Papers from Hillsdale College (1998)
REL 319 -- Eighteenth Century Theology:
Jonathan Edwards and American Puritanism

Jonathan Edwards:
Images of Marriage

by Hilary Kirk

Modern Christians often have difficulty in their relationships, both marital and ecclesiastical. This paper considers Jonathan Edwards's views of the proper roles, responsibilities, and responses that fall into the "husband" or "wife" category: both in our marriages and church relationships. We also learn through Edwards, what our proper responses and duties are to Christ as His bride.

Jonathan Edwards considers certain physical relationships as reflections -- images or shadows -- of the true spiritual relationship between Christ and His people. We can uncover Jonathan Edwards' view of the Biblical duties of the husband and wife, based upon the duties of a minister as the "husband," i.e. head of the church, and the church's duties as the "bride,". Though Jonathan Edwards did not necessarily directly address the Biblical Christian marriage, indirectly Edwards discusses the duties of husbands and wives to each other and to God. In Edwards' sermons, which reveal the Church as the Bride of Christ or instruct ministers as to their role of headship over the Church, the duties of the husband and wife are revealed. In using these metaphors, Edwards both teaches spiritual truths and gives practical advice to his congregation.

Jonathan Edwards' sermon "The Church's Marriage to Her Sons and to Her God," based upon the Scripture Isaiah 62:4-5, reveals that marriage most aptly describes or represents the relationship between Christ and the Church. The earthly relationships of pastor and church, and husband and wife merely reveal part of the hidden mystery of the heavenly, spiritual relationship between Christ and the Church. The imagery of the husband and wife becoming `one flesh' simply illustrates how we are one in Christ, for "we are members of Christ's body . . ."{3} Our relationships on earth are simply shadows or images of the true and very real unbreakable bond between Christ and the Church. As the true Bridegroom, a union with Christ is superior and incomparable in value to an earthy union.{5} Christ embodies the attributes of the perfect Husband, giving example to ministers and husbands, who are to be earthly representations to reveal to His Bride His perfect love for her. Edwards lays out attributes of the relationship between Christ and His Bride. There is mutual joy, for Christ rejoices over His bride, and the bride rejoices in Him.{6} Christ's choice of His wife from among the multitudes results in joy. Christ's love for His bride inspires her love in return.{8} His love for her is the source of His willingness to redeem her. Christ redeems His bride -- freeing and cleansing her -- He rejoices in her, and these are the expressions of His love for her.{9} Christ covers His Bride in beauty; His bride cannot help but glory in His beauty. Each exults in the others words as they converse together.{11} At the Second Coming, the Bride will be glorified and the rejoicing of Christ and the church will be perfected.{12} Christ has done much to secure His marriage to His bride, the Church. He created the universe and all in it, including mankind. But even more amazing He became a man -- not just of power, but lowly as a servant, did He come to serve and to lead His people to Himself.{14} "For the Creator to make the creature was a great thing; but for him to become a creature was a greater thing."{15} He did not stop with merely making mankind, but He redeemed His bride by dying in her place and conquering sin and death. Therefore Edwards calls to the church the Bride to submit to Him joyfully and willingly, for "Christ alone is most excellent and truly beautiful. In comparison with him, all other lovers `are base and vile in their nature.'. . . `He is the great possessor of heaven and earth,' . . . and if you will yield to his suit and your soul becomes his spouse, his riches shall be yours.' He has `wherewithal to clothe you;' if you marry him, he will adorn you in `glorious robes.'"{17}

The union of Christ and the Church is such, as the Christian marriage should strive to imitate.{18} Ava Chamberlain draws this conclusion in her summary of Edwards' sermons on Matthew 25:1-12:

Edwards suggests from his text of Isaiah 62:4-5, that ministers are a type of husband to the church, as they are Christ's representatives. The grounds for a faithful minister to be seen as a husband are based upon his position of headship over the church to present her to the Lord. The duties and responsibilities of a pastor for his church are similar to that which is a husband's responsibility to his bride and to Christ. Just as the husband of a bride is responsible to his Lord to deliver his bride to her Beloved Lord, as a holy and pure virgin, so also is the minister responsible to Christ to deliver the church to Him, spotless and without wrinkle. Ministers and husbands are called as "highly dignified servants, as stewards of his [Christ's] household . . . as his ambassadors. . .[yet] Christ employs us not as mere servants, but as friends of the bridegroom."{22} As such, ministers are to woo the souls of the bride (the church).{23} They are to do this by means of preaching,{24} and by serving the people as Christ exemplified the way to lead.{25} Therefore, a leader is one who serves, as Edwards summaries: "The works and business of ministers of the gospel is as it were that of servants. . ."{26}

As a servant, ministers are to serve their church, the people of Christ, the Bride. A minister is to guide his church towards their Lord.{27} The goals of this earthly union of a minister and church, just as the union of a husband and wife, are towards the "more glorious union" of Christ and His glorified church,{28} and to bear fruits that reveal the sanctification taking place.{29}

Towards this end, Edwards sets forth duties and responsibilities (actions) which the minister should perform towards the church. "[I]n a holy manner: with sincere upright aims and intentions, with a right disposition" is a faithful minister united to a faithful church. Edwards says of the minister:

The minister is to give himself for the church, spending himself in love that he may guard and defend them.{31} Edwards called to himself and other ministers to fulfill their role towards the church. Edwards relates the proper response of the church, the Bride, to the minister who "gives himself to the church, to be hers, in that love, tender care, constant endeavor, and earnest labour for her provision, comfort, and welfare, that is proper to his office as a minister of Providence, as long as he lives; as a young man gives himself to a virgin when he marries her."{33} The church is to submit in love to their pastor as unto Christ, whom he is representing.{34} They are to honor and help their ministers as help-meets.{35} Out of their love and respect for him, they are to care for his needs and comfort him in difficulty through encouragement.{37}

Edwards can provide the Modern Church with a Biblical perspective on the responsibilities and duties of each of its members, when they realize that they in some form come under the title either of "husband" or "bride" (wife) - or both - when walking according to God's precepts in the Christian life.

The result of the union of a faithful minister and church is mutual joy, and benefit,{38} helpfulness, working towards the good of the other.{39} Another result is "spiritual offspring."{40}

A proper perspective of marriage can be gained as to the duties and responsibilities of the husband and wife towards each other and Christ, from a study of ministers as representatives of Christ, the Holy and True Bridegroom, and the Church's proper response to both. They are to "have a mutual sympathy with each other, a fellow-feeling of each other's burdens and calamities, and a communion in each other's prosperity and joy."{41}

The husband is to seek the well-being - physically, but especially, spiritually - of his wife. As he does this, he may be required to defend her and strengthen her. He is to comfort her through care, nourishment, and instruction. All he does is to be for her good that he may present her to her True Bridegroom - Christ. All the actions on his bride's behalf arise from a deep love and affection for her.

In response to this love, the bride - wife - is to love in return, expressed through her honoring his words, strengthening his hands, encouraging his heart, and submitting in cheerful love and obedience to his leadership as unto Christ.

These actions on each other's behalf bring mutual love, benefit, encouragement, communion, and joy, in Christ their Lord, for whose glory all things are wrought. When the Modern Church begins to practice these duties, the world will observe the witness revealed by God's Church, of their Father and Husband and of His love, which has ordained these relationships, and God will be glorified.


1. Stein, 5
2. Vol. 8: 30
3. Vol. 8: 30-31
4. Vol. 8: 31
5. "Everything desirable and excellent in the union between an earthly bridegroom and bride, is to be found in the union between Christ and his church; and that in an infinitely greater perfection, and more glorious manner." (Vol. 8: 31-32)
6. Vol. 8: 32
7. Vol. 8: 32
Isaiah 41:9, 48:18, John 15:15, Psalm 135: 5 - Vol. 8: 32
8. "Christ and his church, like the bridegroom and bride, rejoice in each other, as those that are the objects of each other's most tender and ardent love. The love of Christ to his church is altogether unparalleled: the height and depth and length and breadth of it pass knowledge: for he loved the church, and gave himself for it; and his love to her proved stonger than death. And on the other hand, she loves him with a supreme affection: nothing stands in competition with him in her heart: she loves him with all her heart. Her whole soul is offered up to him in the flame of love." (Vol 8, 33)
9. Zephaniah 3:17: "The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." (Vol 8, 34)
10. Vol 8, 34
11. Vol 8, 35
12. Vol 8, 35-36
13. Vol. 8:37
14. "Christ the Example of Ministers" Vol. 10: 512-525
15. Vol. 8: 41
16. Vol. 8: 41
17. Stein 6
18. Edwards describes this bond in his series on Matthew 25:1-12. Unfortunately, this series appears to be unpublished. Stein, Chapter 1 footnote 1.
19. Stein, 6
20. Vol. 8: 23
21. Vol. 8: 38 (also see Vol. 8: 24)
22. Vol. 8: 42
23. Vol. 8: 38-39
24. "The preaching of the gospel by faithful ministers, is the principle means that God uses for exhibiting Christ, his love and benefits, to his elect people, and the chief means of their being sanctified, and so fitted to enjoy their spiritual bridegroom." (Vol. 8: 39)
25. "When our savior calls his disciples to imitate the example. . . not merely. . . in the emblematical action. . . but more especially of that much greater act of his that was signified by it, in abasing himself so low, and suffering so much for the spiritual cleansing and salvation of his people." (Vol. 10: 513)
26. Vol. 10: 514
27. Vol. 8: 23
28. Vol. 8: 25
29. Vol. 8: 27
30. Vol. 8: 26
31. "The minister, earnestly and continually seeks the profit and comfort of the souls of his people, and to guard and defend them from everything that might annoy them, and studies and labours to promote their spiritual peace and prosperity." (Vol. 8: 28-29)
32. Vol. 8: 4
33. Vol. 8: 27
34. ". . . and willingly subjecting themselves to him, and committing themselves to his care, as being under Christ, their head and guide." (Vol. 8: 27)
35. "They joyfully commit and subject themselves to them; they resolve to honor and keep them, to be guided by them and help them so long as in the world; as the bride doth in marriage deliver up herself to her husband." (Vol. 8: 27)
36. Vol. 8:38 (also see Vol. 8: 48)
37. Vol. 8: 29
38. Vol. 8: 29
39. Vol. 8:28
40. Vol. 8: 30
41. Vol. 8:29


Edwards, Jonathan. "The Church's Marriage to Her Sons and to Her God" (Isaiah 62:45), The Works of President Edwards. Vol. 8. 1817. New York: Burt Franklin, 1968. 10 vols.

Edwards, Jonathan. "Christ the Example of Ministers," The Works of President Edwards. Vol. 10. 1817. New York: Burt Franklin, 1968. 10 vols.

Stein, Stephen J. ed. Jonathan Edwards's Writings: Text, Context, Interpretation. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Also Consulted:

Bridges, Charles. The Christian Ministry: with An Inquiry into the Causes of its Inefficiency. Bath, Great Britain: The Bath Press, 1997. (The Banner of Truth Trust: Pennsylvania)

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Last updated: 25 May 1998