“Who Gives This Woman?”

To hear this question as a father must quicken the pulse. Hearing it as a mother makes me nervous. It seems so against parental nature to publicly state that you give your blessing to your daughter leaving your protection, and decades of love and instruction to go live with a man roughly her own age whom she met relatively recently. Though the man loves your daughter, he cannot yet know and love her as well as you do. That deep love develops after marriage.

I am trying to remind myself now, however, that Christian marriage is one huge way that God extends His Kingdom – not only by covenant children, but also by a faithful wife freeing her husband up to whatever vocation to which the Lord has called him. And this weekend, there was a beautiful example of this in my congregation.

On Saturday, a man gave his public permission for his daughter to marry. The new husband, a pastor, lives on another hemisphere; he will take his bride far away from family, friends, and home, bringing her to a new continent, country, culture, and language. And while there are airplanes these days that can get us anywhere in 24 hours or so, it is not cheap and easy. These parents do not know when or where they will see their beloved daughter again. They are sacrificing many desires for the sake of their daughter’s happiness and their Saviour’s glory.

Thinking about this reminded me of the letter which Adoniram Judson wrote to his beloved’s father, asking for Ann’s hand in marriage. Judson recognized that it would be a difficult thing for a father to say yes to a young man bound for a dangerous, poor, hard mission field, and he doesn’t sugar-coat or deny it. But Judson does press home the claims of Christ here – this marriage was about much more than the parents’ wishes or couple’s happiness:

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

Ann’s father could. His sacrifice as a parent has seen eternal fruit that continues to this day; the Burmese church was begun through this couple’s efforts. Adoniram would not have lived to do it without his precious wife. She was the way that God enabled her husband to do the incredible work that he did.

The sort of father who will give his daughter to a man committed to “radical” service to Christ is scarce. Most fathers want their daughters nearby, especially if there are grandchildren on the horizon. But I do know many parents who have given their daughters in marriage to Christian men in all sorts of callings, knowing that they are giving their girls over to live far away, raise grandchildren in other countries, perhaps live in discomfort or danger. These parents have have done it for Christ. They have given what they cannot keep – a daughter – to gain what they cannot loose – God’s blessing on them, and the privilege of building the Kingdom of Christ. They miss their daughters, but they don’t regret it. They keep in mind the “hope of soon meeting [their] daughter in the world of glory”, where they will hear the Saviour’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt. 25:23).