May Christians limit the size of their families? Are childless marriages a good thing?

W. Robert Godfrey & Sinclair Ferguson
2 Min Read

GODFREY: Historically, we have had intense discussions about this issue in the church. Is it right to limit the family or take all the children God gives? Of course, that assumes God is thwarted by our actions if we prevent pregnancies.

The first thing to say is that if a couple does not have children, that is God’s providential will for them and, clearly, is not a failing or a fault. They may feel it as a deprivation, but God calls us to different paths of service in different ways. We have to ask ourselves, “Why might we limit the size of our family? Is it for selfish reasons, or are there perhaps some legitimate health reasons or economic reasons?” I think God called us to be responsible individuals; therefore, we must look at our own distinct circumstances, callings, and responsibilities. The Dutch Reformed answer is you can have as many children as you can afford to send to a Christian school.

FERGUSON: It is easy in questions like this to become almost neurotic about them. This kind of question belongs to many other questions in the Christian life where God tells us to be responsible in applying the general principles of Scripture to the situations in which we find ourselves. If you are a man, that includes whether you married your wife in the first place or whether you did not. This is like Paul’s striking words about the virgin in 1 Corinthians: “He does well if he marries her, and he does well if he doesn’t marry her” (1 Corinthians 7:38). Whatever else that passage means, it means that there is a responsible choice in whatever the peculiar circumstances may have been that lie behind the choice the individual had to make. That applies all the way across the board and in so many dimensions of married life. It would be sinful to rebel against one of the reasons God has established marriage, which is the continuation of family life and the raising of godly seed to be stubbornly rebellious. But there is nothing in Scripture that governs some of the areas of our ordinary life.

If I can throw in a penny’s worth of something I’ve come to feel very strongly. We need to be very cautious about books published by experts who tell us exactly how many children a quiver full is or how every couple’s marriage should be, usually an identical copy of the marriage of the person who has written the book. By and large, Scripture gives us these marvelous general principles and says each couple will have to work these things out on their own. A couple is basically two incompatible people who thought they knew each other suddenly discovering they don’t really know each other very well. We’ve got to make constant decisions based on, “How do I wisely apply the general principles to the life that I’m living?” It is not necessarily going to be exactly identical to somebody else.

This is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey’s and Sinclair Ferguson’s answers given during our 2022 National Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.