The Betrothal States in Marriage
A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Toronto, January 10, 2010
 
For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

Marriage is the natural state of life for all men and women. Everyone in heaven is married, and remains married to eternity Marriage is the most important relationship we will establish in our lives. It is therefore in our own best interests to learn as much about marriage as possible.

When we look at marriage as a purely natural thing, a customary arrangement for the sake of sorting out the inheritance of offspring, it is very difficult to treat it seriously, to resist the temp-tations to break the marriage vows. If marriage is just a social contract, what harm can there be in a little adultery as long as it is kept quiet so no one is hurt? The low success rate of modern mar-riages is probably the result, at least in part, of the increasingly natural view of marriage as a temporary social contract between two adults that can be easily broken and new relationships arranged.

But marriage is not a purely natural thing:  it originates in God Himself God is Divine Love itself and Divine Wisdom itself From His Divine Love, God wanted to create a heaven from the hu-man race. From His Divine Wisdom, He conceived a plan to accomplish this goal. When the de-sire and the plan were conjoined and made one, the universe was created over a period of time, and in an orderly way. The creation of a heaven full of human beings is God's greatest pleasure. This is the origin of marriage, for the wife represents the Divine Love, and the husband repre-sents the Divine Wisdom. When they come together in marriage and conjoin themselves, they can create new human beings for heaven. The pleasure of conceiving and rearing children is the greatest delight of human life, and it is a gift from God because it is a correspondence of the great delight He Himself felt in creating the universe.
Marriage seems a natural thing because it involves the fulfilment of so many natural desires. However, the doctrines of the New Church have revealed not only that it is a spiritual creation, but they have also revealed how we can prepare for marriage so that the spiritual things come before the natural things and so the marriage can continue to grow in wisdom and delight to eter-nity We prepare ourselves for a lovely, eternal, spiritual marriage with one through shunning evils as sins, looking to the Lord to provide a partner, and the states of betrothal.

We usually think of betrothal as a ritual that takes place after then engagement and a few weeks or months before a young couple gets married, and that is quite true as far as it goes. But the pur-pose of that ritual is to mark the bride and groom's mutual belief and consent that they are going to enter into a spiritual marriage before they enter into the natural marriage.  

Do these convictions and heartfelt beliefs end with the marriage ceremony? Why do young cou-ples give each other tokens and gifts at the time of betrothal except to mark this important spiri-tual step so it can be remembered for the rest of their lives? Why else do they continue to wear these tokens throughout their life except to remind them of the beautiful, tender first states of mutual love?  

The betrothal ceremony marks the beginning of a lifelong effort to bring what is spiritual into marriage so that what is natural can serve its proper use and be in its proper place, supporting and upholding that which is spiritual and eternal, not to be an end in itself.  

Let us now review the main states of betrothal so that they can be recognized, cherished, and re-newed.

The first state is that of consent, and it can be argued that when a couple in freedom, and from love, consents to be married, they are – from the spiritual point of view – already married because everything they think and do from that point forward will be to bring that consent into being, into a marriage. That's why the Heavenly Doctrine goes to such lengths to encourage the young couple to approach that consent very carefully – not just from warm feelings of strong friendship, but knowledge, judgement, and love.

Once a young couple discover each other and fall in love, they begin to think seriously about marriage. The Doctrines tell us that a woman should consult her parents before she consents to marry her young man. The same thing is true for the young man, of course.  

There are three reasons given for this:  parents should be consulted because they counsel from judgement, knowledge, and love. From judgement because they are more experienced. They have seen more of life, have themselves made the mistakes their children are inclined to and have already learned those lessons. From knowledge because they know their own children having guided their growth from infancy. From love, because true love wants to make the one who is loved happy.

Those early states of falling in love and planning a life together, and especially the first states of marriage, are full of delightful moments of incredible tenderness and joy. These states are not the result of the couples own spiritual states, but they are "borrowed" from the angels who are drawn near to their innocent and lovely states. The young couple has the opportunity to taste the happi-ness of heaven, long before they have gone through the journey that will earn it for them, so that they will have some sense of what awaits them, some faith that what they are working for is of lasting value and will bring them happiness beyond measure.

Conjugial love ascends and descends:  it ascends first from their minds toward their souls and the effort to conjunction there, and then it descends by influx into their body where it clothes itself with affections for and delights with the married partner. Conjugial love is of the same nature in its descent as it is in the height to which it has ascended If it is in its height (an orderly conjunction of souls) then it descends chaste (and delightful). If it does not ascend so high, but only to the lower parts of the mind, then it descends unchaste, for it picks up its character of the part of the mind in which it resides.

This shows the importance of betrothal, for by focusing the minds of the couple on spiritual prin-ciples of marriage, conjugial love can reach a greater height, and can descend from a more ele-vated and more pure position. If the young couple are only interested in making their sexual pleasures acceptable in the eyes of society, and indulge in them before their marriage, then they cannot expect a spiritual marriage to result as if by magic because they have participated in a church service.

With those who think about marriages from religion, the marriage of the spirit precedes, and that of the body follows. They are thus separated from the love of the sex in general and it is replaced with a tender love of one of the sex as they look to an eternal and everlasting union with one. Those who think only of marriage as a conjunction of bodies during life in the natural world will not be able to elevate themselves into a spiritual marriage because they do not even know that such a thing exists – so how can they work toward it?

Betrothal is not only a state for young lovers, but a state that can and should be enkindled in ma-ture marriages as well. The state of betrothal, the determination to have the spiritual marriage precede the natural marriage, is the spiritual force within a marriage, it represents the desire for an eternal spiritual marriage with one partner. All marriages have states of warmth and cold that fluctuate from time to time as the partners go through their individual trials and temptations in life. In the difficult times, there is value in remembering the promises made during courtship, there is value in remembering the hopes and dreams that made you fall in love with each other. By remembering those early states, by thinking about the tokens of your love for each other, by reading Conjugial Love again, together, you will find that your marriage could be revitalized You can talk about the things you have learned since you were married, and enjoy those "borrowed states" of heaven once again. Such reminders can carry you over the rough spots that naturally occur in every one's life.

In the New Church, we know that marriage is more than a natural agreement, but the grind of daily life can make us forget our ideals, our spiritual goals. The point is to take time for each other and for the care and feeding of your marriage. Time and personal attention are they key to success in most areas of life, and marriage is no exception. The goal is to restore and uplift the desire for an eternal, spiritual marriage with one.

The conjugial union of one man with one wife is the precious jewel of human life and the reposi-tory of Christian religion. In a word, a person is a living soul as a result of that love (CL 457) AMEN.

First Lesson:  Genesis 29:1-20

(GEN 29:1-20) So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. {2} And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well's mouth. {3} Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well's mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well's mouth. {4} And Jacob said to them, "My brethren, where are you from?" And they said, "We are from Haran." {5} Then he said to them, "Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?" And they said, "We know him." {6} So he said to them, "Is he well?" And they said, "He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep." … {9} Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep, for she was a shepherdess. {10} And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother. {11} Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. {12} And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father's relative and that he was Rebekah's son. So she ran and told her father. … {20} So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her. Amen.

Second Lesson:  CL 71-72

71. No others can be in a state of truly conjugial love but those who receive it from the Lord - namely, those who go to Him directly and live the life of the church from Him - for the reason that this love, viewed in terms of its origin and correspondence, is celestial, spiritual, holy, pure and clean, more than any other love that is found in angels of heaven or people of the church. And these attributes of it cannot exist except in people who are joined to the Lord and brought by Him into association with angels of heaven…

72. Only those people come into truly conjugial love and only those can be in it who love the truths of the church and do the good things it teaches, for the reason that no others are accepted by the Lord. That is because people who love the truths of the church and do the good things it teaches are in a state of conjunction with the Lord, and consequently they can be kept in that love by Him....
The evident conclusion from this is that people are blessed with truly conjugial love not if they only know the truths of the church, but if they know them and do the good things it teaches.