The Rev. Henry Handley Norris was a British clergyman who served as Rector of South Hackney in Middlesex County, England. Rev. Norris married Catherine Henrietta Powell in 1805. Their marriage lasted for forty-five years until his death in December of 1850. In this sermon, Norris marks the recent passage of a new law on marriage by providing a detailed look at the marriage institution from a Biblical perspective. He painstakingly progresses through the scriptures in establishing his point that marriage is most importantly a religious institution, and therefore it should never be relegated to a strictly civil character. Rev. Norris emphasizes that God created and established the marriage institution and therefore His intent and purposes should be followed by both religious and civil rulers. Rev. Norris’ sermon provides an example of how 18th and 19th Century clergymen regularly instructed their congregations in a Biblical worldview.
Preached At South Hackney Church,
On Sunday, July 2, 1837,
On Occasion of the New Law of Marriage Coming into Operation
By The Rev. H. H. Norris, A.M. Rector of South Hackney, and Prebendary of St. Paul’s, and Landaff.
And He brought her unto the man.
There are none probably so entirely strangers to the measures in progress under the notion of reform, as to be unaware that a very material change has just taken place in the law of marriage, as the admission into this state of life has been uniformly regulated since the first establishment of Christianity amongst us, with the exception of a very few years during Cromwell’s usurpation.
Of that short period of the kingdom’s judicial subjection to the very dregs of its population, one distinguishing feature is, that, in their self-assumed legislative character, they took from the Clergy “the solemnizing of Matrimony, and put it into the hands of Justices of the Peace [See the Ordinance, Neal’s History of the Puritans, Vol. IV. Page 74.].” This is the only precedent to be found in our annals for the enactment that has now taken effect; and though, if reference be had to it, and to the circumstances belonging to its history, it will be seen, that no sooner did the nation recover its legitimate government, than this ordinance was declared a nullity, and repudiated in opprobrious terms, yet does it appear, from the observable similarity in some of the visions of both instruments, to be the model after which the new statue has been framed, the preamble of which lays the ground for the desecration of the holy rite, in and alleged “expediency” that the law of marriage should be so “amended.”
In the former instance of this desecration being ordained, the power to legislate had been seized by those who would be restrained in nothing that they imagined to do; and, in a day specified in their ordinance, “no other marriage whatsoever within the Commonwealth,” but such as should be contracted under the Parish Registrar’s Certificate of his publication of Banns, and before a Justice of the Peace, “should be held or accounted a marriage according to the law of England [See the Ordinance.].” But the national principle is not yet sufficiently prostrated to make us again ripe for so arbitrary and irreligious and imposition, and therefore, by the law just come in force, you are left to form your own judgments, whether marriage is a mere civil contract, or a Divine institution â€“ whether it shall be celebrated with or without any offices of religion â€“ whether the Church, the Conventicle, or the Register-office, shall be the place of celebration â€“ and whether the Clergyman of the Parish, the Dissenting Teacher, or the superintendent Registrar, shall officiate on the occasion.
In the relation in which I stand, and have long stood, toward you, my beloved brethren, and in a matter wherein your interests, both in time and eternity, are not lightly concerned, it would betray a very culpable indifference to my own responsibilities, were I to allow this new order of things to be brought into operation with our subjecting the questions at issue to a scriptural inquiry, and putting before you the strong reasons which should guide your conduct, “as persons professing godliness,” and pledged, by your baptismal stipulations, to maintain in all things “a conversation becoming the Gospel of Christ.”
It is under these impressions that the subject is undertaken; and the text has been selected, because, being the Divine record of the institution of Marriage, it carries back our inquiries into it to the fountain head, and whether the desecration of marriage is an “amendment” of the law, and there is the alleged “expediency” in dealing with it as though it were a common covenanting between parties about to traffic together as long as they can mutually agree, are questions upon which it has by no means an unimportant bearing.
Read the rest of the sermon at Wallbuilders