Caitlin Nichols

Religion 319




From Rags to Riches: Christ and His Bride


Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.


Revelation 19:7-9(NIV)


This paper discusses the union of Christ and the Church in the context of a marriage. Jonathan Edwards offers much analysis on the distinction of the excellency of Christ and the unworthiness of his Bride, and he marvels how it yet pleased Christ to be the Head and the Church as the Body to share in His reign over all the earth. Thus, Christ is the most excellent husband, and the Church should not wait passively for the consummation of marriage, but must actively anticipate and prepare herself for such a blessed destiny.

Jonathan Edwards, in many of his writings, analyzes the character of Christ and His extraordinary desire to be united to the Church for life everlasting, despite the disparity of His infinite highness and her unworthiness. Although “all humankind was identified with Him in death” [1] Christ’s decent to humanity and death on the cross, the trademark of Christianity, was purposed specifically for the Church: those who believe in Him. Christ “entered the stream of human history for this one purpose, to claim His Beloved.”[2] As we see in the book of Revelation, all events culminate in the spotless Bride of Christ being united with the Lamb and seated on the throne with him in everlasting glory. However, until that day of glory, the Church holds an active role in preparing herself for the moment she will be presented as the perfect Bride to the most excellent husband, the Son of God.

            In order to see the proper preparation for the Church as the beloved, one must evaluate the character of the lover, which is Christ. Although every attribute of Christ’s character is excellent and efficient in making him the perfect spouse, the focus will be on those attributes that make him particularly attractive as a marriage partner. Foremost, “husbands must love their wives” (Ephesians 5:25), and the Puritans often pointed out that the husband’s love “must be constant, never diminishing or dying.”[3] In his sermon, The Excellency of Christ, Edwards marvels at the God who incarnated himself, being both fully human and fully divine, in a display of perfect and infinite love for the Church. His love for the Church brought him to the greatest degree of humility in death. “The greatness of Christ's love to such, appears in nothing so much as in its being dying love”[4] writes Edwards and continues:

Yea, so great is his condescension, that is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for every thing that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend, to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage…Yet such an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are so low and mean, despicable and unworthy![5]


His death on the cross was when he “first received what he had purchased by his death viz the Church actually redeemed.”[6] He loved the Church enough to die for her redemption and purchase her as His own. What greater love could a bride desire?

This willingness on behalf of Christ to love such a weak and poor maiden as the Church proves his unconditional love. Furthermore, “Christ’s love is chaste, sincere, and constant. We see his chastity in that his love has no impurity. We see his sincerity in that he loved the church for her own sake, when ‘she had neither wealth nor beauty, but was poor, blind, and miserable.’”[7] Christ’s steadfastness is that he loves the Church forever. Furthermore as Gouge says, “the love of Christ is free. Christ’s love ‘arose wholly from himself, and was every way free: as there was nothing in the church, before Christ loved her to move him to love her.’” [8]Christ’s love is also far beyond comprehension for the Church: the love that “surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19).” This kind of love that Christ offers can be found nowhere else. Most married persons know that someday their spouse’s love will end in death and their love will be lost. It is not so with Christ. Many agree with Tennyson that, “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all; ”[9] however, Christ is the only suitor to offer love without loss. His overcame death with his resurrection and he can thus offer everlasting love to whoever believes in his resurrection. Thus, Christ offers his bride the most infinite and perfect love.

According to the model of marriage in Edwards’ time, “the ideal husband’s second main duty is to provide for and protect his wife.”[10] Another writer says of the Puritans marriage, “the duties of a husband were to provide his wife with food and clothing, to protect her, to guide her, and to admonish her to pursue her sanctification.”[11] We see that Christ over-exceeds this duty: His provision for the Church is indeed abundant in that he holds all things under his rule; “all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16) and He delights in blessing the Church with his abundant resources. Christ, therefore, in his infinite richness, fits the role as the most perfect Provider, making all other suitors look poor and inadequate in comparison. Edwards says, “He has ‘wherewithal to feed you’ and will ‘feast you and satisfy your soul.’ ‘He has wherewithal to clothe you’; if you marry him, he will adorn you in ‘glorious robes.’ His rivals, on the other hand, will leave you ‘in rags and nakedness as you are.’”[12] Not only does Christ provide for his Church in a most abundant manner, but He also protects her with infinite and incredible strength. Christ has been compared to a Lion. As Edwards says, “If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense.” [13] What more protection does a bride need than that of infinite strength, which works out of infinite love for her?

Another attribute, which makes Christ a peerless spouse, is the relationship with His Father that he offers the Church. Due to Christ’s redemptive blood and sacrifice (Ephesians 1:7), God will see only that righteousness of Christ when he judges the church in her perfect unity with Him. “What is real in the union between Christ and his people, is the foundation of what is legal; that is, it is something really in them, and between them, uniting them, that is the ground of the suitableness of their being accounted one by the Judge.”[14] Just as a man and wife become one flesh, so will Christ and the Church be so united that they will be considered as one being. “In the mind of God every believer shares complete identity with Christ from the cross to the throne.”[15] Furthermore, “the saints being united to Christ, shall have a more glorious union with, and enjoyment of the Father than otherwise could be, for hereby their relation becomes much nearer: they are the children of God in a higher manner than otherwise could be.”[16] As the Church fully unites to the Son, not only does she draw closer in love to the Father because of the “infinite intimacy between the Father and the Son,”[17] but she also gains access to the Father’s riches and makes claim to His inheritance. Some might think the Father would begrudgingly have to share his riches, however, this does not happen outside of the will of the Father. Instead, He predestined us to be his children through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). It was God’s pleasure to make Christ the head of the church “which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23). Thus, the church can rejoice and revel in the acceptance and lavish gifts of the Father who approved and even preordained her union with his perfect Son. Billheimer aptly describes this relationship by saying “in the Beloved we have been accepted into the very bosom of the Father (John 1:18), and by virtue of our union with Christ we are accepted upon the same terms as He.”[18]

The Church’s primary response to her most excellent pursuer should be that of great love and faithfulness towards him. This sincere love and dedication should be manifest in many ways. Just as Christ laid down his life for the Church in selfless love, so should she lay down her life for Christ and give herself up to Him. Throughout Scripture, the Church is admonished to persevere through suffering and persecution for the sake of Christ. Nothing should hinder her dedication for her husband, not even death, and she should be willing to suffer all to be identified with Him and marked by His name. If she is ashamed of Christ, He will be ashamed of her when they meet face to face on that wedding day. The Church’s perseverance as a ‘lady in waiting’ will be rewarded at the proper time after the end of the world:

For in heaven the union shall be perfected: the union is but begun in this world, and there is a great deal remains in this world to separate and disunite them; but then all those obstacles shall be removed. When the church is received to conversation and enjoyment will be more intimate. This is not the time for that full acquaintance and those manifestations of love, which Christ designs towards his people.[19]


Thus, the Church must continue to love Christ, despite the obstacles, which hinder her from full communion with Christ. She must wait in eager expectation throughout hardships for a future filled with the full manifestations of love to and from Christ.

Furthermore, the Church should show her faithfulness to Him by not taking a “self-interested pursuit of other lovers.”[20] These ‘other lovers’ could be deemed the base things of this world or those idols that humans put in place of God. They could also be actual people that the Church exalts above and before her destined love and husband, which is Christ. Thus, the church should keep herself pure and undefiled for her chaste and holy husband, who is the most Holy of Holies and,

If they fail of obtaining those promises that Christ has presumptively made over to them they must not lay it to Christ’s unfaithfulness but to their own, to their own guile and deceit in covenanting and their own treachery towards him by proving otherwise than they pretended to him and as he graciously trusting in them reciev’d them.[21]


It is the Church’s responsibility to be faithful to Christ in all things so that she may receive all the blessing of the promises Christ offers. Her faithfulness will also keep her from the wrath of the Father who is “jealous over [her] with a godly jealousy; for [he has] espoused [her] to one husband, that [he] may present [her] as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). This purity, at the final wedding day, will be signified and celebrated with the “Fine linen, bright and clean” which was “given her to wear” (Revelation 19:9).

Also, Christ as husband, wants the Church, his bride, to fully depend on Him. As seen above, Christ is infinitely sufficient in and of himself, thus it glorifies Him to give of Himself and show His infinite riches. If the Church acts out of self-sufficiency or self-reliance, she will show an independence from the one who truly provides for her. Christ says in Scripture, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Patterson points out that when the Church sees “herself in complete hopelessness, the Holy Spirit can then reveal the Lord Jesus as her perfect satisfaction.”[22] Therefore, Christ allows his bride to go through times of helplessness and desperate need to make her willing to rely on Him to meet her needs and discover the wonder of His glorious riches and the purchase He made for her on the cross. As Edwards says, “the present blessings that [the church] has as Christ’s people, and inhabitants of his house are the fruits of Christ’s purchase, they would not have had them had it not been for Christ’s redemption.”[23] Christ also gave the Church commands to obey so that she could learn to rely on him while still on earth. In her finite and sinful state, the Church cannot obey perfectly and must rely on Christ’s strength to do so. Hence, as Patterson says, she must experience a real sense “utter helplessness” before “the Holy Spirit can then reveal the Lord Jesus as her perfect satisfaction.”[24] It is Christ’s desire that his Church come to know “how wide and long and high and deep” (Ephesians 3:18) is His love and provision for her. Consequently, she must be patient through those lessons on earth as she learns to willingly trust in Him as her perfect Provider.

Christ also desires that his bride be completely and perfectly united to Himself. He prays to the Father “that all of them may be one Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Christ wants the world to know what He has done for His bride and through this, for His name to be glorified and honored. God also said that man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh which we are expressly told is a mystery or type representing the relation that there is between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:32).” Many times throughout Scripture, the Church is admonished to be united just as Christ and his Father are one, because “there is one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4). Hence, the Church should prepare herself both in body and Spirit by striving to be unified in Christ’s body and with his Holy Spirit. She should begin by cheerful submission to the Head that is Christ. Just as the head determines a body’s actions so must the Church be under the authority of Christ. Some might see a problem in that the Church is made up of many members (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Billheimer, however, explains his view that these members are made into one body because of their great love for the Lord. He says that the throng will be “so perfectly fused into one consciousness by holy passion for the heavenly Bridegroom that it will constitute a single organism.”[25] Paul, in Ephesians says that this unity of the Spirit must be kept “through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) and that this Holy Spirit was given as a pledge of our being “sealed with Him” (Ephesians 1:13-14).” Edwards says that another way the Church can begin to be united with her husband is through faith in Him for “faith unites to Christ.”[26] For some reason unknown to humankind, it pleased God to have the fullness of Christ be in the union of Him and the church. Christ can be compared to Adam, who was not complete until unified with his fit companion, Eve. Some may ask why the Church may not have complete union with Him now that she is on earth? Edwards answers that the Church’s separation from Him now on earth must be endured to make the consummation of marriage all the sweeter. It “will only serve the more to heighten their surprise and pleasure.”[27] Thus, the Church shall strive to be unified with Christ now to prepare herself for the fullness of communion with him for life everlasting.

Likewise, the Church should spend her time waiting in hopeful and happy expectation for what is to come. This blessed time of anticipation is for both the saints in heaven and on earth as they await the proper wedding day of the Lamb and his bride. The saints on earth should rejoice as they look forward to their blessed destiny with the most perfect spouse. Paul admonishes the church in Philippians to rejoice because “the Lord is near” (Philippians 4,5). Gouge believed that a wife will have joy “when she giveth contentment to her husband, and observeth him to be pleased with that which she doth.”[28] Therefore, the Church may find her joy also in pleasing Him even now while she is on earth. Not only do the saints on earth look forward to this everlasting espousal but even more so do the saints in heaven. Edwards says of the saints in heaven that now is the “time wherein the pure, chosen espoused virgin is reserved in the King’s house against the day of marriage” and that the happiness they now experience “is only by prelibation of what is future.”[29] The only fit and appropriate response of the Church to such a glorious vision of the future is exceeding gladness.






































Billheimer, Paul E. Destined for the Throne. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers,

Revised Edition 1996.


Dariani, Daniel M. The Godly Household in Puritan Theology, 1560-1640. Ann Arbor:

University Microfilms International, 1988.


Edwards, Jonathan. “Justification By Faith Alone.” Available:


Edwards, Jonathan. “Miscellanies.” Available:


Edwards, Jonathan. “The Excellency of Christ.” Available:


Moore, Doreen L. An Historical Analysis of the Biblical and Theological Convictions of

Three Eighteenth-Century Christian Leader (John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards) Regarding the Relationship Between Ministerial and Familial Responsibilities. Deerfield: Rolfing Memorial Library, 1993.


Patterson, Dorothy Kelley. Beatitudes for Women: Wisdom from Heaven for Life on

Earth. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000.


Stein, Stephen. Jonathan Edwards’s Writings. Indiana University Press, Bloomington,



*All Biblical quotes come from the NIV

[1]Billheimer, Paul E. Destined for the Throne. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, Revised Edition 1996. p.89


[2] Ibid, 25-26

[3]Daniel M.Dariani, The Godly Household in Puritan Theology, 1560-1640. Ann Arbor:

University Microfilms International, 1988, pg. 242


[4] Jonathan Edwards, “The Excellency of Christ.” Part II, Available:


[5] Ibid, I


[6] Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellanies”, Misc. # 702 Available:

[7] Dariani, 241


[8] Ibid


[9] This quote is from Tennyson’s well-known poem, “In Memoriam”. Although, Tennyson was actually writing about the loss of his good friend, Arthur, most people take this quote to mean the loss in a romantic, man to woman, relationship.


[10] Dariani, 244

[11] Moore, Doreen L. An Historical Analysis of the Biblical and Theological Convictions of Three Eighteenth-Century Christian Leader (John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards) Regarding the Relationship Between Ministerial and Familial Responsibilities. Deerfield: Rolfing Memorial Library, 1993, pages 101-102


[12] Stephen Stein, Jonathan Edwards’s Writings. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1996, page 6


[13] Excellency of Christ III



[14] Edwards, Jonathan. “Justification By Faith Alone.” Available:


[15] Billheimer, 66

[16] Misc. # 571

[17] Misc. # 571


[18] Billheimer, 37

[19] Misc. #571

[20] Stein, 5

[21] Misc. #689

[22] Dorothy Kelley Patterson. Beatitudes for Women: Wisdom from Heaven for Life on Earth. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2000.

[23] Misc. #689

[24] Patterson, 72

[25] Billheimer, 55

[26] Justification by Faith Alone III

[27] Misc. #571

[28] Dariani, 262

[29] Misc. #565