Zacharias Ursinus on marriage as a duty

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Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Marriage is lawful for all who are fit or proper persons to enter into this state. It is a thing indifferent, by which we mean that it is neither commanded, nor prohibited by God, but left to the will and pleasure of those who possess the gift of continency. It is different, however, with those who do not possess this gift — to them it is not merely permitted, but commanded by God himself, that they marry in the Lord.

Hence to these persons it is not a thing indifferent, but necessary, as is evident from what the Apostle says: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman; nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” “I say to the unmarried and widows it is good for them, if they abide, even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor. 7: 1, 2, 8, 9.)

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I can't say that I have ever thought about it like this, that it is an actual duty for those who do not possess the gift of singleness to marry. Interesting perspective!
I can't say that I have ever thought about it like this, that it is an actual duty for those who do not possess the gift of singleness to marry. Interesting perspective!
It seems kind of have to look at it this way. What does the gift of singleness include?

1. Being born with a deformity that would negate sexual intercourse.
2. Being made impotent by castration.
3. A desire to live a holy and pure, perpetual celibate life.

Some may push back on the 3rd point. But I think if we look practically at the situation; out of all the Christians in Christendom (or humans in general) how many "want" to forgo sexual experience for the entirety of their lives if they are still perfectly capable of sexual pleasure? Not too many. It isnt as if people are looking at that possibility and running to it in hoards. So there is something peculiar about the desire alone. Many will stop there and say, "well if a person has the desire, and cannot refrain, they must not be gifted." I do not think that is the case at the immediate point of desire. Paul talks about "training, or disciplining" his body, as to bring it under subjection, to obedience to Christ. There is a period here where a person can struggle; that is, if the desire persists. Just like people "called" to the ministry are not automatically endowed with the skills it takes to fruitfully fulfill that office; that is the training and know how; there is a period in which God can possibly test a person, or, let the person come to the self-awareness if in fact perpetual celibacy is something they truly desire. And thats all it would really be, because the ability to refrain is imparted solely by grace.

God promises to give us the desires of our hearts. Ps. 37:4. Wanting to be celibate as to have an undivided and undistracted pilgrimage is a good desire. But it is something one cannot sit on the fence about. This will lead to lust, want, and lack of fulfillment. I also tend to push back on the notion that God would apply celibacy in a way that is not a gift to people not in the first 2 categories. Like in the cases where people feel that they cannot find a spouse. Or in the case of formally practicing homosexuals who hate singleness but refuse to do it Gods way. I dont think God is trying to apply perpetual celibacy in those situations, but instead, faith; that is, if a spouse is something you desire, and if you love God, God again will give you the desires of your heart.

But for those who like the freeness of singleness, but inwardly desire to experience sexual pleasure; it is in fact a duty to seek a spouse. There is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy the gift of sex; but there is something wrong in wanting to enjoy it, and doing it outside the confines of marriage as not to take on the responsibility of being a husband or wife. For the Christian that is seeking perpetual celibacy; their sexual desires are something to be mortified. For them, if there were a paper they could sign that would make them go away; they would in a heartbeat. That is because even the gifted in singleness are not completely void of the temptations of desire, but instead are endowed with self-control. But for those who have no desire to live perpetually celibate, one of the foremost duties in their lives should be finding a godly spouse. God made us sexual beings, but he also made the expression of that part of our nature attached to responsibilities. So there is no sitting on the fence. You either have to be all in on one side, or all in on the other. At least in my experience, thats the only way it works.

And it goes the same for either marriage or celibacy. As you grow in godliness; your commitment to those positions must in turn grow more resolute.
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