Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.

We have seen again and again in the first six Commandments of the Law that the Ten Commandments are an enduring revelation of the will of God for our lives, not only because they are given by an unchanging God, but because they themselves reveal the eternal glory of God. Each Commandment is rooted and grounded in one or more of the virtues and attributes of God Himself.

The Law is not, therefore, first of all some kind of social or political instrument for the improvement of society, but rather a means to praise and thank our great God. It shows us how we, chosen, redeemed, and sanctified by grace, may offer ourselves a living sacrifice to God.

In order, then, to understand the Seventh Commandment we must first understand what Scripture says about God’s faithfulness, for in the Seventh Commandment God teaches us how to confess and praise His faithfulness in deed as well as in word. This is of supreme importance. In learning about marriage and about the sexual side of man’s nature, the things of which the Seventh Commandment speaks, we must be absolutely sure that we are not guided by expediency, by the corrupt desires of the flesh, or by the wisdom of the world, but by the knowledge of God Himself. The devil and wicked men are all too happy to be our teachers in these matters. If we listen to them our life in relation to the Seventh Commandment can only be hellish. God must be our Teacher and His glory our instruction. Only then will we live a life that is pure and holy and fitted for His glory.

The truth that God is faithful is very closely connected with all that we know of God’s covenant. That is certainly the reason why marriage, the main subject of the Seventh Commandment, is called in Scripture a “covenant.” It is striking and significant, too, that there are two Commandments so closely related to the truth of the covenant, this one and also the Fourth. That is indeed an indication of the importance of the doctrine of the covenant in Scripture. Nevertheless, the Seventh Commandment, though also related to the doctrine of the covenant, commands obedience from a different viewpoint than the Fourth Commandment. In obedience to the Fourth Commandment we enjoy the great blessing of the covenant, Sabbath rest with God in Christ. In obedience to the Seventh we learn the wonder of grace which brings us into and keeps us in the fellowship of God’s covenant and of the intimacy of our relationship to Him.

In Scripture God reveals His own faithfulness to us, His people, by picturing His relationship to us in Christ as a marriage. We find this picture especially in the first two chapters of Hosea and in Ezekiel 16. And these passages emphasize not only the blessed intimacy of God’s relationship to His people in Christ, but also His abiding faithfulness to them.

Thus we read in Hosea 2:19, 20, “And I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.”

This faithfulness of God is one aspect of His immutability. He reveals His immutability or unchangeableness in all His works, but toward His people He reveals that immutability in His faithfulness to them. The passages in Ezekiel and Hosea very beautifully show us that faithfulness of God. There the church is pictured in her sins as an adulterous wife. This picture is so apt exactly because the great sin of the church in every age is the sin of idolatry. She forsakes God and loves, follows, and obeys someone or something beside Him. Ezekiel points out the heinousness of the church’s sin when he says, “And (thou) hast not been as an harlot, in that thou scornest hire; but as a wife that committeth adultery which taketh strangers instead of her husband!” (Ezekiel 16:31b, 32).

God’s faithfulness to His people is revealed, therefore, in the fact that He does not put away His people for their sin or seek another wife, but remembers His covenant and takes them back into His favor and fellowship time and again. It is of this that we sing inPsalm 103:

Tho’ we oft have sinned against Him

Still His love and grace abide.

(Psalter 280:3)

His faithfulness means, then, that His purpose to dwell with His people never changes, that His love never ceases, that His mercies never fail, and that He forgives always. That faithfulness .is new every morning not because God has changed, but because before morning comes we have sinned against Him once again and gone a-whoring from Him, only to be forgiven without measure and restored rather than rejected.

That the faithfulness of God is revealed in the Seventh Commandment is without doubt the reason why the wicked so flagrantly live in disobedience with respect to this precept. Their uncleanness, their disregard for the covenant of marriage, and their desire to wallow in the filth of their own fleshly lusts can only be the fruit of their unfaithfulness to God Himself, that is, that they have all gone aside and no longer seek after God. Other sins have at least this justification, that a man profits from them as far as this life is concerned. But adultery and-fornication do not even have that justification and are committed simply for the sin’s own sake and out of hatred for God. That is Paul’s point in I Corinthians 6:18. It is also the reason why the wicked in all their sin are so often characterized as fornicators and adulterers by Scripture (cf. I Pet. 2:9, 10).

Our obedience to the Seventh .Commandment, on the other hand, is the inevitable fruit of the faithfulness God shows to us. Only a person who has himself experienced the covenant mercies and unchangeable faithfulness of God can ever really keep this commandment.

So we see here once again that the knowledge of God is something eminently practical. The solution to our marriage problems, the great secret of a happy marriage, even of a happy life outside of marriage is not to be found anywhere but in the knowledge of God. Therapy, counseling, “how to” manuals, and conferences are not in themselves any solution either to the trials and difficulties of marriage or to the temptations of single life. Purity and holiness and therefore also happiness have their only foundation in a clear knowledge and experience of the faithful love of our covenant God. That is the reason why God, in speaking to His betrothed, the church, tells her over and over that she shall “know the Lord” (Ezek. 16:62Hos. 2:20). That will be the cure for all her whorish tendencies, and the beginning of her faithfulness to God. That will be her peace.

But God’s faithfulness is not only the source of our faithfulness; it is also the pattern for our faithfulness. We must act in and toward marriage as God acts toward us. To put it another way, we need to know that not only passages which speak of marriage and chastity are important as far as a proper understanding and practice of sexual purity are concerned, but all of those passages of Scripture which speak of God’s dealings with His church. If we as husbands and wives, for example, are to learn how to be faithful to one another, we must not just go to such passages as Ephesians 5 for a quick lesson, but must learn from all the Scriptures what God has done for us in Christ. Even Ephesians 5 is not so much a marriage manual as a reminder of that great truth—that we must love in marriage as Christ loves the church and the church loves Christ.

We must also remember, when striving to confess God’s faithfulness to us by obeying His marriage ordinances, that God is faithful first of all to Himself. This is the reason why God’s faithfulness is always revealed to us in the way of strictest justice, that is, in the way of atonement and satisfaction for sin in Christ. He does not deny us only because He cannot deny Himself.

This too is an important principle as far as our obedience to the Seventh Commandment is concerned. It means simply that we must forsake all adultery and fornication for God’s sake. Our faithfulness to marriage, whether married or unmarried, must be above all and first of all faithfulness to God Himself. This is abundantly clear not only from all the passages which speak of the calling of husband and wife, but even of those passages which speak of the calling of the unmarried. The chastity of the unmarried and the faithfulness of the married to one another must always be “in the Lord” and for the Lord’s sake. We know that the terrible diseases which ravage the life of man when he insists on giving full rein to his lusts are the judgment of God, but it is not out of fear of these diseases that we seek to live a clean life. We obey the Seventh Commandment for God’s sake. When the ungodly men forsake their lusts for fear of the consequences they do not obey God and praise His faithfulness, and their “obedience” is an abomination in the sight of God. We may be sure that when one cesspool has become too polluted even for them to wallow in that they will seek another.

The lesson that we may learn from this is that all our unfaithfulness, whether in or outside of marriage, begins with unfaithfulness to God. Sexual “problems,” fighting and bickering between husband and wife, adultery, the temptation to satisfy the fleshly lusts outside of marriage, all these things have as their deepest root, spiritual unfaithfulness to God, to His Word, to communion with Him in prayer, and to the spiritual exercises of faith.

We recognize, therefore, in the intimacy and love of married persons the gracious gift of God, Who has given them the opportunity to confess His own amazing faithfulness, longsuffering mercy, and love even in their relationship to one another. We do not think as the Roman Catholic Church does that a single life is somehow more holy than a married life, or that the intimacy of married life is somehow unclean in the sight of God, to be despised or neglected among His people. It is the great means that God has given, that we may constantly testify with all our life that His is a

“. . . faithfulness that never dies;

Established changeless in the skies.”

(Psalter 241:2)