It is of great Importance to bear in mind, Jesus insisting, that we understand that He did not come to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. Not one iota or tittle of the law shall fail; heaven and earth will pass away but the Word of God stands.
This, however, does not mean that we are under law, that we are to be saved by works of law that we perform; truth is, that by works of law no flesh is ever justified before God. That is the very heart and keynote of the Gospel tidings. But even so we are to perform good works since when Christ redeems us by His blood, He also renews us by His Spirit according to His image; good works are the fruit of salvation in Christ in our lives. They are the infallible fruits of election. It belongs to the ways of the elect to walk in all good works. For grace does not abolish the law but it establishes it.
This fundamental truth of the Gospel should be kept very clearly before our minds lest we fall into the error of legalism on the one hand, and antinomism on the other hand.
That is also true in regard to the proper understanding of the Seventh Commandment.
It is to this commandment that Jesus calls the attention of His hearers on one of the slopes of a mountain in Galilee. The text literally reads as follows: “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out and, cast it from thee: for it is profitable to thee that one of thy members should perish and not that thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell/9
In this passage there are various elements that should be set forth in bold relief. They are the following:
Firstly, we should notice that Jesus lets the text of Exodus 20:14 stand just as it was spoken, by the Lord from Mount Sinai and written upon the Tables of Stone. It is true, against this the Scribes and Pharisees have no complaint. They too insist very much on the accuracy of the text. Both say: Thou shalt not commit adultery!
Secondly, we should notice, that there is a very different interpretation given of this commandment by the Jews and by their tradition than what is given by Jesus here in . The Jews simply made this commandment refer to the physical act of fornication; they did not make it apply to the sinful desires from which the act springs. They did not understand that the outgoings of man are from the heart; that we are as are our hearts. Make the heart good and the fruit is good, and make the heart evil and there will be evil fruit. By the fruits we know what the heart is like even as by the water what is the nature of the fountain from which it springs, and from the quality and amount of the harvest what is the nature of the soil. That is simply a law of nature. Jesus points out these truths to us bringing forth old and new treasures out of the law and the prophets.
And what is this different interpretation?
It is the truth that adultery must be sought not simply in the act of a man committing fornication in the very deed with “thy neighbors wife”, but that it must be seen already in the first sinful desire; therefore Jesus says: But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already with her in his heart!
It is from the heart that all things spring!
The thoughts that are ours do not simply spring forth from the mind. It is never the teaching of Scripture that thoughts are simply those of a logical content; thoughts are always ethically qualified. Thoughts that are in our hearts must be revealed in their ethical nature. Jesus was set as a sign in Israel, we read, in order that the thoughts of many hearts be revealed. Thus the aged Simeon speaks prophesying concerning Jesus in the temple. And it is well to bear this in mind.
Back even of these thoughts of the heart are the desires, the affections. In a good and righteous man these desires are the natural and pure longings and affections of the soul. As soon as a man is sinful, and we all are by nature, then these desires are wrong, sinful and they are lusts. Lusts are simply evil desires, desires contrary to the law of God. It is of these desires that Jesus is here speaking. These evil desires are lusts. And in connection with the Seventh Commandment these lusts are carnal, they are the evil lustings of the flesh and of the eyes. These lusts are back of the deed of fornication.
Certainly this command forbids this fornication on the part of a man. No man may cast lustful glances at a woman. Certainly this does not merely mean that only a married man may not look at his neighbor’s wife in lust, but it also means that an unmarried bachelor may not look thus at an unmarried maiden. The “whosoever looketh” makes this prohibition universal. This is also indicated by the fact that the text speaks of “a woman”. It does not make a bit of difference whether she is married to another or not. Anyone casting lustful glances at a woman commiteth adultery with her in his heart. Such is the clear teaching of Jesus.
The question may be raised whether Jesus mean? to exclude the woman from this prohibition. We are of the conviction that such is not the case. Neither may a woman cast lustful glances toward a man, nor, and that is still more denatured, lustful glances toward another woman. We must dare to confess with the Heidelberg Catechism that this Seventh Commandment teaches that “all uncleanness is accursed of God”. As to the question why Jesus directs this prohibition to man we may answer, that this is the usual manner of speaking in Holy Writ. The law is directed to man. He is the head of the wife and is the one who is addressed representatively. Thus it is here in this case.
When the commandment is thus viewed it is also evident that no one can keep his eyes from vanity in his own strength so that they will “look right on”. Well may we say with Job “I have made a covenant with mine eyes”. And we are also reminded of what John says of the lust of the flesh and of the eyes, and that Peter describes evil men as having “eyes full of adultery”.
How are our eyes, dear reader?
Jesus rather presupposes that we have spiritual eye trouble. That our eyes cause us to stumble is implied in the conditional clauses here employed in the text. The “if thy right eye offend thee. . . .” presupposes that such is indeed the case with us. The same is also presupposed in the next clause where we read “if thy right hand offend thee . . . .” The eye and the hand are here viewed as being very really offending members. It is at once humbling and encouraging to notice that presupposition in the text. It teaches us that we need to come a long way to arrive at perfection, but that yet the situation is not hopeless for us in Him, Who has come to fulfill the law and the prophets.
It is not hopeless?
No it is not, because the offending eye can be plucked out, and the offending hand can be cut off.
What does this mean to pluck out the right eyes and to cut off the right hand?
Must, this be taken in the literal sense of the term? We think not. In the first place because such is never the instruction of Holy Writ elsewhere when speaking of the flesh that must be crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit.. Nowhere does the Bible teach that literal amputation of members of the body is a cure for the sin of evil desires. The eunuch as well as the blind and the maimed still have to fight against these lusts or perish in them. Besides Jesus did not mean to say that the eye sins or the hand. It is we who sin by our hand and by our eyes. And the lust is back of the eye. The eye simply is the medium of lust and the hand the medium of the act. And so we do not believe that Scripture would understand this in the literal sense of the term; Jesus does not advocate literal amputation of limbs and sense organs.
We believe that the eye stands for the organ whereby the lust conceives and the hand stands for the act of lust in its execution. The Word of God spoken here is exactly as it is told us concerning the fall of Adam and Eve in Paradise. We read that the stages through which the fall went were the following: 1. The desire for Satan’s word, 2. Looking at the tree that it was good for the eyes, 3. Taking of the fruit and giving it to Adam. Thus it is also here in the language of Jesus. The lust of the heart, the conception with the eye and the act of adultery. With this we can compare also James “but each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust when it hath conceived beareth sin, and sin when it is finished (full-grown) beareth death”..
No, we must not think, that Jesus advocates literal amputation. The right eye is wholly clean and the right hand only performs righteousness when the heart is righteous. So we must purify our hearts, circumcise our hearts and not our foreskins. We must turn unto the Lord in sincerity and truth. Then and then only do we really make the evil eye to keep us from stumbling and the hand likewise.
We may we pray with the Psalmist: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer!”