Fulfillment of the Law & 1st Article Gifts

Often times when speaking with others about procreation, the issue of one's own fulfilling of God's command comes into play. They say, "But I have fulfilled the command to be fruitful, I have multiplied." Recently one such discussion then led into, "I've been fruitful, I've multiplied, and without making possessions and idol, why can't I stop having children and enjoy the finer things in life?"

I think this is the perception of most in our culture. If they are Christian, they feel that they have fulfilled God's command by having children. And the second, in regards to material possessions is the predominant view.

There are two main theological issues at hand here that I would like to address here:

1. Fulfillment of God's Law
First off, no, God does tell us how much we must multiply by, but neither does he give to us to say when we have "done enough." So you say, you've been fruitful, you have multiplied. Good for you, you Pharisee who looks to the law as yours to fulfill and earn God's grace. The reality is, God gives to us to be fruitful and multiply. And this is not only a "pre-fall command" (as I have heard others say) but one that is given again after the flood (Gen. 9). Being fruitful and multiplying, i.e. having children, is not about fulfilling God's law. We will never fully fulfill God's law, for we are sinners. For this reason, God sent his Son, to redeem us who are under the law (Gal. 4). We must stop looking to ourselves as completing God's work in us, for that is the way of the Pharisees and the Romanists and many American "Evangelicals". But God's law is fulfilled in Christ, we are recepients of his good and gracious gifts... which brings us to:

2. 1st Article Gifts
To be fruitful and to multiply is a part of God's good and gracious gifts to his people. As repeatedly discussed on this blog and elsewhere, children are gifts of God. Rarely will a Christian argue this point. But what about not having more children so that I may enjoy the finer things in life? Regardless of one's words, looking to earthly and material goods for oneself is nothing short of idolatry. You either idolize yourself in your own fulfilling of God's command or you idolize money and possessions for yourself. God has not promised that you will be provided with the finer things of life, you may never own a new car, you may never be able to eat steak and seafood on a regular basis, you may never even have an Armani suit, and you may even never get to go on that fabulous vacation you dreamed about. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with such things, but these are not yours by birth right, they are additional gifts. God "richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life." (1st Article of the Creed, Small Catechism)
In our society, the definition of needs is so highly scewed. The arguement of prohibiting children from the standpoint of gaining earthly possessions is idolatry and shows a lack of faith in the 1st Article of the Apostle's Creed, that we will provided with all that we need to support this body and life. Oh and by the way, did you notice that one's wife and children are part of these same 1st Article gifts

We should not be as fundamentalists, who hinge salvation itself on the fulfilling of God's laws, but neither are we given to reject God's gifts. No other gifts mentioned in the 1st Article of the Creed as listed in the Small Catechism, would anyone reject, except that of children. No, salvation does not depend on it entirely, but hearing God's Word on the issue, receiving God's gifts, earthly gifts as well as the gifts given to us in Christ, "for all this it is our duty that thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true."


Christopher Gillespie said...

Well said. Its a hard word but good.

GL said...

Well said, indeed. I've never been quite convinced that the words "be fruitful and multiply" are a command, but they certainly are words of blessing. And I've never been able to discern a reason for not being open to life (save it truly exigent circumstances which do not deny the blessing of a child or another child) which do not deny that children or more children are a blessing and, thus, declare, by our actions, that either God is mistaken or a liar when He declares fruitfulness and children to be blessings. As St. John Chrysostom so eloquently wrote on this very subject, "What then? Do you contemn the gift of God [i.e., fruitfulness and children], and fight with his laws? What is a curse [i.e., barrenness], do you seek as though it were a blessing?" As you wrote, what other blessing of God would one of His bondservants spurn other than children? Our acts of contraception declare our lack of belief in His Word as much as any words we could speak.

GL said...

A related article is available at http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=1209-fraily. See "Blessed are the Barren" at the New Oxford Review.

Sir Cuthbert said...

Very good, but check it for typos. Also, as I read this post, an objection I've read many times on this blog leapt to mind: "No I don't reject other blessings, like food, but I don't over-indulge either. You people who have many children are like people who eat way too much. Food is a good gift, but I have a choice about how much I eat." So far, I have not found a good, solid refutation of this analogy. I know it's wrong, but I can't explain why. A good defense against this objection would be very helpful.

GL said...

The blessing "be fruitful and multiple" and Psalm 127 provide the answers to the objection raised by Sir Cuthbert. Scripture clearly teaches that to have many children is a blessing from God; it also clearly teaches that gluttony is a sin. The objection and the analogy upon which it is based are founded in human reason; its refutation is found in Scripture. The two are not analogous in Scripture.

Having said that, I have some misgivings with those who appear to deliberately seek to have extremely large families, such as the Duggers. And, perhaps, this goes to the issue of whether "be fruitful and multiply" is a blessing or a command. If strictly the former, then we can simply live our married lives open to God's blessings without necessarily engaging in a form of family planning designed to maximize the number of children we have, trusting God to wisely bless us with the number of children He chooses. Perhaps, if we actually plan our marital lives to have extremely large families we are in some way guilty of a sin similar to gluttony. Please understand, I am not accusing the Duggers or anyone else of actually doing this, but I can see that it could be done. If "be fruitful and multiply" is a command, then one could argue that such planning would not merely be permitted, but would be required. Also, if "be fruitful and multiply" is a command, then what of lifelong celibates, including our Lord Himself, who never have biological children? Wouldn't it be a sin not to marry and have children if these words are a command? But if they are a blessing, then there would be no obligation incumbent upon all to have children, only an openness to them in our marital intimacy. This seems much more consistent with Scripture, in which celibacy is recommended and even practiced by not only some saints (e.g., St. Paul), but even my our Lord Himself.

(see the next post for a continuation)

GL said...

Curiously, this very issue (i.e., the comparison to gluttony) is raised in C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet", in which the main character, Ransom, confronts his hrossa host about the dangers of overpopulation. His host is shocked to learn that humans do not stop procreating after having a child, but do so over and over again. That dialog reads has follows:

“But why should we have more young?”

Ransom found this difficult. At last he said:

“Is the begetting of young not a pleasure among the hrossa?”

“A very great one, Hman. This is what we call love.”

If a thing is a pleasure, a hman wants it again. He might want the pleasure more often than the number of young that could be fed.”

It took Hyoi a long time to get the point.

“You mean,” he said slowly, “that he might do it not only in one or two years of his life but again?”


“But why? Would he want his dinner all day or want to sleep after he had slept? I do not understand.”

* * *

“[T]here might, perhaps, be somewhere a hross . . . that wanted to have the years of love prolonged. I have not heard of it, but it might be.”

* * *

Ransom pondered this. Here, unless Hyoi was deceiving him, was a species naturally continent, naturally monogamous.

* * *

“Undoubtedly,” [Hyoi] said. “Maeldil made us so. How could there ever be enough to eat if everyone had twenty young?”

Now back to the analogy of gluttony. A glutton eats all the time and in excess, but it is not gluttony to eat when nature demands, which, of course, is usually more than once a day. Indeed, not to do so is harmful to our bodies and also could be a sin (normal Christian fasting excepted, of course). To engage in marital intimacy in excess might be compared to gluttony, but to refrain excessively is also a sin as St. Paul clearly teaches as well. The more apt comparison to food and contraception would be to eat and then to induce vomiting, so as to enjoy the pleasure of eating without accepting the intended benefit (i.e., blessing) of nutrition. Lewis deals with this comparison in "The Pilgrim's Regress". So, Scripture enjoins us not to excessively refrain from marital intimacy and informs us of God's blessing of fertility. Contraception is a rejection of that blessing just as induced vomiting is a rejection of the blessing of nutrition.

Sir Cuthbert said...

Thanks. That helps.