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Circular Letter, 1839
Norfolk and Norwich Baptist Association [England]
By John Bane
      Dear Brethren,
      THE marriage of believers with unbelievers is a subject which does not appear to have received that attention which its importance and interest deserve and demand. The consequence is, that a deep, wide, and overflowing stream is breaking down some of the barriers that separate the church from the world, and depriving it of some of its most important and interesting energies. It is spoiling many a promising flower ere it ripens into fruit, and depriving many avowed christians of that solid and lasting happiness which genuine and unrestricted piety is so admirably calculated to afford.

      “Marriage is honorable in all.” It is an institution appointed by the great Author of our being, by whose appointment it became the law of our nature, the legitimate source of human offspring, and the great bulwark of society in all its relations and responsibilities.

      “It is not good for man to be alone,” says the author of this social compact, “I will make him an helpmeet for him.” Paradise was rendered complete by society, and the companion which God made for man was the crowning work of creation; as soon as he had produced which, God pronounced the whole to be very good. The Saviour honored a marriage feast with his first miracle on earth; and the sacred writers frequently refer to the marriage union, to illustrate that intimate and lasting connexion which exists between God and his peculiar people. In this union is exhibited an attraction so powerful as to surpass all others; and an intimacy so close as to form a kind of identity. All other relations arise out of this first alliance, which, being voluntary and the root of all our social relations, should be formed with the greatest care, and watched over with the utmost circumspection. Other relations are involuntary and define their own limits, and point out their own peculiar duties; whilst the spontaneous character of the marriage contract constitutes its peculiarity, and cements its durability; and we feel it to be the most intimate and the most endearing of all our domestic relations, - “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.”

      Whether marriage is exclusively a civil or a religious institution, or whether it is both or either, as it may be regarded in different aspects, we shall not, on the present occasion, attempt to define, but simply confine our remarks to the marriage of believers with unbelievers, which we shall attempt to prove - is unreasonable

and therefore dangerous - is unscriptural and therefore sinful; and then point out the causes to which the prevalency of this evil may be ascribed, and the means by which its continuance may be prevented.

      It is necessary that we regard marriage as a deliberate union, formed between two persons of different sexes, in which they become not only “one flesh,” but “one in heart, in interest, and design.” In the great and numerous concerns of domestic life, in which their interests are mutual, one purpose actuates them both.

      In circumstances of difficulty, as well as in those of common occurrence, they become the objects of mutual consultation, and the sources of mutual information, when a confidence of the most interesting and valuable kind felt in each other's disposition affords a relief.

      In properly constituted and well regulated marriages, the contracting parties have the satisfaction arising from the idea that they have in each other a friend that sticketh closer than a brother; an helpmeet on whom each may rely for all the aid and assistance which it is in the power of the other to bestow: hence a mutual confidence is engendered and justified, that can neither be exercised nor encouraged in any other of our domestic relations. How important then, is the inference, that those who have it in contemplation to form such an union, or who have entered already into the solemn compact, should “be of one heart, and one soul,” in order that they may strive together to promote each other's interests in the world in which they live. And how completely unreasonable is it for those who profess to believe the gospel, and to estimate religion as the one thing needful, to form so intimate a connexion with such as are destitute of the fear of God, and who treat religion, at best, but as a minor consideration. We might as reasonably expect to gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles, as to expect genuine domestic happiness from such discordant materials.

      Should it be observed that there are those who make good husbands and good wives, who are not religious characters; and that a large portion of domestic peace and happiness really exists, where neither party is concerned about religion, - without controverting this position, we may observe, that in these cases, so far as religion is concerned, both parties are agreed, - and agreed to discard it; and therefore the want of it in either does not become a bone of contention, nor a source of regret, and the danger arises from the agreement to live without that religion which the parties with whom we are connected feel to be of the utmost importance, as it regards real happiness, both in this world and in that which is to come.

      In the marriage of believers with unbelievers, the case is very different, and it is absurd to expect domestic happiness when the contracting parties are so opposed to each other, respecting the principles of action, and the ingredient by which alone domestic troubles can be sanctified, and peace and happiness secured. Besides, the very thought that the person with whom the believer

has formed an alliance so intimate and so lasting, is an unconverted character, -living without hope and without God in the world, must be exceedingly distressing to the pious mind, and injurious to the peace and happiness of the believer so circumstanced. From principles so discordant, jarring sentiments will proceed, painful reflections must be listened to, and, to avoid greater evils, one party must yield, and the yielding party is generally the one who knows the danger of strife and the importance of peace, which is thus maintained at the expense of some important duty. When religion receives a wound, the piety of the individual is greatly iniured.

      Such is the nature of true religion and the constitution of the human mind; such are the hindrances with which pious persons have to meet in the world; such are the nature and the number of their duties, their foes, and their infirmities, that they need help instead of hindrances, in the cause of personal piety; nothing, therefore, can exceed the inconsistency and the danger to which those believers expose themselves, who, in addition to all the unavoidable circumstances unfavourable to religion, by which they are surrounded, add this, above all, that they form so intimate a union with such persons as are destitute of love to God, if not opposed to all that is holy, just, and good.

      A difference of sentiment on points of comparatively trifling importance, even when both parties are pious, is often an impediment in the way of domestic comfort, and frequently calls for the exercise of much patience and christian forbearance; but to join affinity with those who are opposed on the all-important subject of religion is a risk, as it regards personal comfort and piety, which no believer, without great danger, can incur. And it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to point out an instance in which such a contract has been formed where religion has not suffered, or where personal piety, peace, and happiness have not declined as the consequence.

      The real amount of evil arising from such unreasonable conduct, as the marriage of believers with unbelievers, can be fully estimated only by Him who “searcheth the heart and trieth the reins of the children of men,” from whom the secret recesses of retirement cannot hide the bitter regrets resulting from the neglect of known duty, or the violation of known, and perhaps approved commands.

      But the marriage of believers with unbelievers is not only injurious to domestic peace and personal religion, it is also exceedingly dangerous to the several branches of the family resulting from such an alliance. The unbelieving party is far more likely to be confirmed in indifference, or hardened in infidelity, than to be seriously impressed with the importance of a religion so powerless in its influence, or so compliant to circumstances. How are children to be trained up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, when one of their parents gives practical proof of indifference, if not of entire opposition to the religion of the gospel? In a vast number

of such cases, family worship is dispensed with. The religious instruction of children is neglected, or if attempted, it is by a kind of stealth, and under circumstances not very promising of success, because the evil example of one parent has generally more influence on a child than the pious injunctions of the other. The impression on the mind of servants in such cases is, that too much religion is a manifestation of weakness, and that opposition or entire neglect is only verging to the other extreme,—indifference is the consequence,—souls are neglected, and the parties are induced to live without hope and without God in the world.

      Religion is the “one thing needful,” and ought always to be treated by its professors as of paramount importance. Essentially necessary as the grand regulator of all our movements, and the sanctifier of all our enjoyments, it should enter into all our concerns, and influence all our actions. It should be supreme in our estimation, to which every thing should bow, and before which every thing should give way, whilst itself should be subordinate to no consideration whatever. When religion thus occupies its proper place in the heart, in the family, and in society, peace shall flow as a river, and righteousness as the waves of the sea.

      Let our pious young friends, then, pause, before they venture to form so intimate a union with those who, being destitute of piety, will prove themselves to be destitute of the ingredient essential to sanctified affection and holy enjoyment. By forming such an alliance, they cannot avoid placing themselves in circumstances of trial and difficulty, producing that unhappiness and regret which can only be rendered tolerable by a sacrifice of conscience, or by such a compliance with circumstances, on their part, as will disturb their minds, inflict a wound on their profession, grieve the Holy Spirit, and prevent their usefulness in the cause of God.

      But the marriage of believers with unbelievers is unscriptural and therefore sinful. Mixed marriages were forbidden under the Old Testament, and whenever the law on this point was violated, guilt was incurred, and the displeasure of God was the invariable consequence.

      In the days of Enos, the son of Seth, the first separation was made between the worshippers of God, and the profane descendants of Cain. The family of Seth, on account of their adhering to the principles of religion, were called the “sons of God,” whilst the descendants of Cain were called the “sons of men,” denoting that they were a carnal and irreligious race, from whom the sons of God kept themselves, and refused to join affinity with them that feared not God, and whilst they kept apart from that sinful race, religion continued in its purity. Sin was greatly restrained, and they were “the salt of the earth;” but in process of time they yielded to the suggestions of carnal appetite, broke through the restraints of piety, and joined in affinity with the enemies of God. “And it came to pass when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and

they took unto them wives of all that they chose,” and so great became the propensity to this evil, and so prevalent the practice, that we are told “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth:” Genesis vi., 6.

      So extensive was the evil in the days of Ezra, that that holy man despaired of effecting any reformation among the people, or of establishing religion in the land, till that sin was purged from among the people; hence the first step which he and his friends took towards accomplishing the desire of their hearts, was to correct the prevailing evil.

      If it should be observed that it was from the Jews that the Messiah was to proceed, and that God, to preserve them as a nation to himself, enjoined them not to intermarry with the inhabitants of other nations, it may be sufficient to reply, that the evil of which we are speaking, was noticed, condemned, and punished, long before the Jews, as a nation, existed, and long before any national distinction was used to denote one people from another. It is evident that the intermarriage of the seed of the righteous with the seed of the wicked, greatly accelerated that extreme corruption, the consequence of which was the almost entire extinction of mankind by the deluge!

      It is, however, still more to our purpose to observe that the marriage of believers with unbelievers is directly contrary to the allegiance which we owe to Jesus Christ.

      The object for which the Saviour came into the world, was to purify unto himself a peculiar people. These he styles his servants - his friends - his brethren - and they are said to be chosen in him before the foundation of the world, “that they should be holy, and without blame before him in love.” Nothing can be more strict, nothing can be more just, nothing can be more binding, than the allegiance which believers owe to the Lord and Saviour, for they are “bought with a price,” and are therefore bound “to glorify God in their bodies and with their spirits which are God’s.” And they can answer the purpose of their redemption only so far as they serve God in their day and generation. What then is the nature of that obedience which the Saviour claims from his disciples? It consists in an unreserved surrender of themselves, body, soul, and spirit, to his service, to be his property, and at his disposal: such a surrender he expects from every believer. To make such a surrender, his people are to be “willing in the day of his power,” and when a public profession of christianity is made, the believer becomes avowedly “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ;” “buried with him in baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life.” Thus the sovereign claim of the Saviour to the obedience of his people, is recognised on the one hand, and an entire devotedness to his service is avowed on the other; and the sum of religion consists in both being maintained in their undivided purity: hence the importance of believers avoiding every step that would

interfere with the acknowledged rights of the Saviour, or with the avowed allegiance of his saints.

      Whilst true allegiance to Jesus Christ allows and approves of the marriage of believers with believers, and many of its duties can be performed only by persons so associated, the universal import of its directions is, “be not unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness? and what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” 2 Corinthians vi., 1, 4.

      “They are not of the world,” says the Redeemer, “even as I am not of the world:” all unnecessary connexion with the world, entered into by his people, is forming an alliance with the enemies of their sovereign, and is quite inconsistent with that allegiance which they owe to him as their “Lord and Master.” You will, therefore, not be surprised at the assertion, that -

      The marriage of believers with unbelievers is contrary to the express injunctions of the New Testament.

      Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, is an injunction which prohibits all unnecessary connexion between the disciples of Christ, and unconverted characters, and it has an especial bearing on the point in hand; there is no argument that can be brought against a believer, forming an alliance of any kind with an unbeliever, that will not receive additional force in its application to the marriage of a believer with an unbeliever.

      The matrimonial alliance is the most intimate, and therefore the most inconvenient if composed of discordant materials; it is the most lasting, and therefore the most dangerous if formed on erroneous principles. If believers are prohibited forming any unnecessary association with the unconverted, lest they should partake of their spirit, and imitate their ways, how great is the danger when the alliance is that in which they become “one flesh.”

      The injunction, not to be unequally yoked, is founded on the danger of contamination, and the danger becomes greater in proportion to the intimacy of the union formed, whilst the guilt of violating this injunction, bears a proportion to the reasonableness of its object, and the benevolence of its design.

      The incidental manner in which Paul introduces the subject, in the seventh chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, is a strong confirmation of the divine will on the subject. The case which the apostle had under consideration, was that of a pious widow, who, being “loosed from the law of her husband,” by his death, was again placed in that condition in which, says the apostle, “she is at liberty to marry whom she will, only in the Lord,” thus strongly implying that whatever may be the circumstances which induce believers to enter the matrimonial alliance, it must invariably be with this restriction, - let them marry, they are at liberty to marry, but only in the Lord. This appears to be the law of the case, equally binding upon all those believers who contemplate entering the marriage union. All other marriages in which the disciples of Christ are concerned, are unreasonable

and dangerous; are unscriptural, and therefore sinful; “wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

      From what has been observed we infer, that for a believer to marry an unbeliever, is opposed to the spirit of divine truth, - a violation of divine precept, - and an act of rebellion against God. We cannot, therefore, be surprised at the serious inconvenience and amount of real evil that flow from such a practice. Yet who cannot immediately call to mind a variety of cases in which this sin has not only been deliberately committed, but deeply deplored.

      It is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against God. And this is a sin from the evil consequences of which there is no escape. And to every believer who is about to transgress the command of God, on this point, we may say with certainty, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

      It now remains that we point out some of the causes to which the prevalency of this evil may be ascribed; and the means by which its continuance may be prevented.

      The prevalence of this evil may be ascribed, in the first place, to the want of a serious, steady, and pious determination in the disciples of Christ, to consult the sacred scriptures on the subject with a firm resolution to be regulated by their directions and injunctions.

      The desire to enter into the marriage contract is the simple dictate of the law of nature; and this is all the law which the untutored heathen have for their direction; whilst the members of civil society are regulated by the laws of the country in which they reside. But the christian stands on more elevated ground, and is bound by his profession to act on christian principles. A want of consideration here, is often the cause of an amount of evil beyond our calculation. The guilt, the shame, and the disgrace which attach to those who descend from the high ground on which a profession of christianity places them, to the mere dictates of nature, or the carnal policy of the men of the world, are often felt by those who are conscious that in the affair of marriage they have not acted consistently: and they feel that others know, that in this instance, they have acted very inconsistently with the laws of christianity and of God. This would be still more felt if the evil of which we complain were less prevalent; but, it is in this case as in many others, the prevalence of sin accustoms to its practice, till man becomes insensible to its guilt and almost to its existence. The very extent of the practice is sometimes referred to as a justification of its continuance, and as a palliation of its evil; but neither the practice itself nor the justification would be attempted, were believers more in the habit of consulting the “law of the Lord” on the subject, with a disposition to take it as a lamp to their feet and a light to their paths. We would therefore urge on our young friends and all who have it in contemplation to form a matrimonial alliance,

to “search the scriptures”—to cultivate their spirit, and to adhere to their directions. Consider your relation to God; “in all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy paths.

      2. The worldly mindedness of parents and guardians is frequently a cause of the prevalency of this evil. “The world will love its own:” and it is natural that those parents, who know not the power of religion nor the value and importance of christian principles, should form as close a connexion with the world, and the things of the world, as they can. Their thoughts run no higher, and their pursuits can be no other. In forming, or in consenting to, a matrimonial alliance for their children, the greatest care is manifested for, at least, an equality of worldly circumstances. Property, honor, and the good things of this world are considered the main object to be regarded in the formation of such a union. But by parents professing godliness, religion should be the first and chief qualification required in the future companion of their offspring. All other qualifications however desirable, however necessary, should be but secondary considerations; for the want of this, many connexions are formed and sanctioned which are contrary to the scriptures and injurious to the cause of Christ. Yes, much of the evil must be ascribed to the carnal and mistaken policy of those professing christians, who act as though property, respectable connexions, and worldly influence, were of the greatest importance, whilst religious qualifications are regarded as of secondary concern. All is well if these all meet in the proposed new relation; but seek ye first that which will not disgrace your family, nor lower yourself in your worldly circumstances, is the advice which, in effect, is too often given by professors of christianity to their inexperienced offspring; forgetting that it is written “the little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked;” and perhaps not wishing to remember that in every case religion is the “one thing needful,” and that in all cases christians are enjoined to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” It is not therefore to be wondered at when parents, professedly christian parents, thus treat the subject of religion, that our young friends, in so many instances, should imitate the conduct and imbibe the spirit of those whom they esteem as their natural guardians and experienced monitors, and who thus foster an evil which has caused piety to weep and “the ways of Zion to mourn.”

      Let then those parents who profess the religion of the gospel be careful to impress the minds of their offspring with the paramount importance of true religion in reference to every stage of life. Especially let them be careful to inculcate the importance and advantages of forming the marriage union on the principles of christianity; that those who engage in that alliance may be of one heart and one soul, striving together for the faith of the gospel.

      3. A large amount of the evil may be placed to the account of the ministers of the gospel—the pastors of churches, many of whom appear to be of opinion that it is no part of their province to interfere with the domestic arrangements of the people of their

charge, and that it is a dangerous experiment to concern themselves with an affair so delicate as that of the marriage of any part of their flock. But is not the unpleasantness of the task the real reason for its neglect? It is often exceedingly unpleasant to interfere in such cases, and so it is to administer reproof, to warn the unruly, and to admonish of their danger those who are exposed to sin or to the influence of temptation. But the unpleasantness of the task can never be admitted as a valid plea for the neglect of those duties, which are incumbent on the pastors of churches as overseers of the flock of God. Any unnecessary interference in such cases, is certainly neither wise, prudent, nor safe; but if pastors were to set their faces against the marriage of any part of their flock with those who are destitute of piety, and to point out the unscriptural nature of such unholy alliances in a faithful, firm, and friendly manner, they would be doing their duty, and, in many cases, they would prevent a multitude of evils, which their silence and non-interference have rather a tendency to encourage.

      If a pastor of a church is loved by the people of his charge, his opinion and advice will be respected and regarded. And should he fail in his object, he will then have the satisfaction of having done his duty; and he will avoid those reproaches which will ever follow the neglect of those duties to which he ought to have attended.

      4. The lax state of discipline in many of our churches on this subject, is another cause of the prevalency of this iniquity. When the members of churches are allowed, with impunity, to form unscriptural alliances, no wonder that this evil should abound more and more. The non-interference of the churches is a tacit confession, either that the practice in question is not an evil of great magnitude; or, that it is one that does not fall under their jurisdiction; in either case the parties concerned are encouraged to risk the consequences, and “sin against Christ.”

      A little attention to the nature, constitution, and objects of a christian church, will convince us that in disregarding the unscriptural conduct of its members, every such society subjects itself to the guilt of such neglect.

      A christian church is a company of avowed believers, leagued together for the purpose of promoting divine worship, - of watching over each other's best interests, - and of promoting each other's welfare in the fear of God. In forming, or in joining, such a community, the members agree to submit themselves to one another; and they are enjoined to “exhort one another daily” as circumstances may require; and it is their duty, by every means in their power, to check the appearance of evil either in themselves or in their fellow-members.

      Let the pastors of our churches manifest an unflinching integrity for the spirit and principle of the New Testament, and sternly oppose this growing iniquity; let them watch against the first steps that may lead to it amongst the people of their charge; and prove by their timely admonition and friendly advice, that perseverance

in such conduct is exceedingly dangerous, and contrary to the spirit and injunctions of the word of God, so that “they may be without excuse.”

      Let the members of churches point out in a “spirit of meekness” the nature and consequences of the evil, as soon as they perceive that any of their fellow-members are likely to fall into it. “Brethren if any of you do err from the truth and one convert him, let him know that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his ways, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”

      A well regulated church, manifesting its disapprobation of such a violation of divine law, will prove that no such iniquity can be allowed to escape its notice, nor be regarded with impunity; this will act as a salutary check on this extensive and growing, because much neglected, evil. Let the conduct of the churches be consistent, and the purity and the happiness of their members will be greatly promoted.

      Should it be objected that this is a delicate and difficult case to place before a church in order to call for the exercise of its authority, the reply is, that the difficulty of this, like that of many other cases, arises from the neglect of previous steps which ought to have been taken. If the pastors and members were to do their duty, it is not probable that many such cases would have to be brought under the notice of the churches, and when such a step did become necessary, it would be under circumstances that would render their duty both plain and easy. Every such case should be treated with that firmness and decision which would evince a determination on the part of the church, not to connive at the willful and obstinate transgression of the divine law, in any of its members.

      There is one consideration that is sometimes urged as a kind of justification of the conduct which it is the object of this letter to condemn, and only one which appears to call for our further attention. We notice it, because it is frequently urged in such a manner as to convince us that the object of the parties urging it is to impress us with the idea, that in their estimation there is something very plausible about it. The case is this: - a believer forms an intimacy with a person who is destitute of religion - remonstrance is offered - the impropriety of proceeding is pointed out. The reply is, “I do not think the person for whom I feel an attachment is a pious person, but perhaps he may become one, and who can tell but I may have the honor of being the means of his conversion. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband, or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” On which we may be allowed to observe, first, that the passage of scripture thus introduced is in 1 Corinthians vii, 16, and that it is not only not to the point, but directly opposed to the purpose for which it is introduced. The case supposed by the apostle was that of a matrimonial alliance having been formed when both parties were in an unconverted state; one of whom afterwards receiving the gospel and becoming a christian, questioned

the propriety of continuing to live with an unconverted partner; but as christianity does not break a contract formed under such circumstances, Paul urges the parties to continue to live with each other notwithstanding the change which had passed on one of them since the matrimonial alliance had been formed, and then he suggests the possibility of the converted party being made useful to the unconverted, as an encouragement to continue such a connexion; but this affords no countenance whatever to those persons who being believers join affinity with them that believe not.

      2. It should be considered, that in no case are we allowed to “do evil that good may come.” God has provided his own means for the conversion of sinners, - let us use them, and expect the blessing. But let us never violate divine injunctions, under the pretence that God will bring good out of evil; this would be like casting ourselves from the pinnacle, under the presumption that God has given his angels charge concerning us to bear us up that we dash not our foot against a stone.

      3. It is a dangerous as well as a sinful experiment, and we strongly suspect that the offered plea is nothing more than an excuse for a line of conduct which the transgressor feels to be at variance with divine injunctions, and yet is desirous of catching at anything that may serve as a palliation of such inconsistent conduct. And painful observation convinces us, that such proceedings are more frequently injurious to avowed believers, than beneficial to those who believe not. Let us take the scriptures for our guide. Let us imbibe their spirit and carry out their principles, as it is written, “in all thy ways acknowledge Him and he will direct thy paths.” “Consider what we say, and the Lord give you understanding in all things.”
      Yours, on behalf of the whole,
          JOHN BANE.


[From the Minutes of Norfolk and Norwich Baptist Association, 1839, pp. 3-13. Document from google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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