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1 Corinthians 7:3-5

3. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and like also the wife unto the husband.

3. Uxori vir debitam benevolentiam vicissim praetet, similiter et uxor marito.

4. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

4. Mulier corporis sui potestatem non habet, sed maritus: similiter et maritus corporis sui potestatem non habet, sed uxor.

5. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

5. Ne fraudetis alter alterum, nisi ex mutuo consensu ad tempus, ut vacetis ieiunio et orationi: et rursum in unum redite, ne tentet vos Satanas propter incontinentiam vestram.


3. The husband to the wife. He now prescribes the rules to be observed in the marriage connection, or he teaches what is the duty of husband and wife. And in the first place he lays down a general doctrine as to mutual benevolence — that the husband love his wife, and the wife her husband; for as to the interpretation which others give to the expression due benevolence — duty of marriage — I do not know how far it is suitable. The reason that inclines them to this view is, that it is immediately added, The husband has not power of his own body, etc.; but it will suit better to regard that as an inference drawn from the preceding statement. Husband and wife, therefore, are bound to mutual benevolence: hence it follows, that they have, neither the one nor the other, the power of their own body. But it may be asked, why the Apostle here puts them upon a level, instead of requiring from the wife obedience and subjection. I answer, that it was not his intention to treat of all their duties, but simply of the mutual obligation as to the marriage bed. In other things, therefore, husband and wife differ, both as to duty and as to authority in this respect the condition of both is alike — as to the maintaining of conjugal fidelity. For this reason, also, polygamy (τολυγαμία) is again condemned; for if this is an invariable condition of marriage, that the husband surrenders the power of his own body, and gives it up to his wife, how could he afterwards connect himself with another, as if he were free?

5. Defraud ye not one the other Profane persons might think that Paul does not act with sufficient modesty in discoursing in this manner as to the intercourse of a husband with his wife; or at least that it was unbecoming the dignity of an Apostle. If, however, we consider the reasons that influenced him, we shall find that he was under the necessity of speaking of these things. In the first place, he knew how much influence a false appearance of sanctity has in beguiling devout minds, as we ourselves know by experience. For Satan dazzles us with an appearance of what is right, that we may be led to imagine that we are polluted by intercourse with our wives, and leaving off our calling, may think of pursuing another kind of life. Farther, he knew how prone every one is to self-love, and devoted to his own gratification. From this it comes, that a husband, having had his desire gratified, treats his wife not merely with neglect, but even with disdain; and there are few that do not sometimes feel this disdain of their wives creep in upon them. It is for these reasons that he treats so carefully of the mutual obligations of the married life. “If at any time it comes into the minds of married persons to desire an unmarried life, as though it were holier, or if they are tempted by irregular desires, 372372     “Ou qu’ils soyent tentez de se debaucher en pallardises;” — “Or are tempted to defile themselves with whoredoms.” let them bear in mind that they are bound by a mutual connection.” The husband is but the one half of his body, and so is it, also, as to the wife. Hence they have not liberty of choice, but must on the contrary restrain themselves with such thoughts as these: “Because the one needed help from the other, the Lord has connected us together, that we may assist each other.” Let each then be helpful to each other’s necessity, and neither of them act as if at his or her own disposal.

Unless by mutual consent He requires mutual consent, in the first place, because the question is not as to the continency of one merely, but of two; and besides, he immediately adds two other exceptions. The first is, that it be done only for a time, as perpetual continency is not in their power, lest if they should venture to make an attempt beyond their power, they might fall before Satan’s stratagems. The second is, that they do not abstain from conjugal intercourse, on the ground of that abstinence being in itself a good and holy work, or as if it were the worship of God, 373373     “Un seruice agreable a Dieu;” — “A service agreeable to God.” but that they may be at leisure for better employments. Now though Paul had taken such pains in guarding this, yet Satan prevailed so far as to drive 374374     “Solicite et induit plusieurs;” — “Enticed and induced many.” many to unlawful divorce, from a corrupt desire for an unmarried life. The husband, leaving his wife, fled to the desert, that he might please God better by living as a monk. The wife, against her husband’s will, put on the veil — the badge of celibacy. Meanwhile they did not consider that by violating their marriage engagement they broke the Lord’s covenant, and by loosing the marriage tie, they cast off the Lord’s yoke.

This vice, it is true, was corrected in some measure by the ancient canons; for they prohibited a husband from leaving his wife against her will, on pretense of continency; and in like manner a wife from refusing to her husband the use of her body. In this, however, they erred — that they permitted both together to live in perpetual celibacy, as if it were lawful for men to decree anything that is contrary to the Spirit of God. Paul expressly commands, that married persons do not defraud each other, except for a time The bishops give permission to leave off the use of marriage for ever. Who does not see the manifest contrariety? Let no one, therefore, be surprised, that we make free to dissent on this point from the ancients, who, it is evident, deviated from the clear statements of the word of God.

That ye may have leisure for fasting and prayer. We must take notice, that Paul does not speak here of every kind of fasting, or every kind of prayer. That sobriety and temperance, which ought to be habitual on the part of Christians, is a kind of fasting. Prayer, too, ought to be not merely daily, but even continual. He speaks, however, of that kind of fasting which is a solemn expression of penitence, with the view of deprecating God’s anger, or by which believers prepare themselves for prayer, when they are undertaking some important business. In like manner, the kind of prayer that he speaks of is such as requires a more intense affection of the mind. 375375     “L’affection du coeur plus ardente et extraordinaire;” — “A more ardent and extraordinary affection of the mind.” See Institutes (volume 3.) For it sometimes happens, that. we require (leaving off everything else) to fast and pray; as when any calamity is impending, if it appears to be a visitation of God’s wrath; or when we are involved in any difficult matter, or when we have something of great importance to do, as, for example, the ordaining of pastors. 376376     “Comme quand on vent elire ou ordonner des pasteurs et ministres;” — “As when persons wish to elect or ordain pastors and ministers.” Now it is with propriety that the Apostle connects these two things, because fasting is a preparation for prayer, as Christ also connects them, when he says,

This kind of devils goeth not out but by fasting and prayer. (Matthew 17:21.)

When, therefore, Paul says, that ye may be at leisure, the meaning is, that having freed ourselves from all impediments, we may apply ourselves to this one thing. Now if any one objects, that the use of the marriage bed is an evil thing, inasmuch as it hinders prayer, the answer is easy — that it is not on that account worse than meat and drink, by which fasting is hindered. But it is the part of believers to consider wisely when it is time to eat and drink, and when to fast. It is also the part of the same wisdom to have intercourse with their wives when it is seasonable, and to refrain from that intercourse when they are called to be engaged otherwise.

And come together again, that Satan tempt you not Here he brings forward the reason, from ignorance of which the ancients have fallen into error, in rashly and inconsiderately approving of a vow of perpetual continency. For they reasoned in this manner: “If it is good for married persons sometimes to impose upon themselves for a time a voluntary continency with mutual consent, then, if they impose this upon themselves for ever, it will be so much the better.” But then, they did not consider how much danger was involved in this, for we give Satan an occasion for oppressing us, when we attempt anything beyond the measure of our weakness. 377377     “Par dessus nos forces, et la mesure de nostre imbecilite;” — “Beyond our strength, and the measure of our weakness.” “But we must resist Satan.” 378378     “Mais (dira quelqu’vn)il faut resister a Satan;” — “But (some will say) we must resist Satan.” What if arms and shield be wanting? “They must be sought from the Lord,” say they. But in vain shall we beseech the Lord to assist us in a rash attempt. We must, therefore, carefully observe the clause — for your incontinency: for we are exposed to Satan’s temptations in consequence of the infirmity of our flesh. If we wish to shut them out, and keep them back, it becomes us to oppose them by the remedy, with which the Lord has furnished us. Those, therefore, act a rash part, who give up the use of the marriage bed. It is as if they had made an agreement with God as to perpetual strength. 379379     “Qu’il leur donnera tousiours la puissance de s’en passer;” — “That he would give them always the power to do without it.”

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