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This Momentary Marriage

A parable of permanence

John Piper

ISBN: 9781844743926
192 pages, Paperback
Published: 19/06/2009



A Parable of Permanence

Foreword: Pendulums and Pictures by Noël Piper

Introduction: Marriage and Martyrdom

1 Staying Married Is Not Mainly about Staying in Love

2 Naked and Not Ashamed

3 God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace

4 Forgiving and Forbearing

5 Pursuing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant

6 Lionhearted and Lamblike—The Christian Husband as Head: Foundations of Headship

7 Lionhearted and Lamblike—The Christian Husband as Head: What Does It Mean to Lead?

8 The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission

9 Single in Christ: A Name Better Than Sons and Daughters

10 Singleness, Marriage, and the Christian Virtue of Hospitality

11 Faith and Sex in Marriage

12 Marriage Is Meant for Making Children ... Disciples of Jesus: How Absolute Is the Duty to Procreate?

13 Marriage Is Meant for Making Children ... Disciples of Jesus: The Conquest of Anger in Father and Child 14 What God Has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate: The Gospel and the Radical New Obedience

15 What God Has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate: The Gospel and the Divorced

Conclusion: This Momentary Marriage

(Extract from) Introduction: Marriage and Martyrdom

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was engaged to be married to Maria von Wedemeyer when he was hanged at dawn on April 9, 1945, at the age of thirty-nine. As a young pastor in Germany, he had been opposed to Nazism and was finally arrested on April 5, 1943, for his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

So he never married. He skipped the shadow on the way to the Reality. Some are called to one kind of display of the worth of Christ, some to another. Martyrdom, not marriage, was his calling.

Being married in the moment of death is both a sweet and bitter providence. Sweet because at the precipice of eternity the air is crystal-clear, and you see more plainly than ever the precious things that really matter about your imperfect lover. But being married at death is also bitter, because the suffering is doubled as one watches the other die, or even quadrupled if both are dying. And more if there is a child.

One Flesh Even in Death

That was the case with John and Betty Stam. They were missionaries with China Inland Mission. Having met each other at Moody Bible Institute, they sailed for China separately—she in 1931, he a year later. They were married by Reuben A. Torrey on October 25, 1933, in Tsinan. John was twenty-six; Betty was twenty-seven.

The region was already dangerous because of the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party. On September 11, 1934, Helen Priscilla was born. Three months later, her parents were beheaded by the Communists on a hill outside Miaosheo, while tiny Helen lay hidden where her mother left her with ten dollars in her blanket.

Geraldine Taylor, the daughter-in-law of Hudson Taylor (the founder of the China Inland Mission), published the story of the Stams’ martyr­dom two years after their death. Every time I read it, the compounding of the preciousness and the pain by the marriage and the baby make me weep.

Never was that little one more precious than when they looked their last on her baby sweetness, as they were roughly summoned the next morning and led out to die. . . . Painfully bound with ropes, their hands behind them, stripped of their outer garments, and John barefooted (he had given Betty his socks to wear), they passed down the street where he was known to many, while the Reds shouted their ridicule and called the people to come and see the execution.

Like their Master, they were led up a little hill outside the town. There, in a clump of pine trees, the Communists harangued the unwilling onlookers, too terror-stricken to utter protest—But no, one broke the ranks! The doctor of the place and a Christian, he expressed the feelings of many when he fell on his knees and pleaded for the life of his friends. Angrily repulsed by the Reds, he still per­sisted, until he was dragged away as a prisoner, to suffer death when it appeared that he too was a follower of Christ.

John had turned to the leader of the band, asking mercy for this man. When he was sharply ordered to kneel—and the look of joy on his face, afterwards, told of the unseen Presence with them as his spirit was released—Betty was seen to quiver, but only for a moment. Bound as she was, she fell on her knees beside him. A quick com­mand, the flash of a sword which mercifully she did not see—and they were reunited.1

Nothing Is Lost

Yes, they were reunited, but not as husband and wife. For Jesus said, “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25). There is no human marriage after death. The shadow of covenant-keeping between husband and wife gives way to the reality of covenant-keeping between Christ and his glorified Church. Nothing is lost. The music of every pleasure is transposed into an infinitely higher key.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John and Betty Stam today are closer to each other in love than John and Betty Stam were, or Dietrich and Maria would have been, in marriage. They “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). Their magnificent perfection points to the glory of Christ. And in the age to come, their bodies will be restored, and all creation will join with the children of God in ever­lasting joy (Rom. 8:21). ...