Posted by: Billy Marsh | October 18, 2007

The Wedding Ring of Faith: Luther’s Use of the Marriage Motif

Martin Luther

Martin Luther is famous for a number of reasons. Due to his eventful life and monumental writings, he is not only a pivotal figure in Christian History, but also in World History. In 1520, Luther penned three of his most notable and influential works, An Appeal to the German Nobility, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On Christian Liberty (The Freedom of a Christian). In the third treatise, The Freedom of a Christian, one of the more familiar sections amongst theologians and historians is Luther’s marriage illustration. As I was commenting on chapter 7 of Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality named, “The Fruitful Bride“, I couldn’t help but draw connections to what Luther taught using this same angle. So, in light of the minor treatment Schaeffer gave the marriage motif in his chapter, I thought it would be good to brush up on Luther’s theological appropriation of the relationship and implications of the marriage between Jesus Christ, the bridegroom, and the Christian (the Church), the bride.

The union between Christ and the Church is truly as Luther states, “the most perfect of all marriages”. Though he labels earthly marriages as but “poor examples” of the heavenly one, Luther is still capable of drawing much meaning and application from describing the union of Christ and the believer when one has been justified by faith once and for all. Yes, faith is the tie that binds the relationship together. In a very revealing word-picture, Luther calls faith “the wedding ring” which unites the regenerated soul to its life-giving Lover.

In a typical marriage, the bride and bridegroom share in all that is each other’s whether monies, possessions, land, or even the body. In like fashion as what Schaeffer has been describing as “true spirituality”, he shows that this relationship is defined by communion. Luther explains:

By the wedding ring of faith, [Christ, the bridegroom] shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride’s. As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all.

Because of this great victory and atonement of sins administered by Jesus Christ, the soul, by faith, “is free in Christ, its bridegroom, from from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom.” Therefore, the bridegroom of glory is able to take for himself a bride that is pure, spotless, and holy.

Luther rightly responds with a rhetorical question exclaiming, “Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace?” This is an amazing truth! There are no prenuptials or separate checking accounts in this marriage between Christ and his Church. Everything that is his, by faith, becomes ours including his righteousness and life. Likewise, in sober reflection, everything that was ours also became his. However, let us cry out with the Apostle Paul who responds to the vanquishing work of the death and resurrection of Christ with these words: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57).”

In agreement with Luther who said that “much is ascribed to faith” in this great exchange, we must confer that it is only by faith that Christ becomes our promised bridegroom where we receive, in Schaeffer terminology, justification once and for all; and therefore, we must live in faith henceforth moment-by-moment (sanctification) partaking in his infinitely valuable salvation and righteousness.

Listen to these closing words from Luther which so vividly portray this divine union and great salvation:

Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his,” as the bride in the Song of Solomon [2:16] says, “My beloved is mine and I am his.”

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

~ Revelation 22:17 ~

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