Church’s Espousal

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
~ Ephesians 5:31-32

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
~ Matthew 4:17

Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love. Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.
~ Song of Solomon 1:3, Song of Solomon 5:8, Song of Solomon 6:1

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
~ 1 Corinthians 11:2 (KJV)

These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
~ Revelation 14:4

Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.
~ Luke 12:35-36

When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
~ Matthew 13:19-23

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
~ 1 John 2:19

The Reason and Application of the Church Espousal to the Lord Jesus Christ, by Jonathan Edwards. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “On Matthean Parables, Volume One, True and False Christians (On the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins)”.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
—Matthew 25:1–12


The church is espoused to the Lord Jesus Christ


There is a threefold reason may be given of this, or reasons of three kinds: one on the part of false professors that are members of the visible church; and another on the part of true Christians that are members of the mystical church; and another on the part of Christ, the head of the church.

(1.) The first reason, which respects the false members of the church, is the dreadful proneness there naturally is in the heart of man to hypocrisy. We are told, Jer. 17:9, that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

Men are naturally exceeding prone to deceive themselves in their opinion they have of themselves, and that from their pride and self-love.

Their pride makes them prone to entertain high thoughts of themselves, to look on themselves through a magnifying glass, to give honorable appellations to themselves, to think themselves virtuous and religious. And as they have a high thought of themselves, so they are ready to think God has a high thought of themselves: and hence, those that are indeed no Christians look on themselves as Christians, and profess themselves to be such.

And their self-love makes them exceeding prone to flatter themselves, that they have the necessary qualifications of an happy state. They are very ready to think themselves free from what they heard inevitably exposes them to ruin.

For every man would feign flatter himself that he is not like to be miserable, and he has a great deal of strong prejudice to blend into a thought that he has what is necessary to make him happy.

And hence, many men that hear the threatenings and promises of God’s Word, and live in places of light, think themselves Christians, when they ben’t Christian, and so make a false profession of Christianity.

And hence it is that false professors do abound everywhere where the light of the gospel comes, as it comes everywhere where the visible church is.

And then there is an exceeding proneness in men naturally, not only to deceive themselves, but to deceive others also. There is a seed or principle of pharisaism in every man, whereby he is prone to do things and to say things, to be seen of men, to make false pretenses and professions to deceive them, and to beget an high opinion of them in others.

Men naturally seek the honor that is of man, more than that which is of God, and to regard more how they appear in the eyes of men than in God’s eyes. And to be a Christian is credible in the church of God; and this is another reason why false professors do abound in the visible church of Christ.

But besides this, there is a proneness in the heart of man to endeavor to deceive God him(self). Man naturally is prone to be putting on a mask and disguise, even (when) he comes to appear before God, and to make false pretenses to him. And ’tis exceeding difficult to get men wholly off from a notion of God’s being pleased with their fair outside; and many hope for acceptance with God from nothing else but a good outside.

These things are the reason why false professors abound in the church, as to what pertains to such false professors.

2. The second reason I would give of it, is on the part of the true professors of Christianity. And the reason as to what pertains to them, is that they can’t search the hearts of others. Those that are indeed members of the mystical body of Christ, they can’t look into others’ hearts, and certainly determine who are of their society and who are not, so as to refuse to admit or receive any to be of their company, or to partake with them in their external privileges, but only such as are truly godly.

And Christ, in the rules that he has given for the reception of persons into the visible church, has wisely accommodated himself to the nature and state of his people here in this world. He has given them no power to search others’ hearts, for that he has reserved to himself as his own prerogative. Rev. 2:23, “and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth hearts and the reins.”

To go to make them judges of other hearts, would be not only to exalt them above their natures, but also to enstate them in his throne, and to invest them with that which belongs in proper to God only.

They are fellow servants, and Christ never committed to them power of judging their fellow servants.

Other men ben’t their servants, but Christ and they have no business to judge another man’s servant. Rom. 14:4, “Who art thou, that (judgest another man’s servant)?”

If they do so, they are not doers of the law, but judges, as the apostle James say, Jas. 4:11.

Therefore, the rule that Christ has given his church to proceed by in admitting others to external privileges with them, is to proceed only by what is visible and external: for ’tis only that that is liable to our observation. As to the heart, that is invisible; that belongs to God to judge of, and not us.

The officers and rulers of the church, they are none of them searchers of men’s hearts. And though some of them may be well-skilled in experimental religion and soul concerns, yet Christ has not seen fit to make their private judgment of the state of men’s souls, their rule in admission of members into the church of Christ.

For they are but poor, fallible men at best, and if they should reject all that they think ben’t truly godly, they may reject many that are truly godly. And therefore, Christ has given to none of his ministers power to separate wheat and tares in this world as judges, lest while they go about to root up the tares, they should root up the wheat also. Therefore, he would have both grow together till the harvest, till he comes as judge to separate them, who alone is equal to the business, Matt. 13:29–30.

So that nothing is left to the church as their rule with respect to admission or exclusion of members, but those things that are visible to the eye of the public, and not those things that appear to the private opinions of men. But such a public visibility won’t exclude false professors; hence it comes to pass that false Christians are at all times, and everywhere, mixed with true in the visible church.

3. The last kind of reasons respect Christ, the head of the church, why he so orders the state of the visible church in this world, that many false professors shall be in it. And two reasons may be given of it:

(1) Christ would not anticipate the work of the day of judgment, and do the work of that day, before the time. If Christ should now so order it, that true and false Christians should be precisely distinguished and separated, he therein would do the work of the day of judgment beforehand: for the business of that day, is to make such a separation. But Christ would not anticipate the work of that day.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every business, and purpose (Eccles. 3:1). But the present time is not the time of judgment; it don’t appear in God’s sight a proper time.

The present time is a time of probation, and a future time, a time of judgment. To do the work of judgment now, would be to confound a day of probation and a day of judgment together.

There is a certain appointed time for judgment, a day for separating sheep from goats, wheat from chaff. The appointed day shall declare these things. The harvest is the proper time for separating wheat from tares; and therefore Christ says, “Let both grow together then till the harvest,” Matt. 13:30.

And therefore Christ himself, while on earth, in acting as the head of the visible church, did not separate true professors from hypocrites, but admitted Judas among the disciples to like external privileges with them—though he knew that he was a devil—because he would not do the work of the day of judgment beforehand.

(2) There are wise ends why Christ so orders the state of the visible church, that many false professors shall be in it. Particularly these two:

1. As a means of gathering in the elect. By means of such a state of things, many natural men are in the visible church of Christ, whereby they enjoy external privileges of visible Christians, and are the constant subjects of the means of grace; which proves a means of many of them being afterwards brought savingly home to Christ, and into the invisible church.

And this is a principal means of upholding the church of Christ in the world, from age to age.

If no natural men were in the visible church of Christ, then no natural men would be the adoring subjects of the appointed means of grace, and so wouldn’t enjoy those means of their conversion that now they do. But one end of the ordinary dispensation of the ordinances of Christ, is the conversion of sinners.

2. For the rendering of reprobates more inexcusable, and the greater manifestation of divine justice in their condemnation. Wicked men are rendered abundantly the more inexcusable for being members of the visible church, for living under such light, such advantages; and their guilt becomes the greater for their sinning as they do against the light and their profession.

And this, the Scripture teaches us, is one end why ’tis ordered that some men live under means of grace. Isaiah was sent to preach to some in Israel for this end, Is. 6. Christ gives this reason why he preached to the unbelieving, obstinate Jews, Matt. 13:14. And therefore it is said that Christ “is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34), and that he shall be a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation to sinners (Is. 26:16).24 So to others he is set for “a stone of stumbling,” 1 Pet. 2:8.


I. Hence, we need not wonder when we find it so. Many professors come in.

II. Hence, they do greatly err that go about to make a separation between true and false Christians in the world, as though they had power of discerning and certainly distinguishing between godly and ungodly, and so will venture positively and absolutely to decide concerning the state of others’ souls.

They do err that will positively determine for persons that they are converted, but more especially they who are positive and peremptory in determining against them, being forward to say of one and another that they never were converted, and that they han’t a jot of true grace in their hearts.

By such censoriousness, persons do certainly do that which is not agreeable to the state and circumstances of the church in this world. If men in the present state had been endowed with such power, Christ never would have so ordered it, that true and false Christians should evermore be mixed together in the world. Such persons take upon them the part of the judge, and anticipate the work of the day of judgment.