Harvey, Dave.  When Sinners Say "I Do."  Wapwallopen, PA:  Shepherd Press, 2007.  Paper.  189 pp.  $13.95.

Title:  When Sinners Say “I Do”

Author:  Dave Harvey

Publisher:  Shepherd Press, 2007; 189 pp. $13.95

Recommendation (4-star scale):  4-stars

While performing a wedding recently, I said something that has become a common refrain for me:  “I wish I could tell you that the excitement, anticipation, and thrill you feel towards each other now will endure without diminishing all the days of your marriage.  I wish I could tell you that your love for each other would be such that you will never sin against each other.  But you will sin against each other.  In fact, you will probably sin more against each other than any other individual on earth.”

The ugly reality is that sin is in every marriage.  In some way, sin is the reason for every marriage that ends in divorce.  In fact, sin is the reason for the end of every marriage — even the ones that end in death (for death entered the world as a result of death).

For those who enter marriage with unrealistic expectations for unending bliss and harmony, the intrusion of sin may be devastating.

For those who enter marriage with the clear understanding of its inevitability — and with the confident hope of Christ’s work on the cross, the intrusion of sin into marriage will be viewed as an opportunity for redemption.

This is the message of Dave Harvey’s book, When Sinners Say “I Do.” In the introduction, he sets the tone for the book when he writes,

When sin becomes bitter, marriage becomes sweet.  When the sin we bring to marriage becomes real to us, then the gospel becomes vital and marriage becomes sweet. [p. 16]

To develop this theme, Harvey notes first “What Really Matters in a Marriage,” arguing that “What we believe about God determines the quality of our marriage.” [p. 20]  And what is most beneficial to believe (in all life, as well as marriage) is:  the sanctifying power of Scripture, the gospel as the key to understanding God, yourself and marriage, and the glory of God as the focus of life.  In other words, sin need not be debilitating to a marriage — it may be the means of God’s glory being manifested in and through a couple’s life.

Harvey then does the  excellent work of demonstrating over several chapters how sin pervades not only the life of the couple, but the life of both individuals in the marriage.  But Harvey does not leave the reader in a pit of “Woe is me!” despair; rather, he then points to the redemptive power of the gospel in a very helpful chapter entitled, “Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.”  Just how much can forgiveness and confession accomplish?  He answers that question both from Scripture and illustration.

Mercy doesn’t change the need to speak truth.  It transforms our motivation from a desire to win battles to a desire to represent Christ.  It takes me out of the center and puts Christ in the center.  This requires mercy.…

How can you be kind knowing that there may be another sin against you right around the corner?  Because kindness does not have its origins in you, but in God.  It isn’t a personality trait, it’s a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12) and an expression of biblical love (1 Corinthians 13:4). [pp. 82, 85]

Also particularly helpful are his chapters on forgiveness and how to confront a spouse that is sinning (adapted from his excellent pair of sermons, “The Surgeon, the Scalpel, and the Saint in Sin”).

This book has many benefits, but one of its primary helps is that Harvey continually puts marital problems within the context of sin, confession and redemption.  But even more, he constrantly demonstrates that the problem in my marriage is not my wife, but my problem in my marriage is me and my sin.  Even if my spouse  sins, he asserts, and even if she becomes unrepentant, there is grace sufficient in the gospel for me to remain in the marriage and grace sufficient for me to love her in spite of her sin.

True forgiveness sees another’s sin for the evil that is is, addresses it, then absorbs the cost of that sin by the power of God’s abundant grace. [p. 108]

This is not my favorite book on marriage.  But it’s probably in the top five.  And it is one that will be readily recommended in premarital discipleship to help equip couples for the inevitable problem of sin that they will face in their marriages.