must not break,
We fain would know thy mind.
Lord, be the sweet conviction given
To both that thou thyself in heaven
The hallowed bond hast twined." It is in that spirit that it ought to be contemplated. Without this there can be no security for happiness or for Christ being honored in connection with the union formed, - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.