Tag Archives: Joy is a duty poem by Henry van Dyke

Rise Up, My Love (243): Wedding Vows

Song of Solomon 7:9 “For my beloved.” Yes, all that we are and have is for our beloved. In this physical world we give such allegiance to our beloved spouse, but in a deeper sense—in a way that encompasses both the physical and the spiritual—we give all that we are and have to our beloved bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ…for time and for all eternity.

Tell me, have you kept your wedding vows? Do you remember them? Perhaps you wrote your own and had them all memorized…can you still repeat them? It would be a good exercise to keep a written copy somewhere special—maybe in your family Bible—and repeat them every year on your anniversary. My husband and I used the aged formula that we had heard so oft repeated from our earliest childhood memories of weddings… “and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him/her so long as ye both shall live…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part.”

Our first, ever continuing obligation is to forsake all others. It is also God’s first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Just as every wife wants her husband to have eyes for only her (and visa-versa), so God wants us to only have eyes for Him! Do you ever allow your eyes to stray when a pretty woman or a handsome man walks by? You will break your beloved’s heart and trust.

In our country, we aren’t typically tempted to worship literal, handmade image-idols from other nations. You don’t hear of many people converting to Buddhism or Shintoism. Do you know why? Because the god that appeals to Americans is the “almighty” dollar. Money and leisure have become national gods, and Americans who don’t worship Jesus typically chase materialistic pleasures. So, don’t be tempted to relax and say, “Well, at least I’ve forsaken all other gods! I don’t have eyes for anyone but God.” The real test is not, “Do you keep figurines on an idol shelf?” but, “Do you find yourself tempted to make decisions based on material gain or selfish pleasure rather than on your perception of its being God’s will…being right and for His pleasure?”

“To have and to hold.” Yes, Jesus, above all else, I am yours to have and to hold. Isn’t it strange that during the easy times of life many hearts are tempted to wander, but during the hard times, we are more likely to seek the comfort and support of a companion? Why is that? “For better or worse.” When things are “better,” it should be simple to remain faithful, but how easily people grow careless with each other and become intent on pursuing idle pleasures that distract rather than bind them together. When things are “better,” how easily people forget God and go their own way!

How much like sheep, who wander off on the sunny days until they have stumbled and fallen…and then bleat pitifully in their helpless pain and fear as the night falls! When it’s “for better,” humans tend to grow selfish and not want to be “bothered.” When it’s “for worse…” well, if it’s our problem, we want help and compassion…now!! But, if it’s our spouse’s problem…do we rush to his aid…and then endure patiently as needed? Our ability not only to “endure” but to take joy in being able to show love for our spouse through sacrifice is a rare and noble quality indeed.

“‘Joy is a duty’—so with golden lore
The Hebrew rabbis taught in days of yore.
And happy human hearts heard in their speech
Almost the highest wisdom man can reach.
But one bright peak still rises far above,
And there the Master stands whose name is Love,
Saying to those whom weary tasks employ:
‘Life is divine when Duty is a joy.’”
—Henry van Dyke

What a comfort it is as we grow older “to have and to hold” a life mate. I often used to tell my children that getting married is like putting money in a bank. Our oldest, shrewd financial steward that he is, tucked away $20,000 from his first year’s salary for his retirement, knowing that if all continues for the next fifty years as it has for the past fifty (which it probably won’t), that small (but significant) investment will grow into an ample retirement pension. Now, a twenty-five year old young man could think of many ways to spend 20K, but he will be very happy for his sacrifice in years to come.

Likewise, young adults may find it very difficult…even painfully sacrificial… to pour their time, energy, and money into developing a strong marriage and rearing a family. How much easier it would be to just “do their own thing.” But, all the sacrifices we make in our youth pay tremendous spiritual, emotional, and even physical benefits as we age.

Although it was simply by faith that my husband and I invested in a large family (based on believing Psalm 127:3, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward”), there is nothing on this earth that brings us more genuine pleasure now than our family. If you asked my husband, “Was it hard?”, I’m sure he would say, “Harder than I could have ever imagined when I asked Kathi to marry me!” When I asked him if it was worth it, he said, “Next to getting saved, it’s been the greatest joy of my life.” To which I would add a hearty “Amen!”

“For my beloved.” Yes, keep all you have and are for your beloved, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death” parts you! And for our beloved, let us keep all we are and have for him until death brings us to his arms forever!