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7. Sexual Immorality and Marriage

1Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2But, because of fornications, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife. 5Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency. 6But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment. 7Yet I would that all men were even as I myself. Howbeit each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8But I say to the unmarried and to widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9But if they have not continency, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 10But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, That the wife depart not from her husband 11(but should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife. 12But to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. 13And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15Yet if the unbelieving departeth, let him depart: the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us in peace. 16For how knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O husband, whether thou shalt save thy wife? 17Only, as the Lord hath distributed to each man, as God hath called each, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the churches. 18Was any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Hath any been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God. 20Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called. 21Wast thou called being a bondservant? Care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather. 22For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord's freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ's bondservant. 23Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men. 24Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God. 25Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: but I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be trustworthy. 26I think therefore that this is good by reason of the distress that is upon us, namely, that it is good for a man to be as he is. 27Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. 28But shouldest thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Yet such shall have tribulation in the flesh: and I would spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time is shortened, that henceforth both those that have wives may be as though they had none; 30and those that weep, as though they wept not; and those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and those that buy, as though they possessed not; 31and those that use the world, as not using it to the full: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32But I would have you to be free from cares. He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34and is divided. So also the woman that is unmarried and the virgin is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35And this I say for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is seemly, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin daughter, if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so requireth, let him do what he will; he sinneth not; let them marry. 37But he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power as touching in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, shall do well. 38So then both he that giveth his own virgin daughter in marriage doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage shall do better. 39A wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. 40But she is happier if she abide as she is, after my judgment: and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

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12. To the rest I say By the rest he means those who are exceptions, so that the law, common to others, is not applicable to them; for an unequal marriage is on a different footing, when married persons differ among themselves in respect of religion; Now this question he solves in two clauses. The first is, that the believing party ought not to withdraw from the unbelieving party, and ought not to seek divorce, unless she is put away. The second is, that if an unbeliever put away his wife on account of religion, a brother or a sister is, by such rejection, freed from the bond of marriage. But why is it that Paul speaks of himself as the author of these regulations, while they appear to be somewhat at variance with what he had, a little before, brought forward, as from the Lord? He does not mean that they are from himself in such a way as not to be derived from the Spirit of God; but, as there was nowhere in the law or in the Prophets any definite or explicit statement on this subject, he anticipates in this way the calumnies of the wicked, in claiming as his own what he was about to state. At the same time, lest all this should be despised as the offspring of man’s brain, we shall find him afterwards declaring, that his statement are not the contrivances of his own understanding. There is, however, nothing inconsistent with what goes before; for as the obligation and sanctity of the marriage engagement depend upon God, what connection can a pious woman any longer maintain with an unbelieving husband, after she has been driven away through hatred of God?

14. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified He obviates an objection, which might occasion anxiety to believers. The relationship of marriage is singularly close, so that the wife is the half of the man — so that they two are one flesh — (1 Corinthians 6:16) — so that the husband is the head of the wife; (Ephesians 5:23;) and she is her husband’s partner in everything; hence it seems impossible that a believing husband should live with an ungodly wife, or the converse of this, without being polluted by so close a connection. Paul therefore declares here, that marriage is, nevertheless, sacred and pure, and that we must not be apprehensive of contagion, as if the wife would contaminate the husband. Let us, however, bear in mind, that he speaks here not of contracting marriages, but of maintaining those that have been already contracted; for where the matter under consideration is, whether one should marry an unbelieving wife, or whether one should marry an unbelieving husband, then that exhortation is in point —

Be not yoked with unbelievers, for there is no agreement between Christ and Belial. (2 Corinthians 6:14.)

But he that is already bound has no longer liberty of choice; hence the advice given is different.

While this sanctification is taken in various senses, I refer it simply to marriage, in this sense — It might seem (judging from appearance) as if a believing wife contracted infection from an unbelieving husband, so as to make the connection unlawful; but it is otherwise, for the piety of the one has more effect in sanctifying marriage than the impiety of the other in polluting it. Hence a believer may, with a pure conscience, live with an unbeliever, for in respect of the use and intercourse of the marriage bed, and of life generally, he is sanctified, so as not to infect the believing party with his impurity. Meanwhile this sanctification is of no benefit to the unbelieving party; it only serves thus far, that the believing party is not contaminated by intercourse with him, and marriage itself is not profaned.

But from this a question arises — “If the faith of a husband or wife who is a Christian sanctifies marriage, it follows that all marriages of ungodly persons are impure, and differ nothing from fornication.” I answer, that to the ungodly all things are impure, (Titus 1:15,) because they pollute by their impurity even the best and choicest of God’s creatures. Hence it is that they pollute marriage itself, because they do not acknowledge God as its Author, and therefore they are not capable of true sanctification, and by an evil conscience abuse marriage. It is a mistake, however, to conclude from this that it differs nothing from fornication; for, however impure it is to them, it is nevertheless pure in itself, inasmuch as it is appointed by God, serves to maintain decency among men, and restrains irregular desires; and hence it is for these purposes approved by God, like other parts of political order. We must always, therefore, distinguish between the nature of a thing and the abuse of it.

Else were your children It is an argument taken from the effect — “If your marriage were impure, then the children that are the fruit of it would be impure; but they are holy; hence the marriage also is holy. As, then, the ungodliness of one of the parents does not hinder the children that are born from being holy, so neither does it hinder the marriage from being pure.” Some grammarians explain this passage as referring to a civil sanctity, in respect of the children being reckoned legitimate, but in this respect the condition of unbelievers is in no degree worse. That exposition, therefore, cannot stand. Besides, it is certain that Paul designed here to remove scruples of conscience, lest any one should think (as I have said) that he had contracted defilement. The passage, then, is a remarkable one, and drawn from the depths of theology; for it teaches, that the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.

But how will this statement correspond with what he teaches elsewhere — that we are all by nature children of wrath; (Ephesians 2:3;) or with the statement of David — Behold I was conceived in sin, etc. (Psalms 51:5.) I answer, that there is a universal propagation of sin and damnation throughout the seed of Adam, and all, therefore, to a man, are included in this curse, whether they are the offspring of believers or of the ungodly; for it is not as regenerated by the Spirit, that believers beget children after the flesh. The natural condition, therefore, of all is alike, so that they are liable equally to sin and to eternal death. As to the Apostle’s assigning here a peculiar privilege to the children of believers, this flows from the blessing of the covenant, by the intervention of which the curse of nature is removed; and those who were by nature unholy are consecrated to God by grace. Hence Paul argues, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 11:16,) that the whole of Abraham’s posterity are holy, because God had made a covenant of life with him — If the root be holy, says he, then the branches are holy also. And God calls all that were descended from Israel his sons’ now that the partition is broken down, the same covenant of salvation that was entered into with the seed of Abraham 402402     “Auec Abraham, et auec la semence;” — “With Abraham and with his seed.” is communicated to us. But if the children of believers are exempted from the common lot of mankind, so as to be set apart to the Lord, why should we keep them back from the sign? If the Lord admits them into the Church by his word, why should we refuse them the sign? In what respects the offspring of the pious are holy, while many of them become degenerate, you will find explained in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; and I have handled this point there.

15. But if an unbeliever depart. This is the second department of his statement, in which he sets at liberty a believing husband, who is prepared to dwell with an unbelieving wife, but is rejected by her, and in like manner a woman who is, without any fault on her part, repudiated by her husband; for in that case the unbelieving party makes a divorce with God rather than with his or her partner. There is, therefore, in this case a special reason, inasmuch as the first and chief bond is not merely loosed, but even utterly broken through. While some are of opinion that we are at this day situated in a much similar way with Papists, 403403     “Que nous auons auiourd’huy semblable cause de nous departir d’avec les Papistes;” — “That we have at this day similar ground of separation from Papists.” we ought to consider wisely what difference there is between the two cases, that we may not attempt anything rashly.

In peace. Here, too, interpreters differ; for some take it in this way — “We are called in peace: let us therefore avoid all ground and occasion of quarrels.” I take it in a more simple way: “Let us, so far as we can, cultivate peace with all, to which we have been called. We must not, therefore, rashly separate from unbelievers, unless they first make a divorce. God, therefore, has called us in peace to this end, that we might cultivate peace with all, by acting properly towards every one.” This, then, belongs to the former department of his statement — that

believers ought to remain with unbelievers, if they are p1eased, etc., (1 Corinthians 7:12 and 13,)

because a desire for divorce is at variance with our profession.

16. For what knowest thou, O woman? Those who are of opinion that this observation is a confirmation of the second department of his statement, expound it thus. “An uncertain hope ought not to detain thee,” etc. But, in my opinion, the exhortation is taken from the advantage to be derived; for it is a great and distinguished blessing if a wife gain (1 Corinthians 9:19) her husband. Now, unbelievers are not in so hopeless a condition but that they may be brought to believe. They are dead, it is true, but God can even raise the dead. So long, therefore, as there remains any hope of doing good, and the pious wife knows not but that she may by her holy conversation (1 Peter 3:1) bring back her husband into the way, 404404     “Au bon chemin;” — “Into the good way.” she ought to try every means before leaving him; for so long as a man’s salvation is doubtful, it becomes us to be prepared rather to hope the best.

As to his saying, however, that a husband may be saved by his wife, the expression, it is true, is not strictly accurate, as he ascribes to man what belongs to God; but there is no absurdity in it. For as God acts efficaciously by his instruments which he makes use of, he does, in a manner, communicate his power to them, or, at least, he connects it with their service in such a manner, that what he does he speaks of as being done by them, and hence, too, he sometimes ascribes to them the honor which is due to himself alone. Let us, however, bear in mind, that we have nothing in our power, except in so far as we are directed by him as instruments.




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