By the power of that love we walk in the light. In that light we have fellowship not only with God, but also with one another, I John 1:5-7: “This is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” And again, I John 2:9-11: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” And again, I John 3:11-15: “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” And again, I John 4:7, 8: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” It is clear from these passages that when the love of God in us becomes love of one another, it is still the love of God and still the bond of perfectness. We love one another not according to the flesh, but by the Spirit of Christ, as children of the most high, reflecting His perfection. Therefore the world does not know us, but we know one another. And therefore does this love of the brethren as the bond of perfectness only manifest itself as we walk in the light of God and keep His commandments. For this same reason, both the love of God to us and our love of God is still imperfectly experienced, and also the love of the brethren is not perfect as long as we are in the body of this death. When all the darkness of sin shall have disappeared and we shall be presented without spot and blemish before cod and the Father, we shall know even as we are known. Then the love of God shall be perfected in us and through us, and in the light we shall forever walk in love, in the love of God and in the love of one another.
The question arises, however: how can this be applied to the love of the neighbor m general? Scripture speaks of the love of the brethren. And the brethren, to be sure, are not all men; are not even all our neighbors, but only those that are children of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. There is no common fatherhood of God; neither is there a common brotherhood of man.
If love is the bond of fellowship, operating in the sphere of the light and of perfection, if is evident that there cannot be such love or fellowship between the ungodly; nor can there be fellowship or love between the ungodly and the godly. This is evident in itself. But it is also definitely expressed in Scripture in II Cor. 6:14-15: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
What then? Is there perhaps another love, a love of the neighbor that has nothing to do with the love of God? Is there, perhaps; a fellowship of common grace, according to which we may have communion with the ungodly while yet we separate from him as far as the spiritual, ethical sphere of love is concerned? My answer is that there is no such thing in Scripture. And besides, it would be a very dangerous standpoint to take. Scripture knows of only one love, and that is the love of God in Himself, to His people, and, as the fruit of that love of God to us, the love of God to Him and to one another. There is no fellowship in darkness. We either hate or love. And if the sixth commandment, conceived as the law of liberty for the people of God, demands that we love the neighbor as ourselves, it can only mean that we love the neighbor in general, even if he is ungodly and even if he is our enemy, with that same love of God to us and in us that is manifested in the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord.
It will be evident, however, that this love cannot assume the form of fellowship with one another. There is no fellowship of light with darkness, of believers and unbelievers, of righteousness with unrighteousness, of Christ with Belial. That the love of the neighbor in general cannot take on the form of fellowship between the godly and the ungodly is not the fault of the former, but only of the latter. He does not and cannot and will not walk in the sphere of perfection and of the light. He loves the darkness rather than the light. It is for that reason that the believer can have no fellowship of love with the unbeliever.
Secondly, however, it is also evident that, negatively, the believer in Christ never reveals himself as a murderer of the neighbor in any sense of the word, but that the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord thatis poured forth in his heart motivates him to preserve the neighbor for, God’s sake in his position and relation as neighbor to himself. In this he reveals the love of God that is in, his heart to him. He does not destroy him, but as much as in him lies helps him and preserves him in his position as neighbor. When he is in trouble, he helps him. When he is hungry, he feeds him, When he is sick, he visits him. In one word, he acts according to the admonition of the apostle Paul in Gal. 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” In all this he reveals the love of the neighbor for God’s sake. And therefore he manifests the love of God, to glorify his Father which is in heaven.
But this is not all. When the apostle says in Gal. 6:10that we must do good to all men, this certainly also implies that we reveal the love of God to them in that we bring to them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, rebuke them as they walk in ways of sin and iniquity, speak to them of the righteousness of dad and repentance, and testify to them of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, manifested on the accursed tree of Golgotha. This certainly is included in the good which, according to the apostle Paul in Gal. 6:10, we must do to all men according as we have opportunity. To love the neighbor as ourselves for God’s sake, even the ungodly neighbor, does not mean that we play with him and talk nice to him and call him our brother and condone his sin, but that we manifest the love of God to him by walking in the light. This is according to the admonition of the apostle Paul in Eph. 5:5-13: “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth; Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.” Love of the neighbor, therefore, implies that before him we walk in the light of God’s precepts and rebuke him as he walks in darkness.
This is closely connected with the love of the neighbor as our enemy. That we must love even our enemies is evident from the word of God throughout. Thus, in the epistle to the Romans 12:19-21, we read: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written. Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” And the injunction of the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount,Matt. 5:43-48, is well-known: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray tor them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” That this cannot mean that we must love the enemies of God as such is also evident from all Scripture. We hate them with a perfect hatred, with the hatred of the love of God. But even in this hatred, we do not destroy them and kill them or harm them in their position as neighbors to us. Rather do we recognize them as neighbors, whom God has placed in this particular position on our path. Even when they persecute us and curse us, we will do them good, bless them, and pray for them. But as has been said before, this does not mean that we embrace them in fellowship of love: for that is impossible. Nor does it mean that we condone their iniquity and their hatred of God, but that we bless them and do good to them by rebuking their sin and their walk in darkness, by condemning even their sin of persecuting us and cursing us, and by testifying to them of the gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus we will certainly show forth the love of God to us as manifested in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: for He loved us with an eternal love, even when we stood in the position of enemies over against Him. Thus we shall be children of our Father in heaven, and be perfect, even as He is perfect.
Thus it will be evident that it is only by grace that we can even begin to keep this sixth commandment. By nature we indeed mean to destroy the living God, and by that same nature we mean to destroy the neighbor. But by the power of the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall have a small beginning of the new obedience, according to which we love God and love one another and love the neighbor as ourselves for God’s sake, even when he stands as enemy over against us and means to destroy us. And it is by that same grace that we fight the good fight also against our own old murderous nature, put off the old man, and put on the new man, and walk in the midst of a world of darkness antithetically, as children of light.
Q. 108. What doth the seventh commandment teach us?
A. That all uncleanness is accursed of God: and that therefore we must with all our hearts detest the same, and live chastely and temperately, whether in holy wedlock, or in single life.
Q. 109. Doth God forbid in this commandment, only adultery, and such like gross sins?
A. Since both our body and soul are temples of the Holy Ghost, he commands us to preserve them pure and holy: therefore he forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever can entice men thereto.
We must constantly bear in mind, and especially with a view to this seventh commandment, that we are not discussing the law of God as a basis for the life of society in general or for the improvement of the world, but as a rule of gratitude and as a guide for the expression and manifestation of the life of the redeemed child of God in this world. We must also remember that we can never divorce the precepts of the second table of the law from the first. The love of God is the main principle of the whole law, even of the second table, so that we must indeed love the neighbor as ourselves, but this love is only possible from the principle of the love of God and for His sake. Hence, we may safely say that in every precept of the Decalogue we have a revelation of God, and that too, in relation to His people. Thus in the first commandment God is revealed to us as the one Lord: there is no god beside Him. Hence, in its negative or prohibitive form the first commandment tells us that we shall have no other gods before Him. In the second commandment God is revealed to us as infinite in glory, and therefore it is impossible to make any representations of Him, whether in wood or stone, or in our mind, apart from His revelation. In the third commandment God reveals Himself as the holy one, and therefore His name is holy, apart from any other name, and we shall never lift up that name into vanity. The fourth commandment reveals God to us as the God of eternal rest, who from everlasting to everlasting rejoices in His own covenant life. Into that rest He receives His covenant people. And of that eternal rest the weekly sabbath is a reflection. In the fifth commandment God becomes revealed to us as sovereign over all, and His sovereignty we must respect even when it is realized through and reflected in man. The sixth commandment reveals more particularly that God is love, and as the triune God lives an eternal love-life in Himself. Hence, it is our calling to love the person of the neighbor in relation to ourselves, and even to love our own person only for God’s sake. And now, in the seventh commandment God reveals Himself as faithful, as the one who never breaks His covenant. And therefore His people must be faithful in respect to that most beautiful reflection of the covenant relation that is called marriage.
It cannot escape our attention that the Heidelberg Catechism in this forty-first Lord’s Day does in its explanation of the seventh commandment, not proceed from the idea of marriage at all, but rather from that of chastity. In fact, in all our Reformed confessions,—I mean now particularly the Three Forms of Unity,—one looks in vain for a discussion of the marriage bond. Nowhere is there any article in our confessions delineating the truth concerning the marriage relation and concerning the problems that are intimately connected with that relation, such as the question of Biblical or unbiblical divorce, and the question of the marriage of divorced parties, whether guilty or innocent. There is indeed a discussion of the marriage relation in some of the other confessions. Thus, in Chapter 29 of the Second Helvetic Confession we read as follows: “Such as have the gift of chastity given unto them from above, so that they can with the heart or whole mind be pure and continent, and not be grievously burned with lust, let them serve the Lord in that calling, as long as they shall feel themselves endued with that heavenly gift; and let them not lift up themselves above others, but let them serve the Lord daily in simplicity and humility. For such are more apt for attending to heavenly things than they who are distracted with the private affairs of a family. But if, again, the gift be taken away, and they feel a continual burning, let them call to mind the words of the apostle, ‘It is better to marry than to burn.’ (I Cor. 7:9).
“For wedlock (which is the medicine of incontinency, and continency itself) was ordained by the Lord God Himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in great concord (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 14:5,6). Whereupon we know the apostle said, ‘Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled.’ (Heb. 13:4). And again, ‘If a virgin marry, she bath not sinned.’ (I Cor. 7:28). We therefore condemn polygamy, and those who condemn second marriages. We teach that marriage ought to be contracted lawfully, in the fear of, the Lord, and not against the laws which forbid certain degrees to join in matrimony, lest the marriages should be incestuous. Let marriages be made with consent of the parents, or such as are instead of parents; and for that end especially for which the Lord ordained marriages. And let them be confirmed publicly in the church, with prayer and blessing. Moreover, let them be kept holy, with peace, faithfulness, dutifulness, love, and purity of the persons coupled together. Therefore let them take heed of brawlings, debates, lusts, and adulteries. Let lawful judgments and holy judges be established in the church, who may maintain marriages, and may repress all dishonesty and shamefulness, and before whom controversies in matrimony may be decided and ended.”
We may note here, by the way, that according to this article marriage seems to be especially instituted for those that do not have the gift of continency. And besides, it is at least suggestive of the Roman Catholic conception that a single life lived in continency is holier than a life in wedlock. This same idea is also suggested in our Marriage Form, that is, in the part which is usually omitted, where we read: “For, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband; insomuch that all, who are come to their years, and have not the gift of continence, are bound by the command of God, to enter into the marriage state, with knowledge and consent of parents, or guardians and friends; so that the temple of God, which is our body, may not be defiled; for, whosoever defileth the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” With this we cannot possibly agree. For although it may be admitted that this marriage relation is helpful to avoid fornication, yet marriage is not instituted for sin’s sake, but in the state of righteousness.
Also the Westminster Confession has a rather elaborate chapter (24) on marriage and divorce, as follows: “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for an) woman to have more than one husband at the same time.
“Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife; for the increase of mankind with a legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.
“It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry who are able with judgment to give their consent. Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And, therefore, such as profess the true Reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.
“Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the Word i nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man, or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together, as man and wife. The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred nearer in his blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband’s kindred nearer in blood than her own. (For this last statement there is, of course, no Scriptural injunction whatsoever, H.H.)
“Adultery or fornication, committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve the contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead. (Also with this we cannot possibly agree on the basis of Scripture, as we hope to set forth in a different connection, H.H.)
“Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments, unduly to put asunder those whom God bath joined together in marriage; yet nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage; wherein a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it, not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.”
However, in our own Three Forms of Unity one looks in vain for any fundamental principles determining the marriage relation. And what is more, in our Reformed churches there seems to be no unanimity of opinion regarding this very serious problem. Some seem to be of the conviction that the only ground for divorce is adultery. Others, however, are of the opinion that there are other grounds upon which divorces may be granted. Some take the position that a legal divorce is a real dissolution of marriage. And of course, if this is true, the divorced parties, or at least one of them, may remarry. Again, some limit the right to marry again after a divorce to the innocent party only, while others wish to concede that right to both parties, whether guilty or innocent. There are, however, also those who maintain that neither the guilty nor the innocent party may remarry, because divorce does not mean a dissolution of the marriage bond, but simply a separation of married people, whether for life or for a time. In the light of this lack of unanimity, and also in the light of the fact that in modern times the church becomes more and more lax, under the influence of the philosophy of the world and under the influence also of the lack of restraint in the laws of bur land, we may probably say that it is not only quite impossible to establish some ecclesiastical rules concerning marriage at the present time, but that it is not even desirable.
At any rate, the Heidelberg Catechism in this connection does not touch upon this question at all. In treating the seventh commandment it avoids the marriage question and also the question concerning divorce, and rather discusses this commandment from the viewpoint of the basic principle of chastity.
It must be admitted that on the face of it the Catechism is correct in assuming this standpoint. For the seventh commandment literally does not forbid to break the marriage tie, but simply enjoins, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” You may know that there is a considerable difference between the translation of this commandment in the Holland and the English. The Holland translates: “Gij zult niet echtbreken,” which means, “Thou shalt not break the marriage tie.” But the English translates, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” which translation is undoubtedly correct, according to the original Hebrew, but which does not at all correspond to the Dutch, “Gij zult niet echtbreken,” but rather to the Holland, “Gij zult geen overspel doen.” Adultery is like the Dutch overspel. In the word of God there is also another term for adultery, not only in the English but also in the Hebrew. It is the term that in English is translated “fornication.” The terms are very closely related. Nevertheless, there is also a difference in meaning. Adultery is simply the violation of the sacred and exclusive relationship of man and wife by illegal intercourse either of the former or of the latter with another party; while fornication is usually employed to denote the sin of sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons.