In today’s world it sometimes becomes very difficult to discern between the world’s thoroughly immoral philosophy of life and Christian morality according to the standard of the Word of God. The difficulty lies not in the fact that God’s law is not clear or that the Bible does not spell out our Christian calling in clear and unequivocal language. It lies rather in the fact that in our day we are literally bombarded by the media (newspapers, magazines, radio, television) with the world’s immoral philosophy, and that, too, in language which is apparently—but not apparently—neutral, language which seems by the very frequency of its use to becomes acceptable, so that we becomes accustomed to it and so that it can gradually creep into our thinking and our vocabulary. Sometimes before we realize it, it influences our thinking and our speech. Yet if we analyze that language, we discover that it is rooted in and conveys a certain moral outlook—or should I say: immoral outlook?—which is diametrically contrary to our Christian morality, contrary to the law of God and to all that God’s Word teaches about the law of God.

This is especially true, though not exclusively by any means, with respect to language and ethics which belong to the category of the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

There are certain “buzz words” which are more and more commonly bandies about and which for their very commonness find their way into our thinking and speech, gradually become acceptable, begin to be used among us, but at the same time willy-nilly bring with them a moral outlook inimical to our Christian ethics. They are called “buzz words” because, on the on hand, they carry with them in their very usage the connotation of a certain moral outlook, and because, on the other hand, they should ring a bell, or a buzzer, immediately in the minds of those who hear them. They are not mere euphemisms, that is, “inoffensive or mild expressions for those that may offend or suggest something unpleasant,” thought they are sometimes used as such. But they are terms which deliberately employed in order to avoid any reference to sin, especially the sin against the seventh commandment. The term sex itself is such as term, or is frequently used as such. In itself, of course, it is a perfectly good English term, as in “the male sex” or “the female sex.” Bu then it comes to be used for “sexual intercourse,” in itself a legitimate connotation of the term. But finally it is used as a substitute for fornication, i.e., sexual intercourse between those who are not married, or for adultery, sexual intercourse between two married persons but outside of the marriage bond. But to use “sex” in that sense, you see, is to ignore and to cover up the fact of sin. Thus, for example, I recently read in a syndicated column in The Grand Rapids Press which was commenting on the AIDS scare the following lines from the pen of Ellen Goodman (Note: my purpose is not to comment on her column, but merely to illustrate my point.):

In current life patterns, when there is a gap of 10 or even 15 years between puberty and marriage, we no longer expected celibacy or condemned premarital sex. They grew up what has been called conditional approval of sex.

The notion runs something like this: Sex is OK if our children are 18, and age at which they no longer are legally our children. Sex is OK if it’s in the context of a caring relationship. Sex is OK if they are responsible, careful to avoid pregnancy. Sex is OK if no one gets hurt.

In these lines, if in every instance you substitute the word “fornication” for the word “sex,” you get the true picture of what is being said. Go back to the quotation, and put it to test. But if you do this, you get at the same times the true moral evaluation of the thinking which is implied here—to the point that it is rather shocking to our Christian moral sensibilities. Fornication is OK if…..?!

Now there are many such “buzz words.” I have casually gathered a few in my reading recently. I will list them, and you can probably add to the list from your own experience:

—sexually active

—alternate lifestyle

—intergenerational sex

—casual sex

—premarital sex

—sexually precocious

—serial sex

—sexually explicit

—safe sex

Now why do I write about this? What is wrong with the thinking which is implied and inherent in this kind of language?

To begin with the latter question, what is wrong is that underlying it is the thoroughly carnal and worldly ethical view that is concerned not with sin, but with the results of sin. It is the view of the natural man, who always strives to enjoy sin and lust, but without suffering the results of sin. As long as he can engage in fornication, in adultery, in incest, and even in all kinds of sins contrary to nature (Romans 1:26, 27), but without suffering the horrible results of such sins, he will do so. Then sin, according to this view, is OK.

That this is a true picture is underscored by the current fears about the AIDS epidemic, which has now invaded the so-called heterosexual community and for which medical science has as yet no solution. There is arising a tremendous hue-and-cry for “sex education” in the schools and by parents themselves. Why? Because men are concerned about the breaking of the law of God? Not at all! Only because they are concerned about the currently unstoppable spread of AIDS, that horrible and incurable disease which is a consequence of the breaking of the seventh commandment.

But it is so easy, so very easy—if for not other reason than that the media constantly drum it into us—for this same kind of thinking to creep into our covenant homes and families, and that, too, through the very language about which I commented above.

However, let me conclude on a positive note.

How ought we to instruct and guide our children and young people in this regard?

My answer is that such instruction should be along the lines of our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 41:

What doth the seventh commandment teach us?

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.

Doth God forbid in this commandment, only adultery and such like gross sin?

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.

Or, if you wish for something more detailed and explicit, consider Questions 138 and 139 of the Westminster Larger Catechism:

What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?

The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel, marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanliness, and resisting temptations thereunto.

What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?

The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt of filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews (brothels, HCH), and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage, having more wives or husbands than one at he same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.

The Westminster Larger Catechism has sometimes been criticized for a tendency to legalism in its treatment of the Decalogue. However that may be, it will have to be granted that is sounds a note largely foreign to our age, but a note sorely needed!

—HCH