Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
Because the Seventh Commandment is a revelation of God’s covenant faithfulness to us, our obedience to this Commandment becomes our living confession of that great faithfulness of God, our Savior. And if we love the faithfulness of God and are comforted by it, then surely we will want to know all that the Seventh Commandment implies in its prohibition against adultery.
We must understand, of course, that obedience to the Seventh Commandment involves much more than just avoiding the sin of adultery, more even than avoiding adulterous thoughts and desires. Adultery, because it is such a clear picture of spiritual adultery, and because it is itself a form of spiritual adultery, is the great sin against the Seventh Commandment. But in forbidding this great evil, God forbids every kind of sexual impurity and uncleanness. Adultery violates the God-ordained bond of marriage, but so does every other form of sexual activity outside of and apart from the marriage relationship. Many of the perversions that violate the Seventh Commandment are a shame even to speak of and ought not be so much as named among the people of God. There are, however, certain things which we as people of God must speak of and be warned against.
Both with regard to those things that cannot be mentioned, and to those things that ought to be, we must not forget that the lusts and vile wickedness of men are the inevitable fruit of their turning from God. Paul makes it very clear in Romans 1 that God gives them over to these lusts, to be deceived and dishonored by them, because they know God and do not glorify or thank Him, but have gone out of the way (Rom. 1:21-32, 3:11, 12). God forbid that we should turn away from Him to do these things or to enjoy them.
That is perhaps the chief sin against which we must be warned as far as the Commandment is concerned, that though we do not openly practice these signs we nevertheless delight in them and enjoy them in other ways. It is possible to take the same perverse delight in these sins that the most vile of prostitutes, homosexuals, and fornicators do through books, television programs, dancing, and music. These are the means that Satan uses to teach his children to enjoy these sinful lusts in their most unspeakable forms, and we must be careful.
We must remember, for example, that not only what is commonly called “pornography” excites and titillates these lusts, but also most modern novels and even much of what is called “modern literature.” It is popular exactly to the degree that it excites sin in us, and especially these sins. Even the so-called Romances that so many read are read for no other purpose than the vicarious enjoyment of that which God forbids. The same is true of rock music in all its different forms, but not only of rock. We are often appalled at the music to which our children listen, while we ourselves enjoy the same things that rock music sings of in so-called mood music or country-western music.
The truth is that it is all but impossible for the Christian to avoid face-to-face contacts with these things. Even the newspapers, news magazines, and advertising are full of them. The world cannot even sell a pair of shoes, so it seems, without exciting these lusts by displaying the half-naked bodies of men and women. In these last times the world has so multiplied its perversions and uncovered its lusts that they are displayed on every street corner. We must learn to turn our eyes and our hearts resolutely away when faced with these things. We must learn to heed the admonition of Solomon, “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before three. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil” (Prov. 4:25-27). Certainly we must not carelessly enjoy these lusts or deliberately seek them out. Solomon, who had much sad experience in these things, warns that those who follow these sins go like oxen to the slaughter or like fools to the correction of the stocks (Prov. 5:22), and that they shall mourn at the last when flesh and body are consumed and say, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof” (Prov. 5:11 ff.).
In forsaking and avoiding these sins we must also avoid that which gives occasion to fall into sin. Idleness is one of these things—a great cause of sin against this Commandment. Not without reason does God command us to labor six days and spend the seventh in His presence. The example of David is clear. His sin with Bathsheba came about because he was lolling about on the roof of his palace rather than doing his work as Israel’s King in fighting the battles of the Lord with the armies of Israel.
Perhaps it is not amiss, in remembering the story of David, to point out that the picture of David idling in his palace and ogling his neighbor while she bathed, is not so much different from that offered by many of us as we laze around our swimming pools or on the beaches eyeing the naked charms of others. And again, the point is not that we are forbidden all recreation, but that we must be very careful, and for God’s sake.
Scripture also warns about dress in this connection and enjoins modesty and sobriety upon the people of God. Isaiah’s description of the daughters of Zion, of their haughtiness, stretched out necks, and wanton and mincing walk is not only a commentary on his times but on ours. As much as it revealed the faithlessness of Israel in Isaiah’s day, so much does it also reveal today.
The company of wicked men can also be an occasion to these sins. Peter says that their eyes are full of adultery (II Pet. 2:14). They care to speak of little else and boast and glory in their lusts. Thus they can be a stumbling block to us and our obedience to the Seventh Commandment.
Proverbs tells us that excess of wine or liquor destroys sound judgment and overcomes the scruples of a godly heart and thus becomes a temptation to sexual sin (Prov. 23:31-33). So we could go on. But the point is always that these things are not small matters, but a matter of faithfulness to our faithful covenant God. Just as we in marriage must cleave to one wife to the exclusion of all others, so in faithfulness to God, we must cleave to Him and give up many things which please our flesh and lusts. Jesus says that “he that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10).
Nevertheless, our obedience is much more than just forsaking all forms of sexual uncleanness and impurity. We have also a positive calling to fulfill in the Seventh Commandment. It is the calling to honor marriage. Notice, it is not the calling to be married, though that is the way in which God leads most of His children, but the calling to honor marriage. That is the calling not only of those who are married, but also of the unmarried. For them it simply means that they live as eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake (Matt. 19:12), and that they do not despise those who are married or think of them as lesser brethren, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches.
For those who seek a wife or a husband this same calling holds. They must honor marriage by following without wavering the command of Christ to “marry in the Lord” (I Cor. 7:39). Only in this way can they be faithful to God and truly obey the Seventh Commandment from the heart.
For the married, honoring marriage means not only that they are faithful to husband and wife, rejecting even adulterous thoughts and desires, but means also that they give themselves to one another freely and faithfully. Paul warns that they must not defraud or “cheat” one another in marriage (I Cor. 7:3-5). That is as much “cheating” in marriage as outright adultery. But more than anything else it means for them that they too must be married “in the Lord.” Marriage is not obedience to the Seventh Commandment until it is transformed by the power of God’s grace through prayer into a relationship that is truly spiritual as well as physical. All marital unfaithfulness and the various problems that plague our marriages have their beginning and root in the spiritual unfaithfulness of husband and wife to God, that is, in their failure to live diligently and blessedly in the fellowship of God. The solution to all marital “problems” is that of Peter, “Let not your prayers be hindered” (I Pet. 3:7).
To all of this it must be added, that true obedience to the Seventh Commandment, that is, faithfulness to God in marriage and in the honoring of marriage implies the strong Biblical prohibition against divorce and remarriage. That in the sight of God is not and cannot be faithfulness, but wickedness. God’s faithfulness to us means exactly that He does not divorce His bride or remarry even though His bride is a faithless, whorish woman. The same grace by which God saves His marriage, must be the grace that saves ours. Only if God Himself is not a faithful God can marriage which pictures His relation to us be anything but a permanent and unbreakable bond of man and woman. All the drivel one hears about an innocent party, about the many problems of marriage, and about forgiveness for those who continue in an adulterous relationship as remarried persons, only obscures the one thing that really matters, that a faithful God (Mal. 3:6) hates putting away and counts it treachery (Mal. 2:14-16).
It is in the fellowship of our covenant God, therefore, that we find the grace of obedience to the Seventh Commandment. Nowhere else. In exorcising the demons of sexual impurity by the grace of the Spirit we must be careful that we diligently seek Him to be filled with His Spirit, lest seven other demons worse than the first enter in and trouble us. Also in His fellowship we find forgiveness for the swelling of our fleshly lusts, for our uncleanness (how we must look in the sight of God!), and for our failure to find in marriage and in faithfulness to marriage the great response of the believing heart that knows God’s eternal, unchangeable faithfulness to us. Faithful in His fellowship in these things we learn that it is the faithful whom the Lord preserves (Ps. 31:23).