The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
— Matthew 13:44
I’ve had occasion the past few days to consider the idea of estate. The question has come up in light of my struggles to make a living as a writer and the peril into which it puts the family capital — my children’s inheritance.
The idea has come at me like a flurry of leaves from a tree. Today it occurred to me doing memory work with a 9 year old. He is putting into his mind the parable of the sower in Luke 8 in an all-summer parables project. He did well, but I wondered about his older brothers? Do they reflect the will of God in their manner of speech to their father and mother, and are they sensible how short their time is? What is the estate of their souls?
I ask myself if I am doing all I can to pass to them an inheritance far more valuable than gold and silver. That is their parents’ Christian faith. When I am dead, will I leave behind the means with which to extend Christ’s promises to future generations among people of my own blood, and others? Might I be like that tiny mustard seed that grows into a great tree? Might I be a forgotten ancestor to a great hero in Christendom 150 years from now? Three hundred?
Today at the Hardee’s in Soddy-Daisy I sat with a suitor to my daughter. When the conversation turned to his interest in her, I thought it would be helpful to him to explain a little of the ways of Christendom, as he is relatively new to its wonders and appears to be occupying himself with acquiring its graces.
Hardee’s is a happening place in the town for many older gents, who sit around and talk very loudly over their sandwiches and coffee. I had a chicken sandwich and coffee, he had a plate of something with a lot of cream spread across the top.
Marriage and capital
In the Hebrew republic, the Israelites put great stock in marriage and in the honor of the marriage bed. A man who wanted to marry had to show himself qualified by having a certain sum of capital. As I recalled, it was three years worth of wages. A man with capital is worthy of supporting a wife. The dowry was paid before marriage from the bridegroom’s family to the father of the bride as security for her in case of an evil end to the marriage, in which case the father would step in as the woman’s head, and support her from the capital of the dowry, which he had held as trustee.
Today we have a dowry system, too, though at the wrong end of the business of a broken marriage. We have child support, enforced by courts and administrative branches of government. Discarded wives and children are supported by ex-husbands by a post-marital fund. Quite a contrast from the Old Testament system. Improvident men or men without capital are forced coercively to prove their worth retroactively, begrudgingly. In Israel’s economy, God’s provision would have no patience with such a system, but required bold, up-front proof of means.
The Europeans in the 14th and 15th centuries turned the dowry system on its head, forcing the families of the woman to pay the dowry. The storyline behind Shakespeare’s play, Taming of the Shrew, is about Petruchio’s pursuit of the shrewish and untamed Katherine, who comes with a sizeable dowry.
God has an interest in protecting women, the weaker vessel, and children from financial ruin and poverty. Jacob worked seven years for Laban to earn a dowry for Rachel (Gen. 29:18) and when Laban had withheld from them the dowry they complained that he had sold them.
Though I brought up the old law, I did not insist that my daughter’s visitor put three years’ wages into a trust as security for her hand. But the point is clear. Marriage requires a husband to have some worth and show himself qualified to lead a household.
Who is the breadwinner?
Another point that came up is the danger of the wife being the breadwinner. What if my daughter is more successful as an artist than her husband? What if he depends on her commissions and teaching pay? What if his own creative work is esteemed less than hers (both are artists)? It is hard to be the head when the wife’s orientation is so outward. Is it wise for a man to marry when he has several more years of study?
And is there a danger to the union if the couple delays childbearing? I didn’t bring up this question, but other elements of our conversation should have suggested that I value marriage for its fruit — the issue — as much as its joys.
I did not give my young friend my estimated dollar net worth, but I wanted to raise the matter of estate. What sort of estate will he inherit? His mother is a noted writer, his father an artist. Will he at some point obtain capital from his parents beyond their current support to him as an art student?
I told him that my four children and their families will inherit an estate from Jeannette and me, and I alluded to the prospects of my inheriting estates from Jeannette’s and my parents. My widowed mother, Marianne, a naturalized Swiss immigrant, has always tended the family finances. She and my father, Robert, saved earnestly and taught us thrift. My aged mother, who still reads the Wall Street Journal every day, invested wisely and made homemade clothing for all in the household.
My daughter will receive a share of my estate ‡ on the death of the surviving parent. In all probability, she will get advances on it, just as my mother has given advances to me and a brother and sister.
It is helpful for a man to count on an estate from family. The idea of inheritance is strongly Christian. It is future oriented. It requires Christian virtue to create an inheritance. A man denies himself, curbs his leisure and pleasure to save for the future. He does so for people unseen and really impossible to imagine — potentially thousands of people who are his descendants. God’s promise for His people is that they shall inherit the earth and that the nations of the world will become Christ’s vassals and servants. By having children and living obediently, a man will extend his influence outward into other generations even after his name and memory are forgotten.
The estate of faith
Part of our conversation turned on economic terminology. The word interest is one. The young man and I agreed that we have an interest in the saving promises of Jesus Christ. That means we have have a property interest, a claim, upon the Lord God and his mercy. The ground for this claim is His promise to us in the scripture that if we repent of our sins by His grace, He is ready and eager to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness. We then have a claim upon Him for his forgiveness. We become adopted sons by God’s free grace and are received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.
A Christian is not an interloper, a gold-digger, a usurper or an imposter. Like the prodigal son in the parable my youngest will memorize, he has a stake in the kingdom. The kingdom encompasses God’s property rights over all the earth. His sons and daughters have reason to expect its fulfillment, in the next life for sure, and no doubt with many tastes of its fulfillment in this life.
Over our coffee, the young artist and I discussed how marriage is a picture of that relationship Christ has with His people. He died for his bride, his church, to make her holy and pure. A husband is willing to die for his wife and sacrifice himself for her, as Christ did for His children. The catechism refers to this body of God’s children as the invisible church — the entire body of His Children that most surely has a census different from that of the visible church).
Much to think about
The conversation touched on how how men and women relate. I made reference to a book I cited earlier, the Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I made reference, without giving him a citation, to Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs, whose books and Love and Respect Ministries are based on the advice from Paul to married people. The man is commanded to love his wife because love is not what he naturally does. The woman is commanded to respect her husband, for that is something not easy or natural to her.
I don’t think I discouraged the young man in his friendship with my daughter. But I hope the conversation brought to view the many good things God gives his people by way of principle and concept. If the suitor has an interest in the kingdom, he is not wrong to find my daughter the most peculiar and wonderful young woman, full of virtue and a rare genius.
I admitted marrying young has its disadvantages in lack of experience and capital.
But it also has many blessings. In an early marriage young people avoid many sexual temptations. They avoid the whole dating scene with its serial pseudo-monogamy and string of heartbreaks and the temptation to look at each new person in one’s life in terms of comparison with past lovers or boyfriends. Marrying young, too, gives more years to childbearing — children being a great joy, a wonderful fruit of the marriage bed.
‡ I use the word estate generically. I have everything in trust using the Dacy system, and don’t own anything myself except any wages that come to me, and the contents of a checking account. Ideally, at the death of the surviving Tulis parent, there will be no estate, and everything will be passed down in trust. Would this topic make a good Nooganomics essay? Please let me know.
Sources: R.J. Rushdoony, “The Fifth Commandment,” Institutes of Biblical Law (Presbyteiran & Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), pp 174-180