Exposition of Matthew 5:31-32

The Scripture passage to which we would call the attention of the reader in this essay reads as follows: “It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wif e, let him give her a writing of divorcement; but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.”

We would warn the reader, that, in considering this Scripture passage, we must with might and main remember the warning of Jesus to us, as the children of the Kingdom of heaven, not to have the terribly mistaken notion that He has come into the world to destroy the law and the prophets. Let us see the full implication of His assertion, that He has come to fulfill the law and the prophets to the last iota and tittle. Any other attitude in studying these words will simply make it spiritually impossible to understand their real implication for our lives; we shall then not be able to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Let us therefore, beware!

Jesus did not intend this word of warning to be considered as a sort of mere introduction to the body of the teaching concerning the law proper; nay, this warning is woven into the very warp and woof of all of this teaching of the chief prophet.

We shall have to notice this also when Jesus lays open to our spiritual understanding the implication of the seventh commandment in relation to the inviolableness of the institution of the marriage state. The great all-controlling principle is: What God hath put together let not man put asunder. Thus it was from the beginning before the hearts of men were calloused and made obtuse and hard by sin. And that shall evermore be the standard of the perfection of the Kingdom of heaven. Wherefore let us beware what we hear and read. For he that hath shall receive and he that hath not from him shall be taken what he thinketh or seemeth to have. He that hath ears to hear let his hear. And blessed is he, who hearing the words of Jesus, also performs them. He shall be likened unto the wise man who builds his house upon a rock, while those who are disobedient are likened to the foolish man building on the sand.

Before we turn to the implication of this passage itself it is well to be reminded, that the meaning of the Seventh Commandment extends not merely to the external deed of adultery, but that it has reference to the very desires of the heart. He that looketh on a woman to desire her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart. Therefore the eye as the medium of lust and the hand as the emblem of its execution must be wholly mortified by us. For lest this be done by us we shall wholly be slaves of sin, be ruled by lust­ful passions as is the world; the end of all such is destruction. For the wrath of God is upon all such as work iniquity.

Certainly this principle of the Seventh Command­ment also has meaning to its last iota and tittle for the marriage state, for the relation of man and wife in holy wedlock. It is to this that Jesus refers in the Scripture passage now under consideration.

Jesus insists that no one, be he rich or poor, bond or free, of high or low estate, shall ever break the marriage vows, the bond of matrimony, except in those cases where it is already broken by the sin of adultery. This is simply applying the principle of the seventh commandment as to it spiritual nature and governing the heart, to the marriage relationship. From the very nature of the New Testament Dispen­sation of the covenant of grace Jesus does not enter into a detailed account of every possible angle of this question. He simply lays down the eternal principle of the Kingdom and says with a warning finger; Work out your salvation with fear and trembling into the least commandments of your existence. Be ye perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect. Let the simple learn wisdom. He that hath ears to hear let him hear. Do not kick against the pricks of the exaltedness of this inviolable law of the Kingdom.

But what are some of the points in which Jesus gives definite and conclusive instruction?

Among the workers of iniquity, who very loudly said: Lord, Lord, honoring God with their lips while their heart was far removed from Him, there is also the sin of putting away wives for all trifles. For truly such is the horrible plight of man by nature that he holds down in unrighteousness all the truth of God, also the truth of the sanctity of marriage. Such was also the case even in the teaching of the Pharisees and Scribes. Because of the blindness of their eyes and the hardness of their hearts they interpret Moses’ law very perversely and read their own sins into the per­fect law of Moses. They made the law of God an ex­cuse for their sins, wresting its meaning to their own destruction. How did they do this in this particular case? They said: Moses commanded us in Deut. 24:1 to give our wives a writing of divorcement if we found something in them that did not please us. They in­terpreted this word of Moses so that it gave them much room for their sinful practices and the lust of their hearts and eyes. They perpetrated crimes in the name of Moses!

But the greater than Moses, Who nevertheless honors the whole Moses, the law and the prophets, unmasks this hypocrisy.

Over against this corrupting of the meaning of Deut. 24:1 Jesus places His: “But I say unto you. . .” What does He say? Listen: Every one who putteth away his wife except for the cause of fornication causeth her to commit adultery, and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.

We should notice that the putting away of our wives would never be heard of or even arise in the heart of man in a perfect state. All putting away of wives is to be considered ab-NORMAL. It is contrary to all the laws of God and the pure desires of man. It all must be explained out of evil lusts, out of the hard­ness of the hearts. God did not make man so evil and perverse. But man by the act of his will through the instigation of the devil has deprived himself of all the excellent gifts, also of the gift of continency and of fidelity in marriage. From the beginning this was not so. Compare Matthew 19:8. This is abundantly evident from the reproachful attitude of Adam to­ward Eve immediately after the fall. But this state of affairs, as come about by reason of original as well as actual sin, is not the rule in the church of Jesus Christ. Here we are instructed to flee from all uncleannessin heart and mind; we are not to try to justify our sins with an appeal to the law of Moses for such is always the way of those who are veritable children of the Devil. Such we are not to be.

This should stand before our eyes as the guiding star: From the beginning it was the rule, that a man shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh; what God has joined together let not man put asunder. This must be our guiding star in life, and, therefore, also in the proper understanding of this Word of God in its spiritual application. Whoever does not see this is very really blind to the things of God’s kingdom.

One may only put away his wife when she has played the harlot. Why? Because in the Kingdom of heaven the positive purpose of life is to maintain the law and the prophets as fulfilled in Jesus, and as they lead us on to the perfection of God’s design in marriage. This latter really becomes impossible un­der the law of being executed; one cannot realize the perfection of marriage as it depicts the relationship of Christ to His church where adultery has entered in. The covenant has been broken according to the law of Moses. Wherefore no one longs for the state in which Moses permits the putting away of his wife. But if things have come to such a state that it is impossible for the husband to continue to live with her as long as she lives in this sin, such a man would be one flesh with an adulteress. And he would thus be living in sin. Oh, what a pain there must be in the heart of the man or woman who finds this to be true in their help meet. The way to heaven’s perfection shut off except by the putting away of the wife! Here is deep purpose of the love of God. It is the same as being obedient unto authority unless it makes obedience to God impossible. Here cleaving to the wife is the rule unless such remaining with a wife makes it impossible to abstain from all uncleanness, accursed of God.

Such is the underlying principle of the righteous­ness that is more abundant than that of the Scribes and Pharisees.

In the light of the foregoing we immediately sense, do we not, that all other putting away of our wives is itself rooted in hatred for God and the lust of the flesh. He who puts away a God-fearing wife surely causes her to stand outside of the ordinance of God as given from the beginning. She stands in the place where the adulteress must stand. She is done cruel injustice. She is very really debauched. She is set forth as an adulteress, while she really is not one. She cannot live the life of a faithful spouse which she so fervently desires to do as a subject of the Kingdom. She would reverence her husband in all things, but this she can now no longer do. The way to sanctifica­tion is cut off for her in the place where God has set her. What a plight!

Thus it shall not be in the Kingdom where the righteousness is real and genuine and which will be consummated when the heaven shall be rolled away. For in this Kingdom all shall be as the pure and undefiled bride, the faithful spouse.

There is for her only one way open. She must continue to seek God, flee from all filthiness of the flesh and of the mind as her reasonable service. If her husband will not have her again that is his re­sponsibility. She is free in the Lord, and is one whom the Lord will avenge. But she cannot be married by another as long as her cruel husband lives. Should any marry her he simply makes himself and her an adulterer and an adulteress. Why? Because God maintains the marriage state as it was from the be­ginning. In the Kingdom of heaven the rule is not that the law and the prophets are destroyed. Far be it. The rule is that the last iota and tittle of the law shall be fulfilled.

Such is the implication of the law of the Kingdom. Moses stands in his “permission,” but Christ has come to fulfill the law to make this “permission” forever unnecessary among His saints.