Hymn 620 is actually a prayer to Christ, offered in the context of a wedding ceremony. When at that wedding we sing “Thou dearer far than earthly guest,/ Vouchsafe Thy presence here” (verse 1), we are actually praying that Christ will be present at this wedding, even as He was present at the wedding in Cana, where He performed the first miracle in His public ministry.
The presence of Christ at a wedding sanctifies the promise of faithfulness that the bride and groom make to one another in that ceremony (“For holy Thou indeed dost prove/ The marriage vow to be”). This vow is sacred—it is made in the presence of God—and the substance of the vow is faithfulness unto death. Underscoring the importance of the marriage covenant is the fact that marriage is a type (that is, an element that prefigures something else that will have the same or similar characteristics) of the relationship between Christ and the Church: “Proclaiming it [marriage] a type of love/ Between the Church and Thee.” As taught in Ephesians 5:22-33, the relationship of husband and wife to one another is to be, at least in some regards, a microcosm of the relationship between Christ and His Church. Those who are members of Christ’s Church, the bride of Christ, who nonetheless lightly regard their marriage relationship are—at best—inconsistent.
Verse 2 of this hymn adds the corresponding element that a marriage is to be permanent. It characterizes the wedding vow as “This holy vow that man can make,/ the golden thread in life,/ The bond that none may dare to break.” It is important for us to maintain this truth, especially as the culture in which we are immersed increasingly rejects it. In the book Mere Christianity,
C.S. Lewis aptly characterized our society’s easy acceptance of divorce as “. . . the modern view that it [divorce] is a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else.” However, consider what that view of marriage and divorce would mean if we were to apply it to the relationship of Christ and the Church. It would mean that Christ has no permanent commitment or devotion to the Church, nor we to Him. Certainly, the exact opposite is true of the Church as the bride of Christ, and therefore should also be true of all Christians in their marriages.
Verse 2 also points out that when bride and groom both recognize their marriage for what it truly is, a blessing from God, then the “ups and downs” of life will not break their relationship: “Which, blest by Thee, what-e’er betides,/ No evil shall destroy.” Indeed, their relationship to one another and in submission to Christ is exactly what helps them through the “tough times” of sorrows, disappointment, and even grief. The Christian marriage relationship can be thought of as dividing the bad parts in half and doubling the good parts: “Thro’ care-worn days each care divides,/ And doubles ev’ry joy.”
When we sing this hymn, we are praying that the Lord would bless a wedding couple. But what blessings, specifically, are we praying for? We are asking that they may stir one another to greater Christian ardor (“That each may wake the other’s zeal/ To love Thee more and more”), that they may live in peace (“Oh, grant them here in peace to live”), that their lives may be pure and filled with love (“In purity and love”), and that when their lives in this world are finished, they may enter into that everlasting life which God’s grace to us in Christ has won (“And, this world leaving, to receive/ A crown of life above”).
We pray this hymn for the wedding couple, and also for our own marriages.
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.