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7. Sexual Immorality and Marriage

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4The 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. 5Defraud 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. 6But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. 7For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

8I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 10And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 12But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? 17But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. 18Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. 20Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 21Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. 22For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. 23Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 24Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

25Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. 26I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. 27Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. 28But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 34There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. 39The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. 40But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

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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