A Marriage Made in Heidelberg (6): Your Spouse Is So Much Better than a Bed of Flames

Many marriage books are a waste of time, but I know one that certainly isn’t. Probably my favorite marriage book—and I use it in pre-marital counseling—is Friends and Lovers by Joel Beeke. It’s excellent, and it’s short. There are many helpful things in Beeke’s little book that if taken seriously and implemented, will make a great difference in your marriage. I think you should read it.

In the last chapter on appreciating your spouse, Dr. Beeke wrote something that jumped off the page when I read it. I’ll share the quote with you in a bit. First some context. Dr. Beeke wrote, “So let us receive God’s gift of sexual intimacy with thanksgiving and contentment.” [1] He argues that “Grumbling is a grave sin against God and against our spouse” and that we should be very grateful for the spouse God gave us. [2] He contends that our ingratitude “hinders us from truly enjoying our spouse” and that prideful entitlement stands behind ingratitude. [3] And then he said this striking truth. Brace yourself. Here’s the quote:

You have no right to anything except judgment for your sins. You deserve to be married to a devilish spouse and to lie down in a bed of flames. It is amazing how good God is in giving us anything good at all! Some marriages may break the heart and wound the soul. But when you see that you are a hell-deserving sinner, surely you must also admit, “I am receiving better than what I deserve.” And if you have a believer for a mate, no matter how immature, you have cause to bless God every day. [4]

Friends, that’s a profound and significant paragraph that could improve and save many marriages if it was carefully considered and believed by the couple. I think Dr. Beeke is exactly right. Knowing we deserve God’s judgment and knowing we’ve been rescued by Christ from it helps us see our spouse in a different light, in the light of grace and thankfulness.

Listening more carefully to God’s holy law as it exposes and diagnoses our deepest problem is not something that should intensify our misery or lead us to hopelessness, depression, or despair, for God’s holy law works in concert with His holy gospel for the comfort of believers. As the law carefully cuts our hearts open, the gospel performs surgery and heals the cut. See, believing husbands and wives can think and talk about their sin and depravity with confidence in the gospel, and that’s why God’s law is no longer a threat to them or their marriage but is an immense help as the Spirit conforms them to Jesus and brings them closer to each other.

Is it possible that your marriage suffers in various ways because you have an inflated view of yourself and your so-called rights and felt needs? Sure, your spouse contributes to the problems in your marriage. But perhaps it would serve you to begin with your sanctification. The first step in improving your marriage is the gospel transforming you. The gospel is sufficient to change you, your perspective, your attitude, and your approach to your marriage. If you understand that you deserve nothing but hell and that Christ alone is your salvation and comfort and that your spouse is a precious gift from God, you will begin to see your marriage as a primary environment to express your thankfulness to God by loving your spouse selflessly and faithfully.

So, before heading into the grace section of the Heidelberg and thinking how it applies to marriage, let’s finish out the guilt section with questions 9-11. Here’s nine:

Is God, then, not unjust by requiring in His law what man cannot do? No, for God so created man that he was able to do it. But man, at the instigation of the devil in deliberate disobedience, robbed himself and all his descendants of these gifts.

Remember Heidelberg six. God created man in His own image in true righteousness and holiness. God created man able to do the law. God also created man able to have a wonderful and sinless marriage. Everything went wrong when man believed the lie of the devil and disobeyed God’s law. God is not to be blamed for broken marriages. We broke marriage. The sin that makes your marriage difficult does not originate with God; it originates with you and your spouse. God is not at all unjust for requiring you and your spouse to perfectly obey His law in life and in marriage, especially because His law promotes love in marriage. Simply because you are unable to fulfill the law of love in your marriage doesn’t make it unjust or unfair for God to require perfect love from you in marriage, again, especially considering that perfect love is what would make your marriage wonderful. Your sin doesn’t prevent God from commanding that which is wonderful for you and your spouse!

If someone murdered your best friend right in front of you, and later the judge let them go, you would feel horrifically wronged. Should we expect God who is supremely good to be anything less than just? We inherently believe in divine justice. To believe less is illogical and inconsistent at best. What do your sins, including the ones you commit against your spouse, deserve? Heidelberg 10 says:

Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished? Certainly not. He is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins. Therefore, He will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as He has declared: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Okay. Because God is supremely good, He cannot turn a blind eye to sin. He must punish it. Original sin is your sinful nature, and actual sin is the sin you do or the good you fail to do, and both our original sin and actual sin displease God very much. Because God is supremely good, He must punish everyone who breaks His law to the full extent of the law. Heidelberg 10 quotes Galatians 3:10 where Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26. Everyone who does not do everything God commands in His law is actually cursed by God.

Look around. Why are so many husbands and wives miserable in life and in marriage? Well, to put it bluntly, because they are sinners who are cursed by God. They carry their sin and guilt every day. They live beneath the curse and judgment of God. This makes life and marriage miserable. Though they desperately need Jesus, they don’t fully realize it, therefore, they languish in life and marriage. Those who experience the most fulfilling lives and marriages are those who know what they deserve and also know the lavish grace and love they have in Christ. For believing couples, the law no longer condemns them; in Christ, the law is what they desire to do for God’s glory and the good of their spouse.  

To all this law-talk and sin-talk and judgment-talk, you might be thinking, “But isn’t God also merciful?” You’re right to feel the need for God’s mercy. Yes, God is merciful, but we must first establish the justice of God before we can delight in the mercy of God. Heidelberg 11 says:

But is God not also merciful? God is indeed merciful, but He is also just. His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.

Beeke said, “You deserve to be married to a devilish spouse and to lie down in a bed of flames.” This thought may be a key to you increasing your thankfulness for your spouse and improving your marriage. You deserve to be punished by God with the most severe punishment, indeed everlasting hell. But in Christ, this is not what you receive. Jesus Christ died in your place so that you would be spared from God’s judgment and experience only God’s favor. Believing this will transform how you experience your spouse.

Maybe take a moment and make a list of things you appreciate about your spouse. Consider each of these things a lavish gift from God. Maybe share your list with your spouse and express how much you love them and how thankful you are for them. If the gospel is shaping your thoughts on your spouse, you will quickly see how much of a blessing they truly are.  

[1] Joel R. Beeke, Friends & Lovers (Maryland: Cruciform Press, 2012), 82.

[2] Ibid., 83.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021).

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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