Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Court. Rum's II: The Importance of Law

In my last post on the importance of grace, I stressed just how important grace is to the functioning of courtship. Without it, I rather think sin, especially past sin, can destroy an otherwise healthy relationship. Of course, my last sentence might be construed as the analogy of "It always rains outside, except insofar as it doesn't." What else goes wrong in a relationship besides sin? Since grace is the answer to sin, I argued, it follows that grace is exceedingly important in courtship. There should be grace all around: suitor, young lady, and the lady's father.

Now let's take a look at the role of law in courtship. Its role in courtship is entirely analogous to the relationship it plays in the world as a whole. First of all, what do I mean by law? Good writers define their terms, and while defining terms doth not a good writer make, it is a necessary process. By "law" I mean the moral law of God, summarily comprehended, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, by the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, in turn, may be summarized by the Great Commandment, which is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and the Second Great Commandment, which is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. The Great Commandment summarizes the first table of the law, which constitutes the first four commandments. The Second Great Commandment summarizes the second table of the law, consisting of the last six commandments. So you might put the moral law in the following form:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.

2. You shall not make a graven image for the purposes of worshipping it.
Note: that I put this interpretation on the Second Commandment, and that I don't believe the Second Commandment forbids all images, I can show is a reasonable belief by pointing out that God commanded Moses, in the same time frame as the Commandments, to make both the Ark of the Covenant, with its graven cherubim, and also the bronze serpent. The cherubim are in heaven, and serpents are on earth. Ergo, God doesn't forbid the making of images per se. It is the worship of them that He condemns.

3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

5. Honor your father and your mother.

6. You shall not murder.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not bear false witness.

10. You shall not covet.

As the Westminster Larger Catechism points out, every single one of these laws has a positive and negative side to it. What is mentioned in each law tends to be an extreme. For example: "You shall not murder." Well, that's an extreme. But we know that Jesus said that anyone who hates is guilty of murder. So hatred is a sin in the same category as murder, though it is obviously not so extreme. The principle of this commandment is life. What's commanded is the promotion of life and anything that makes life better, what's forbidden is the destruction of life, and anything that tends to that effect. So every commandment has two bookends, two extremes. The negative extreme and all its lesser but associated actions are forbidden. Conversely, the positive extreme is commanded, along with all the lesser but associated actions. I'm just summarizing what the Larger Catechism has to say on the matter; the WLC is an absolute treasure-trove on the Ten Commandments.

The Reformers, especially Calvin, put forth three uses for the law. One use is to curb the evil of a fallen world. Another is to drive believers to their knees in awe at the perfection God requires, and to realize their utter inability to measure up to its perfection. The third use is as a guide for Christian living; not, indeed, to earn any merit on its own, but out of gratitude for what Christ has done. It is a grace of God, that He looks on our feeble attempts at good works, and really and truly calls them good. But such happens only by the grace of God. Indeed, grace is involved in all three uses of the law. In the first use of the law, it is common grace in operation, helping fallen man see that there is some good they can do, though such good cannot earn merit with God. In the second use of the law, it is the special grace of justification at work. In the third use of the law, it is the special, enabling grace of sanctification at work which drives us to good works.

So what? What does all this have to do with courtship? Well, one application that I can think of regards the setting down of rules of behavior. Perhaps the most important area in this regard is the physical. Boundaries there must be, for the full expression of sexual love is clearly immoral until after the wedding. It is folly to think that if you have no rules, you will "simply behave." The temptations are too great. So you should have rules.

But what is the proper attitude towards these rules? Since they are man-made, they are on no condition to be made equivalent to God's law. God's law is non-negotiable, is inspired, and is given to us by God Himself. We have no choice but to follow it. But man-made rules are not nearly so reliable. For one thing, there are many sets of rules that you could have. One family requires that you take your shoes off at the door, another does not. Which one is right? Well, neither. The first family may live in a very dusty place, and thus find it much harder to clean the floor without the rule in place. The second family may not live in such a place, and may find the added inconvenience of continually taking shoes off not to be worth the effort. There is no moral obligation to have one rule versus the other. Now, once the rule is in place, it should be enforced justly and fairly. But there should also be that bit of leeway which recognizes that there may be acceptable exceptions to the rule, whereas with God's law there are no exceptions (here I am speaking from God's perspective: what I am saying is that whatever God's law truly states, that it is which man must live up to; good men of unquestioned orthodoxy sometimes differ on what exactly the law states. I am not talking about such confusion on the human level).

For example: one couple may want to save their first kiss for the altar. Another may not feel a need. What would be going on in such a circumstance? Well, the first couple may feel that since they desire to kiss each other so much, perhaps it would be better to wait, the easier to be pure in their minds toward one another. It would behoove them, then, both to keep their rule and also, very importantly, not to look down on others who don't keep that rule or jump to the conclusion that they are antinomians. For such a rule is surely extra-biblical, a fact which does not necessarily render the rule unwise. For that matter, the previous example of shoes off versus shoes not off is extra-biblical. The second couple who does not wait until the altar for their first kiss should not jump to conclusions about the first couple, say, to conclude that the first couple is holier-than-thou or legalistic. They should also not allow their sexual desire to run away with them.

The laws of courtship, which, it seems to me, are biblical, are as follows.

1. The two young people should behave in all purity towards each other. They should not lust after one another. (Verses that say this are many; you could go for 1 Tim. 5:2 and Matthew 5:27-30.)

2. Since Christians should only marry Christians, it seems logical to conclude that a Christian may not court or be courted by an unbeliever. (Verses: 1 Cor. 7:39; though the context might be considered more restrictive than just any woman, I think it would apply to all. Also 2 Cor. 6:14.)

3. Both the young man and the young woman should be respectful of all authorities involved with the process. This is simply an application of the fifth commandment, found in Exodus 20:12, and Deuteronomy 5:16, and in Romans 13:1ff. In particular, the woman's covenant head, usually her father, is a very important person in this process. Courtship is a gradual transfer of covenant headship from the father to the suitor. Therefore, there must be that respect in place so that the young man may rightly claim he obtained covenant headship over the woman in an honorable way.

I would be remiss if I didn't address the possibility of breaking the law. What then? Well, breaking the law has another name: sin. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God. The Children's Catechism puts it like this: sin is not doing what God requires, or doing what God forbids. You have to deal with sin the same way you always deal with sin: grace. You must accept the grace that God so richly offers. Then that allows you to forgive the other person completely. What is forgiveness? It is the not bringing up, ever again, this sin against the person. Forgiveness, as Jay Adams wrote in his book From Forgiven to Forgiving, is a three-fold promise. When you forgive, you promise not to bring up past sins against a person either to him, to yourself, or to others. The old cliche, though is true: to err is human, to forgive is divine. True forgiveness comes about only through the grace of God.

I pray that whatever wisdom you find in these posts, accept, whatever folly, reject. Moreover, on no account would I want anyone to accept this post blindly, without further study. The word of no mere man is equivalent to the Word of God. Therefore, be like the Bereans, studying the Scriptures diligently to see if my statements are true.

God bless.

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At 1/18/2007 07:44:00 AM , Blogger Susan said...

This is excellent, Adrian! Really, really good. The first part would be a great stand-alone look at the role of law, and then you tied it so nicely to courtship. This is a great companion to your courtship and grace post. I thought your analysis of man-made rules - their help and danger - was especially good. Do we get to see further posts on courtship? :-D

At 1/18/2007 07:56:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading it!

At 1/20/2007 05:34:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Thank you both for your very kind comments; it's nice to know my efforts are appreciated.

As to further posts, I might post one on the blend of law and grace, possibly. It's difficult, because I'm not interested in all the details on this blog. Too often, putting details up produces legalists. Actually, there are one or two ideas floating around in my head on that score. Stay tuned! ;-)]

In Christ.

At 1/22/2007 09:33:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading both these articles - if only because we don't use the word "behoove" nearly enough! ;-)

I think we can get ourselves tied up in such knots over courtship and dating, and how to pursue a godly relationship if we were to follow everything we read on the Internet.

I think then it is so important to have more mature Christian friends to support and guide the couple as they consider marriage. We need to be accountable to others in everything we do and that includes our relationships.

How does that work when a girl's father is not a Christian or thinks that courtship is an odd concept? I'll be looking forward to your further thoughts.


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