I was looking at a display in a Civil War Museum when I noticed an old letter. A Confederate soldier wrote the letter to his wife in August 1864. He mentioned some interesting things about the war and the times, but what really impressed me was how he closed the letter. I expected to see “Affectionately yours” or “With love” just before his signature. These words are meaningful and they would certainly have been appropriate. But this soldier looked at his marriage in a way that is rare today. He closed the letter with these words: “Your husband until death.” These were not empty words. Miles away from his mate, he died of pneumonia in December of that year.

How many married men see themselves as “husbands until death”? How many married women look at their husbands as lifelong mates? Marriage vows have traditionally included the words “till death do we part,” but some vows intentionally avoid mentioning that marriage is a lifetime covenant. Many look at marriage as a trial relationship instead of a permanent arrangement. “Till we get tired of each other and decide to part” has taken the place of “till death do we part.”

God made us and gave us marriage. Marriage is His idea, not ours. He alone has the right to say what it is, who is in it, and how long it lasts. The law of God is clear on this last point:

“For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband” (Romans 7:2).

“The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord” (I Corinthians 7:39).

Jesus did say that a man may end his marriage and marry another if his wife is guilty of fornication (Matt. 19:9). That is the exception. The basic law of the Bible is that marriage is for life.

It is good for a young man to charm his bride, but he must do more than this. He must commit to be her husband until death. It is good for a young woman to want to please her husband, but she must do more. She must resolve to be his wife until death. The love that holds two people together through hard times is not some passing feeling. It is a decision. It is a commitment. It is a matter of integrity and loyalty that surpasses the issue of personal happiness.

A soldier long since dead preached a great sermon in these touching words. May every married person reading these words keep this same attitude.

-Kerry Duke