Leavers, Cleavers, and Covenant Union
After Introducing the Princess Bride to the Prototype of an Ideal Husband as Our Lady of the Rib, we are told, “…A man shall leave his father… and shall cleave unto his wife.” Genesis 2:24. Here, a general precedent is set for a man to leave his home, his place of origin, and cleave to his bride. The man is called upon to leave his father’s house, wherein he lacks no need and has the comfort of familiarity, out of a desire for a bride. In leaving home, he must undertake the responsibility of the head of the new household, becoming the provider of his family and leader in the new home. The now-husband assumes the debts and needs of his new bride.
Christ came from heaven, leaving the heavenly home and Father, and redeemed for himself a bride. He left heaven and Father where he held the glory and sovereignty which he shared with the Father, John 17:5. He left an earthly mother, Mary, in order to endure the hardships of life in a fallen world. He lived a perfect life of obedience in order to clothe his bride. He would even be obedient unto the death of the cross, declaring vows that sealed the bride to himself. In doing these things, he assumed the debt of the bride and paid it in full. He took the Federal Headship, leaving home, father, and mother, in order to cleave to his bride.
The second theme in this verse is that a man and his wife shall be one flesh. Now remember, this is God creating. He could have made us asexual creatures, but one of the major reasons he did not is in order to provide us with a metaphor of his relationship to us. On the pragmatic side of things, it is important to note that this is about “wife.” It is not “girl in a committed relationship,” or “girl man has very strong feelings about,” but “wife.” This is about covenant relationship. Men and women are not meant to seek the physicality of marriage without the covenant of marriage.
On the other side of the metaphor, we should rejoice that Christ’s love is within the confines of covenant. It is not seasonal, it will not fade, and it will not forget. It is the thing signified by marriage, and is greater than earthly marriage, because there is no “‘till death do us part” clause in the Covenant of Grace.
If we are meant to see Christ in every page of Scripture, why is this narrative being related to us? Because the bridegroom and bride will become one flesh, first by Christ taking on flesh, and then by our being born again in his likeness. How mysterious and beautiful is the union with Christ! The doctrine of Union with Christ is both delicate and volatile. Some would ignore it for fear of straying into error. Others may be too bold, even claiming that saints become God in some way, as if they merge into some anonymous Christian version of Nirvana. There is a balance, and it is most easily found through this metaphor.
A husband and wife become one in marriage. There are imputed values (like a balance-transfer) that take place. A wife is given all of her husband’s assets and/or debts. Likewise a husband receives all those belonging to his wife. They share a last name, a home, finances, and possessions. There is a physical union in the marriage bed. They should speak with a united voice on decisions made for the household and on the purposes of the family. Everything becomes mutual in as much as is possible.
Yet distinctions do exist. There are still two physical bodies, two minds, two souls, two sets of interests and opinions that will never fully merge. It is foolish to pretend otherwise. The wife of a surgeon may receive esteem and the financial stability of a surgeon’s paycheck, but she should never take up the scalpel and attempt a heart transplant (unless she goes through medical school herself). My wife is trained as a florist, but that does not miraculously make me capable of building a bridal bouquet.
Likewise, the union of the believer with Christ is extraordinary. By imputation, the believer is counted as holding the righteousness of Christ’s earthly ministry. How beautiful! How mysterious! The Bride receives only of Christ’s good while Christ assumes only her debt to be paid on the cross. The more believers grow in grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the more their mind is conformed to Him and the more their heart desires that which is good and holy. The saint has the security before God that the Son does! However much the saint is one with Christ, though, he is still separate and distinct. The believer will not achieve the archetypal knowledge of God, nor the power to speak and create ex nihilo. Certainly the glory and honor owed to God will ever remain his own. Only Christ, being God, could claim before the Father, “…Yours are mine.” John 17:10. We can only declare to God, “What is mine is yours.” Yet, the believer is bound to Christ more securely than a wedding license can provide, more intimately than the wedding bed, more magnificently than earthly marriage can display. This is union with Christ.
When the two become one in the earthly marriage, life is produced. This is not perfectly consistent, because nothing is in earthly marriage. But what we see is a kind of bizarre mathematical concept that the one plus one equals one… plus one. God used the intimacy of marriage as the means to produce new life. I will not belabor the earthly aspect, but the thing signified in Christ and church bears exploring.
It is important to note that this does not defy the monergistic nature of salvation (a technical term for stating that it is Christ alone who saves). Some would claim that man co-authors his salvation (synergistic), but it is God who saves. The Father chooses, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit quickens. The church does not co-author that salvation, but God uses means and secondary causes. God uses his bride to accomplish salvation through the general call to salvation.
Paul states that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of the word of God, Romans 10:17. This is the ordinary means of salvation. God works through the foolishness of preaching to quicken the spirit, regenerating the heart to respond in faith to the message preached. It is not usual, ordinary, or to be expected that God should speak in an audible voice as he did with Noah, Abraham, and Paul. Rather, God uses his already-awakened redeemed to share the gospel that awakened them. Not every sharing of testimony, or even every faithful, clear, gospel-preaching sermon automatically results in sinners being saved. It requires the attending work of the Holy Spirit for redemption to be applied.
Here is where the metaphor applies. For earthly children to be born, the husband and wife are to meet together in intimacy. For earthly men to be born again as children of the kingdom of God, the bride of Christ must meet with her husband. When Christ chooses to so visit his bride through his Holy Spirit, new life is produced. Not every sermon attended by the Holy Spirit results in salvation, but a sermon cannot change the hearts of men without the Holy Spirit. Essentially, this means that every sermon through which the Holy Spirit chooses to save will save whomsoever the Holy Spirit intends. This is the nature of Irresistible Grace.
Chris J. Marley is the Senior Pastor of Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott, Arizona. He holds an M. Div. from Westminster Seminary California (2009).