In the prior posts, I gave an overview of the typical first two sessions for pre-marriage counseling: after the initial overview and orientation to pre-marriage counseling, the couple and I discuss the assigned reading and biblical instruction for husbands and wives.
The third session deals with the duties of marriage and parenting, building upon our discussion of the purpose of marriage and the mutual duties and privileges of a husband and wife. Before we meet I have both of them read Reforming Marriage by Douglas Wilson and Bringing the Gospel to Covenant Children by Joel Beeke. In this third session, we connect the dots between the biblical (“puritan”) view of marriage, the mutual duties of husbands and wives, and the happy land of Christian marriage, where covenant children are born and raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
The former book is packed full of practical advice/instruction for cultivating a godly marriage. I suppose the main point I try to convey is purity/holiness in marriage: marriage is an institution created by God, and Christian couples are called to glorify God by walking in holiness, i.e., according to the Christ-church principle explained in Ephesians. Again, two things I emphasize is the centrality of honest, wise communication, and mutual service. I also emphasize putting on humility in marriage and confessing sin against one another / extending forgiveness. Not confessing sin, and not extending forgiveness, is virtually poisoning the well, and it will transmute the happy land of marriage into something resembling a post-nuclear dystopia (the nuclear fallout of sin in a marriage is simply awful). Another thing I emphasize is the spiritual warfare that they should anticipate and expect in some measure; there will be spiritual warfare that is commensurate to married life, because the Devil and his evil angels do not want Christian marriages to flourish, nor do they desire seeing the next generation of Christians discipled and catechized for God’s glory. Simply put, marriage is merely one of the theaters of war in the holy war against evil principalities and powers, so husbands and wives need to view their marriage relative to and in relation to the holy war motif in Scripture. Marriage vows like “‘Til death do us part” translated into holy war verbiage means that if at the barricades we fall, then it is at the barricade called marriage that we spend our lives.
The latter book is short and full of practical advice for how to disciple covenant children, balanced with the appropriate warnings for Christian parents to not presume upon the covenant. Beeke rightfully and persuasively warns against both overestimating and underestimating the covenant, rather arguing for “properly estimating the covenant.” Beeke says,
“The covenant creates the context in which we make diligent use of the means of grace, and we believe that the God of covenant often honors such use of His ordained means, though, being the sovereign Jehovah, He is by no means obliged to do so (Rom. 9:11-13). Nevertheless, Scripture affirms that the Holy Spirit richly blesses the evangelizing and nurturing of covenant children in knowledge, faith, love, and obedience (Gen. 18:19; Prov. 22:6). Faithful parenting, by the Spirit’s blessings, frequently issues in regeneration and a life of covenantal faithfulness (Ps. 78:1-8).
I don’t assign the following two books, but during Session 3 I recommend that after they are married the couple follow up and read The Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle, as well as Joel Beeke’s Parenting by God’s Promises. Both books are superb.
Next week we will discuss Session 4: practical household duties.