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As he had spoken of fornication, he now appropriately proceeds to speak of marriage which is the remedy for avoiding fornication. Now it appears, that, notwithstanding the greatly scattered state of the Corinthian Church, they still retained some respect for Paul, inasmuch as they consulted him on doubtful points. What their questions had been is uncertain, except in so far as we may gather them from his reply. This, however, is perfectly well known, that immediately after the first rise of the Church, there crept into it, through Satan’s artifice, a superstition of such a kind, that a large proportion of them, through a foolish admiration of celibacy, (367) despised the sacred connection of marriage; nay more, many regarded it with abhorrence, as a profane thing. This contagion had perhaps spread itself among the Corinthians also; or at least there were idly-disposed spirits, who, by immoderately extolling celibacy, endeavored to alienate the minds of the pious from marriage. At the same time, as the Apostle treats of many other subjects, he intimates that he had been consulted on a variety of points. What is chiefly of importance is, that we listen to his doctrine as to each of them.
1. It is good for a man. The answer consists of two parts. In the first, he teaches that it were good for every one to abstain from connection with a woman, provided it was in his power to do so. In the second, he subjoins a correction to this effect, that as many cannot do this, in consequence of the weakness of their flesh, these persons must not neglect the remedy which they have in their power, as appointed for them by the Lord. Now we must observe what he means by the word good, when he declares that it is good to abstain from marriage, that we may not conclude, on the other hand, that the marriage connection is therefore evil — a mistake which Jerome has fallen into, not so much from ignorance, in my opinion, as from the heat of controversy. For though that great man was endowed with distinguished excellences, he labored, at the same time, under one serious defect, that when disputing he allowed himself to be hurried away into great extravagancies, so that he did not keep within the bounds of truth. The inference then which he draws is this “It is good not to touch a woman: it is therefore wrong to do so.” (368) Paul, however, does not make use of the word good here in such a signification as to be opposed to what is evil or vicious, but simply points out what is expedient on account of there being so many troubles, vexations, and anxieties that are incident to married persons. Besides, we must always keep in view the limitation which he subjoins. Nothing farther, therefore, can be elicited from Paul’s words than this — that it is indeed expedient and profitable for a man not to be bound to a wife, provided he can do otherwise. Let us explain this by a comparison. Should any one speak in this way: “It were good for a man not to eat, or to drink, or to sleep” — he would not thereby condemn eating, or drinking, or sleeping, as things that were wrong — but as the time that is devoted to these things is just so (369) much taken from the soul, his meaning would be, that we would be happier if we could be free from these hindrances, and devote ourselves wholly (370) to meditation on heavenly things. Hence, as there are in married life many impediments which keep a man entangled, it were on that account good not to be connected in marriage.
But here another question presents itself, for these words of Paul have some appearance of inconsistency with the words of the Lord, in Genesis 2:18, where he declares, that it is not good for a man to be without a wife. What the Lord there pronounces to be evil Paul here declares to be good I answer, that in so far as a wife is a help to her husband, so as to make his life happy, that is in accordance with God’s institution; for in the beginning God appointed it so, that the man without the woman was, as it were, but half a man, and felt himself destitute of special and necessary assistance, and the wife is, as it were, the completing of the man. Sin afterwards came in to corrupt that institution of God; for in place of so great a blessing there has been substituted a grievous punishment, so that marriage is the source and occasion of many miseries. Hence, whatever evil or inconvenience there is in marriage, that arises from the corruption of the divine institution. Now, although there are in the meantime some remains still existing of the original blessing, so that a single life is often much more unhappy than the married life; yet, as married persons are involved in many inconveniences, it is with good reason that Paul teaches that it would be good for a man to abstain. In this way, there is no concealment of the troubles that are attendant upon marriage; and yet, in the meantime, there is no countenance given to those profane jests which are commonly in vogue with a view to bring it into discredit, such as the following: that a wife is a necessary evil, and that a wife is one of the greatest evils. For such sayings as these have come from Satan’s workshop, and have a direct tendency to brand with disgrace God’s holy institution; and farther, to lead men to regard marriage with abhorrence, as though it were a deadly evil and pest.
The sum is this, that we must remember to distinguish between the pure ordinance of God and the punishment of sin, which came in subsequently. According to this distinction, it was in the beginning good for a man, without any exception, to be joined to a wife, and even yet, it is good in such a way, that there is in the meantime a mixture of bitter and sweet, in consequence of the curse of God. To those, however, who have not the gift of continency, it is a necessary and salutary remedy in accordance with what follows.
2.But to avoid fornication He now commands, that those who are liable to the vice of incontinency should have recourse to the remedy. For though it may seem that the statement is universal, it ought, nevertheless, to be restricted to those who feel themselves urged by necessity. As to this, every one must judge for himself. Whatever difficulty, therefore, is perceived to be in marriage, let all that cannot resist the promptings of their flesh, know that this commandment has been enjoined upon them by the Lord. But it is asked — “Is this the only reason for entering into matrimony, that we may cure incontinency?” I answer, that this is not Paul’s meaning; for as for those that have the gift of abstinence from marriage, he leaves them at liberty, (371) while he commands others to provide against their infirmity by marrying. The sum is this — that the question is not as to the reasons for which marriage has been instituted, but as to the persons for whom it is necessary. For if we look to the first institution, it could not be a remedy for a disease which had as yet no existence, but was appointed for begetting offspring; but after the fall, this second purpose was added.
This passage is also opposed to ( τολυγαμία)polygamy For the Apostle desires that every woman have her own husband, intimating that the obligation is mutual. The man, therefore, who has once pledged his fidelity to a woman as his wife, must not separate from her, as is manifestly done in case of a second connection.
3.The husband to the wife. He now prescribes the rules to be observed in the marriage connection, or he teaches what is the duty of husband and wife. And in the first place he lays down a general doctrine as to mutual benevolence — that the husband love his wife, and the wife her husband; for as to the interpretation which others give to the expression due benevolence — duty of marriage — I do not know how far it is suitable. The reason that inclines them to this view is, that it is immediately added, The husband has not power of his own body, etc.; but it will suit better to regard that as an inference drawn from the preceding statement. Husband and wife, therefore, are bound to mutual benevolence: hence it follows, that they have, neither the one nor the other,the power of their own body. But it may be asked, why the Apostle here puts them upon a level, instead of requiring from the wife obedience and subjection. I answer, that it was not his intention to treat of all their duties, but simply of the mutual obligation as to the marriage bed. In other things, therefore, husband and wife differ, both as to duty and as to authority in this respect the condition of both is alike — as to the maintaining of conjugal fidelity. For this reason, also, polygamy ( τολυγαμία) is again condemned; for if this is an invariable condition of marriage, that the husband surrenders the power of his own body, and gives it up to his wife, how could he afterwards connect himself with another, as if he were free?
5.Defraud ye not one the other Profane persons might think that Paul does not act with sufficient modesty in discoursing in this manner as to the intercourse of a husband with his wife; or at least that it was unbecoming the dignity of an Apostle. If, however, we consider the reasons that influenced him, we shall find that he was under the necessity of speaking of these things. In the first place, he knew how much influence a false appearance of sanctity has in beguiling devout minds, as we ourselves know by experience. For Satan dazzles us with an appearance of what is right, that we may be led to imagine that we are polluted by intercourse with our wives, and leaving off our calling, may think of pursuing another kind of life. Farther, he knew how prone every one is to self-love, and devoted to his own gratification. From this it comes, that a husband, having had his desire gratified, treats his wife not merely with neglect, but even with disdain; and there are few that do not sometimes feel this disdain of their wives creep in upon them. It is for these reasons that he treats so carefully of the mutual obligations of the married life. “If at any time it comes into the minds of married persons to desire an unmarried life, as though it were holier, or if they are tempted by irregular desires, (372) let them bear in mind that they are bound by a mutual connection.” The husband is but the one half of his body, and so is it, also, as to the wife. Hence they have not liberty of choice, but must on the contrary restrain themselves with such thoughts as these: “Because the one needed help from the other, the Lord has connected us together, that we may assist each other.” Let each then be helpful to each other’s necessity, and neither of them act as if at his or her own disposal.
Unless by mutual consent He requires mutual consent, in the first place, because the question is not as to the continency of one merely, but of two; and besides, he immediately adds two other exceptions. The first is, that it be done only for a time, as perpetual continency is not in their power, lest if they should venture to make an attempt beyond their power, they might fall before Satan’s stratagems. The second is, that they do not abstain from conjugal intercourse, on the ground of that abstinence being in itself a good and holy work, or as if it were the worship of God, (373) but that they may be at leisure for better employments. Now though Paul had taken such pains in guarding this, yet Satan prevailed so far as to drive (374) many to unlawful divorce, from a corrupt desire for an unmarried life. The husband, leaving his wife, fled to the desert, that he might please God better by living as a monk. The wife, against her husband’s will, put on the veil — the badge of celibacy. Meanwhile they did not consider that by violating their marriage engagement they broke the Lord’s covenant, and by loosing the marriage tie, they cast off the Lord’s yoke.
This vice, it is true, was corrected in some measure by the ancient canons; for they prohibited a husband from leaving his wife against her will, on pretense of continency; and in like manner a wife from refusing to her husband the use of her body. In this, however, they erred — that they permitted both together to live in perpetual celibacy, as if it were lawful for men to decree anything that is contrary to the Spirit of God. Paul expressly commands, that married persons do not defraud each other, except for a time The bishops give permission to leave off the use of marriage for ever. Who does not see the manifest contrariety? Let no one, therefore, be surprised, that we make free to dissent on this point from the ancients, who, it is evident, deviated from the clear statements of the word of God.
That ye may have leisure for fasting and prayer. We must take notice, that Paul does not speak here of every kind of fasting, or every kind of prayer. That sobriety and temperance, which ought to be habitual on the part of Christians, is a kind offasting. Prayer, too, ought to be not merely daily, but even continual. He speaks, however, of that kind of fasting which is a solemn expression of penitence, with the view of deprecating God’s anger, or by which believers prepare themselves for prayer, when they are undertaking some important business. In like manner, the kind of prayer that he speaks of is such as requires a more intense affection of the mind. (375) For it sometimes happens, that. we require (leaving off everything else) to fast and pray; as when any calamity is impending, if it appears to be a visitation of God’s wrath; or when we are involved in any difficult matter, or when we have something of great importance to do, as, for example, the ordaining of pastors. (376) Now it is with propriety that the Apostle connects these two things, because fasting is a preparation for prayer, as Christ also connects them, when he says,
This kind of devils goeth not out but by fasting and prayer. (Matthew 17:21.)
When, therefore, Paul says, that ye may be at leisure, the meaning is, that having freed ourselves from all impediments, we may apply ourselves to this one thing. Now if any one objects, that the use of the marriage bed is an evil thing, inasmuch as it hinders prayer, the answer is easy — that it is not on that account worse than meat and drink, by which fasting is hindered. But it is the part of believers to consider wisely when it is time to eat and drink, and when to fast. It is also the part of the same wisdom to have intercourse with their wives when it is seasonable, and to refrain from that intercourse when they are called to be engaged otherwise.
And come together again, that Satan tempt you not Here he brings forward the reason, from ignorance of which the ancients have fallen into error, in rashly and inconsiderately approving of a vow of perpetual continency. For they reasoned in this manner: “If it is good for married persons sometimes to impose upon themselves for a time a voluntary continency with mutual consent, then, if they impose this upon themselves for ever, it will be so much the better.” But then, they did not consider how much danger was involved in this, for we give Satan an occasion for oppressing us, when we attempt anything beyond the measure of our weakness. (377) “But we must resist Satan.” (378) What if arms and shield be wanting? “They must be sought from the Lord,” say they. But in vain shall we beseech the Lord to assist us in a rash attempt. We must, therefore, carefully observe the clause — for your incontinency: for we are exposed to Satan’s temptations in consequence of the infirmity of our flesh. If we wish to shut them out, and keep them back, it becomes us to oppose them by the remedy, with which the Lord has furnished us. Those, therefore, act a rash part, who give up the use of the marriage bed. It is as if they had made an agreement with God as to perpetual strength. (379)
6.By permission That they might not, by taking their stand upon a precept of the kind that he had prescribed, loosen unduly the restraints of lust, (380) he adds a limitation — that he had written these things on account of their infirmity — that they may bear in mind that marriage is a remedy for unchastity, lest they should inordinately abuse the advantage of it, so as to gratify their desire by every means; nay more, without measure or modesty. He has it also in view to meet the cavils of the wicked, that no one might have it in his power to object in this way: “What! are you afraid that husbands and wives will not of their own accord be sufficiently inclined to carnal delight that you prompt them to it?” For even the Papists, those little saints, (381) are offended with this doctrine, and would gladly have a contest with Paul, on the ground of his keeping married persons in mutual cohabitation, and not allowing them to turn aside to a life of celibacy. He assigns, then, a reason for his doctrine, and declares, that he had not recommended connubial intercourse to married persons with the view of alluring them to delight, or as though he took pleasure in commanding it, but had considered what was required by the infirmity of those that he is addressing.
Foolish zealots (382) for celibacy make a wrong use of both clauses of this verse; for as Paul says that he speaks by permission, they infer from this, that there is therefore something wrong in conjugal intercourse, for where there is need of pardon, (383) there must be sin. Farther, from his saying that he speaks not by commandment, they infer, that it is, therefore, a holier thing to leave off the use of marriage and turn to celibacy. To the former, I answer, that as there is, I acknowledge, an inordinate excess in all human affections, I do not deny that there is as to this matter an irregularity, ( ἀταξία,) (384) which, I allow, is vicious. (385) Nay more, this affection, I allow, is beyond others violent, and next to brutish. But, on the other hand, I also maintain, that whatever there is of vice or baseness, is so covered over by the honorableness of marriage, that it ceases to be a vice, or at least is not reckoned a fault by God, as Augustine elegantly discourses in his book “On the advantage of Marriage,” and frequently in other places. You may then take it briefly thus: (386) conjugal intercourse is a thing that is pure, honorable and holy, because it is a pure institution of God: the immoderate desire with which persons burn is a fault arising from the corruption of nature; but in the case of believers marriage is a veil, by which that fault is covered over, so that it no longer appears in the sight of God. To the second I answer: as the term commandment is properly applied to those things which relate to the duties of righteousness, and things in themselves pleasing to God, Paul on this account says that he does not speak by commandment He has, however, sufficiently shown previously, that the remedy, which he had enjoined, must necessarily be made use of.
7.For I should wish, that all. This is connected with the exposition of the foregoing statement; for he does not fail to intimate, what is the more convenient way, but he wishes every one to consider what has been given him. (387) Why, then, has he, a little before, spoken not by way of commandment ? It is for this reason, that he does not willingly constrain them to marry, but rather desires that they may be free from that necessity. As this, however, is not free to all, he has respect to infirmity. If this passage had been duly weighed, that perverse superstition connected with the desire of celibacy, which is the root and cause of great evils, would never have gained a footing in the world. Paul here expressly declares, that every one has not a free choice in this matter, because virginity is a special gift, that is not conferred upon all indiscriminately. Nor does he teach any other doctrine than what Christ himself does, when he says, that
all men are not capable of receiving this saying.
Paul, therefore, is here an interpreter of our Lord’s words, when he says that this power has not been given to all — that of living without marriage.
What, in the meantime, has been done? Every one, without having any regard to his power, has, according to his liking, vowed perpetual continency. Nor has the error as to this matter been confined to the common people and illiterate persons; for even the most eminent doctors, devoting themselves unreservedly to the commendation of virginity, and forgetting human infirmity, have overlooked this admonition of Paul — nay rather, of Christ himself. Jerome, blinded by a zeal, I know not of what sort, does not simply fall, but rushes headlong, into false views. Virginity, I acknowledge, is an excellent gift; but keep it in view, that it is a gift. Learn, besides, from the mouth of Christ and of Paul, that it is not common to all, but is given only to a few. Guard, accordingly, against rashly devoting what is not in your own power, and what you will not obtain as a gift, if forgetful of your calling you aspire beyond your limits.
At the same time the ancients erred even in their estimate of virginity, for they extol it as if it were the most excellent of all virtues, and wish it to be regarded as the worship of God. (388) Even in this there is a dangerous error; and now follows another — that, after celibacy had begun to be so much esteemed, many, vying with each other, rashly vowed perpetual continency, while scarcely the hundredth part of them were endowed with the power and gift. Hence, too, a third sprung up — that the ministers of the Church were forbidden to enter into marriage, as a kind of life unbecoming the holiness of their order. (389) As for those who, despising marriage, rashly vowed perpetual continency, God punished their presumption, first, by the secret flames of lust; (390) and then afterwards, by horrible acts of filthiness. The ministers of the Churches being prohibited from lawful marriage, the consequence of this tyranny was, that the Church was robbed of very many good and faithful ministers; for pious and prudent men would not ensnare themselves in this way. At length, after a long course of time, lusts, which had been previously kept under, gave forth their abominable odor. It was reckoned a small matter for those, in whom it would have been a capital crime to have a wife, to maintain with impunity concubines, that is, prostitutes; but no house was safe from the impurities of the priests. Even that was reckoned a small matter; for there sprung up monstrous enormities, which it were better to bury in eternal oblivion than to make mention of them by way of example. (391)
8.I say, then, to the unmarried. This depends on what goes before, and is a sort of inference from it. He had said that the gifts of God are variously distributed — that continency is not in the power of all, and that those who have it not ought to have recourse to the remedy. He now directs his discourse to virgins, to all that are unmarried, and to widows, and he allows that an unmarried life ought to be desired by them, provided they have the power; but that regard must always be had by each individual to the power that he possesses. The sum is this, that an unmarried life has many advantages, and that these are not to be despised, provided every one measures himself according to his own size and measure. (392) Hence, though virginity should be extolled even to the third heavens, this, at the same time, always remains true — that it does not suit all, but only those who have a special gift from God. For as to the objection that is brought forward by Papists — that in baptism, also, we promise to God purity of life, which it is not in our power to perform, the answer is easy — that in that we promise nothing but what God requires from all his people, but that continency is a special gift, which God has withheld from many. Hence those who make a vow of continency, act precisely as if any unlearned and illiterate person were to set himself off as a prophet, or teacher, or interpreter of languages.
We must also notice carefully the word continue; for it is possible for a person to live chastely in a state of celibacy for a time, but there must be in this matter no determination made for tomorrow. Isaac was unmarried until he was thirty years of age, and passed in chastity those years in which the heats of irregular desire are most violent; yet afterwards he is called to enter into the married life. In Jacob we have a still more remarkable instance. Hence the Apostle would wish those who are at present practicing chastity, to continue in it and persevere; but as they have no security for the continuance of the gift, he exhorts all to consider carefully what has been given them. This passage, however, shows that the Apostle was at that time unmarried; for as to the inference drawn by Erasmus, that he was married, because he makes mention of himself in connection with married persons, it is frivolous and silly; for we might, on the same principle, infer that he was a widower, (393) because he speaks of himself in connection with widows. (394) Now the words intimate, that at that time he was unmarried; for I do not give any countenance to the conjecture, that he had put away his wife somewhere, and had of his own accord abandoned the use of the marriage bed. For where, in that case, had been the injunction, (395) Come together again without delay ? (1 Corinthians 7:5.) It would certainly be an absurdity to say, that he did not obey his own precepts, and did not observe the law which he imposed upon others. It is, however, a singular token of modesty, that, while he is himself endowed with the gift of continency, he does not require others to bind themselves to his rule, but allows them that remedy for infirmity which he dispenses with. Let us, then, imitate his example, so that if we excel in any particular gift, we do not rigorously insist upon it on the part of others, who have not as yet reached that height.
9.But if they cannot contain While he advises to abstain from marriage, he always speaks conditionally — if it can be done, if there is ability; but where the infirmity of the flesh does not allow of that liberty, he expressly enjoins marriage as a thing that is not in the least doubtful. For this is said by way of commandment, that no one may look upon it as mere advice. Nor is it merely fornicators that he restrains, but those also who are defiled in the sight of God by inward lust; and assuredly he that cannot contain tempts God, if he neglects the remedy of marriage. This matter requires — not advice, but strict prohibition.
For it is better There is not strictly a comparison here, inasmuch as lawful marriage is honorable in all things, (Hebrews 13:4,) but, on the other hand, to burn is a thing that is exceedingly wrong. The Apostle, however, has made use of a customary form of expression, though not strictly accurate, as we commonly say: “It is better to renounce this world that we may, along with Christ, enjoy the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, than to perish miserably in carnal delights.” I mention this, because Jerome constructs upon this passage a childish sophism (396) — that marriage is good, inasmuch as it is not so great an evil as to burn I would say, if it were a matter of sport, that he foolishly amuses himself, but in a matter so weighty and serious, it is an impious scoff, unworthy of a man of judgment. Let it then be understood, that marriage is a good and salutary remedy, because to burn is a most base abomination in the sight of God. We must, however, define what is meant by burning; for many are stung with fleshly desires, who, nevertheless, do not require forthwith to have recourse to marriage. And to retain Paul’s metaphor, it is one thing to burn and another to feel heat. Hence what Paul here calls burning, is not a mere slight feeling, but a boiling with lust, so that you cannot resist. As, however, some flatter themselves in vain, by imagining that they are entirely free from blame, if they do not yield assent to impure desire, observe that there are three successive steps of temptation. For in some cases the assaults of impure desire have so much power that the will is overcome: that is the worst kind of burning, when the heart is inflamed with lust. In some instances, while we are stung with the darts of the flesh, it is in such a manner that we make a stout resistance, and do not allow ourselves to be divested of the true love of chastity, but on the contrary, abhor all base and filthy affections.
Hence all must be admonished, but especially the young, that whenever they are assailed by their fleshly inclinations, they should place the fear of God in opposition to a temptation of this sort, cut off all inlets to unchaste thoughts, entreat the Lord to give them strength to resist, and set themselves with all their might to extinguish the flames of lust. If they succeed in this struggle, let them render thanks unto the Lord, for where shall we find the man who does not experience some molestation from his flesh? but if we bridle its violence, before it has acquired the mastery, it is well. For we do not burn, though we should feel a disagreeable heat — not that there is nothing wrong in that feeling of heat, but acknowledging before the Lord, with humility and sighing, (397) our weakness, we are meanwhile, nevertheless, of good courage. To sum up all, so long as we come off victorious in the conflict, through the Lord’s grace, and Satan’s darts do not make their way within, but are valiantly repelled by us, let us not become weary of the conflict.
There is an intermediate kind of temptation (398) — when a man does not indeed admit impure desire with the full assent of his mind, but at the same time is inflamed with a blind impetuosity, and is harassed in such a manner that he cannot with peace of conscience call upon God. A temptation, then, of such a kind as hinders one from calling upon God in purity, and disturbs peace of conscience, is burning, such as cannot be extinguished except by marriage. We now see, that in deliberating as to this, one must not merely consider whether he can preserve his body free from pollution: the mind also must be looked to, as we shall see in a little.
10.To the married I command. He now treats of another condition of marriage — its being an indissoluble tie. Accordingly, he condemns all those divorces that were of daily occurrence among the heathens, and were not punished among the Jews by the law of Moses. Let not, says he, the husband put away his wife, and let not the wife depart from her husband. Why? Because they are joined together by an indissoluble bond. It is surprising, however, that he does not make an exception, at least in case of adultery; for it is not likely that he designed to curtail in anything the doctrine of Christ. To me it appears clear, that the reason why he has made no mention of this (399) is, that as he is discoursing of these things only in passing, he chose rather to send back the Corinthians to the Lord’s permission or prohibition, than to go over everything in detail. For when persons intend to teach anything in short compass, they content themselves with a general statement. Exceptions are reserved for a minuter and more extended and particular discussion.
But as to what he subjoins — not I, but the Lord — he intimates by this correction, that what he teaches here is taken from the law of God. For other things that he taught he had also from the revelation of the Spirit; but he declares that God is the author of this, in respect of its being expressly taken from the law of God. If you inquire as to the particular passage, you will nowhere find it in so many words; but as Moses in the beginning testifies, that the connection between a husband and wife is so sacred, that for the sake of it
a man ought to leave his father and mother. (Genesis 2:24.)
It is easy to gather from this, how inviolable a connection it is. For by right of nature a son is bound to his father and mother, and cannot shake off that yoke. As the connection of marriage is preferred to that bond, much less ought it to be dissolved.
11.But if she depart That this is not to be understood of those who have been put away for adultery, is evident from the punishment that followed in that case; for it was a capital crime even by the Roman laws, and almost by the common law of nations. But as husbands frequently divorced their wives, either because their manners were not congenial, or because their personal appearance did not please them, or because of some offense; (400) and as wives, too, sometimes deserted their husbands on account of their cruelty, or excessively harsh and dishonorable treatment, he says that marriage is not dissolved by divorces or dissensions of that nature. For it is an agreement that is consecrated by the name of God, which does not stand or fall according to the inclination of men, so as to be made void whenever we may choose. The sum is this: other contracts, as they depend on the mere inclination of men, are in like manner dissolved by that same inclination; but those who are connected by marriage are no longer free, so as to be at liberty, if they change their mind, to break in pieces the pledge, (401) (as the expression is,) and go each of them elsewhere in quest of a new connection. For if the rights of nature cannot be dissolved, much less can this, which, as we have said already, is preferred before the principal tie of nature.
But as to his commanding the wife, who is separated from her husband, to remain unmarried, he does not mean by this that separation is allowable, nor does he give permission to the wife to live apart from her husband; but if she has been expelled from the house, or has been put away, she must not think that even in that case she is set free from his power; for it is not in the power of a husband to dissolve marriage. He does not therefore give permission here to wives to withdraw, of their own accord, from their husbands, or to live away from their husband’s establishment, as if they were in a state of widowhood; but declares, that even those who are not received by their husbands, continue to be bound, so that they cannot take other husbands.
But what if a wife is wanton, or otherwise incontinent? Would it not be inhuman to refuse her the remedy, when, constantly burning with desire? I answer, that when we are prompted by the infirmity of our flesh, we must have recourse to the remedy; after which it is the Lord’s part to bridle and restrain our affections by his Spirit, though matters should not succeed according to our desire. For if a wife should fall into a protracted illness, the husband would, nevertheless, not be justified in going to seek another wife. In like manner, if a husband should, after marriage, begin to labor under some distemper, it would not be allowable for his wife to change her condition of life. The sum is this — God having prescribed lawful marriage as a remedy for our incontinency, let us make use of it, that we may not, by tempting him, pay the penalty of our rashness. Having discharged this duty, let us hope that he will give us aid should matters go contrary to our expectations.
12.To the rest I say Bythe rest he means those who are exceptions, so that the law, common to others, is not applicable to them; for an unequal marriage is on a different footing, when married persons differ among themselves in respect of religion; Now this question he solves in two clauses. The first is, that the believing party ought not to withdraw from the unbelieving party, and ought not to seek divorce, unless she is put away. The second is, that if an unbeliever put away his wife on account of religion, a brother or a sister is, by such rejection, freed from the bond of marriage. But why is it that Paul speaks of himself as the author of these regulations, while they appear to be somewhat at variance with what he had, a little before, brought forward, as from the Lord? He does not mean that they are from himself in such a way as not to be derived from the Spirit of God; but, as there was nowhere in the law or in the Prophets any definite or explicit statement on this subject, he anticipates in this way the calumnies of the wicked, in claiming as his own what he was about to state. At the same time, lest all this should be despised as the offspring of man’s brain, we shall find him afterwards declaring, that his statement are not the contrivances of his own understanding. There is, however, nothing inconsistent with what goes before; for as the obligation and sanctity of the marriage engagement depend upon God, what connection can a pious woman any longer maintain with an unbelieving husband, after she has been driven away through hatred of God?
14.For the unbelieving husband is sanctified He obviates an objection, which might occasion anxiety to believers. The relationship of marriage is singularly close, so that the wife is the half of the man — so that they two are one flesh — (1 Corinthians 6:16) — so that the husband is the head of the wife; (Ephesians 5:23;) and she is her husband’s partner in everything; hence it seems impossible that a believing husband should live with an ungodly wife, or the converse of this, without being polluted by so close a connection. Paul therefore declares here, that marriage is, nevertheless, sacred and pure, and that we must not be apprehensive of contagion, as if the wife would contaminate the husband. Let us, however, bear in mind, that he speaks here not of contracting marriages, but of maintaining those that have been already contracted; for where the matter under consideration is, whether one should marry an unbelieving wife, or whether one should marry an unbelieving husband, then that exhortation is in point —
Be not yoked with unbelievers, for there is no agreement between Christ and Belial. (2 Corinthians 6:14.)
But he that is already bound has no longer liberty of choice; hence the advice given is different.
While this sanctification is taken in various senses, I refer it simply to marriage, in this sense — It might seem (judging from appearance) as if a believing wife contracted infection from an unbelieving husband, so as to make the connection unlawful; but it is otherwise, for the piety of the one has more effect in sanctifying marriage than the impiety of the other in polluting it. Hence a believer may, with a pure conscience, live with an unbeliever, for in respect of the use and intercourse of the marriage bed, and of life generally, he is sanctified, so as not to infect the believing party with his impurity. Meanwhile this sanctification is of no benefit to the unbelieving party; it only serves thus far, that the believing party is not contaminated by intercourse with him, and marriage itself is not profaned.
But from this a question arises — “If the faith of a husband or wife who is a Christian sanctifies marriage, it follows that all marriages of ungodly persons are impure, and differ nothing from fornication.” I answer, that to the ungodly all things are impure, (Titus 1:15,) because they pollute by their impurity even the best and choicest of God’s creatures. Hence it is that they pollute marriage itself, because they do not acknowledge God as its Author, and therefore they are not capable of true sanctification, and by an evil conscience abuse marriage. It is a mistake, however, to conclude from this that it differs nothing from fornication; for, however impure it is to them, it is nevertheless pure in itself, inasmuch as it is appointed by God, serves to maintain decency among men, and restrains irregular desires; and hence it is for these purposes approved by God, like other parts of political order. We must always, therefore, distinguish between the nature of a thing and the abuse of it.
Else were your children It is an argument taken from the effect — “If your marriage were impure, then the children that are the fruit of it would be impure; but they are holy; hence the marriage also is holy. As, then, the ungodliness of one of the parents does not hinder the children that are born from being holy, so neither does it hinder the marriage from being pure.” Some grammarians explain this passage as referring to a civil sanctity, in respect of the children being reckoned legitimate, but in this respect the condition of unbelievers is in no degree worse. That exposition, therefore, cannot stand. Besides, it is certain that Paul designed here to remove scruples of conscience, lest any one should think (as I have said) that he had contracted defilement. The passage, then, is a remarkable one, and drawn from the depths of theology; for it teaches, that the children of the pious are set apart from others by a sort of exclusive privilege, so as to be reckoned holy in the Church.
But how will this statement correspond with what he teaches elsewhere — that we are all by nature children of wrath; (Ephesians 2:3;) or with the statement of David — Behold I was conceived in sin, etc. (Psalms 51:5.) I answer, that there is a universal propagation of sin and damnation throughout the seed of Adam, and all, therefore, to a man, are included in this curse, whether they are the offspring of believers or of the ungodly; for it is not as regenerated by the Spirit, that believers beget children after the flesh. The natural condition, therefore, of all is alike, so that they are liable equally to sin and to eternal death. As to the Apostle’s assigning here a peculiar privilege to the children of believers, this flows from the blessing of the covenant, by the intervention of which the curse of nature is removed; and those who were by nature unholy are consecrated to God by grace. Hence Paul argues, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 11:16,) that the whole of Abraham’s posterity are holy, because God had made a covenant of life with him — If the root be holy, says he, then the branches are holy also. And God calls all that were descended from Israel his sons’ now that the partition is broken down, the same covenant of salvation that was entered into with the seed of Abraham (402) is communicated to us. But if the children of believers are exempted from the common lot of mankind, so as to be set apart to the Lord, why should we keep them back from the sign? If the Lord admits them into the Church by his word, why should we refuse them the sign? In what respects the offspring of the pious are holy, while many of them become degenerate, you will find explained in Romans 10:1 the Epistle to the Romans; and I have handled this point there.
15.But if an unbeliever depart. This is the second department of his statement, in which he sets at liberty a believing husband, who is prepared to dwell with an unbelieving wife, but is rejected by her, and in like manner a woman who is, without any fault on her part, repudiated by her husband; for in that case the unbelieving party makes a divorce with God rather than with his or her partner. There is, therefore, in this case a special reason, inasmuch as the first and chief bond is not merely loosed, but even utterly broken through. While some are of opinion that we are at this day situated in a much similar way with Papists, (403) we ought to consider wisely what difference there is between the two cases, that we may not attempt anything rashly.
In peace. Here, too, interpreters differ; for some take it in this way — “We are called in peace: let us therefore avoid all ground and occasion of quarrels.” I take it in a more simple way: “Let us, so far as we can, cultivate peace with all, to which we have been called. We must not, therefore, rashly separate from unbelievers, unless they first make a divorce. God, therefore, has called us in peace to this end, that we might cultivate peace with all, by acting properly towards every one.” This, then, belongs to the former department of his statement — that
believers ought to remain with unbelievers, if they are p1eased, etc., (1 Corinthians 7:12,)
because a desire for divorce is at variance with our profession.
16.For what knowest thou, O woman? Those who are of opinion that this observation is a confirmation of the second department of his statement, expound it thus. “An uncertain hope ought not to detain thee,” etc. But, in my opinion, the exhortation is taken from the advantage to be derived; for it is a great and distinguished blessing if a wife gain (1 Corinthians 9:19) her husband. Now, unbelievers are not in so hopeless a condition but that they may be brought to believe. They are dead, it is true, but God can even raise the dead. So long, therefore, as there remains any hope of doing good, and the pious wife knows not but that she may by her holy conversation (1 Peter 3:1) bring back her husband into the way, (404) she ought to try every means before leaving him; for so long as a man’s salvation is doubtful, it becomes us to be prepared rather to hope the best.
As to his saying, however, that a husband may be saved by his wife, the expression, it is true, is not strictly accurate, as he ascribes to man what belongs to God; but there is no absurdity in it. For as God acts efficaciously by his instruments which he makes use of, he does, in a manner, communicate his power to them, or, at least, he connects it with their service in such a manner, that what he does he speaks of as being done by them, and hence, too, he sometimes ascribes to them the honor which is due to himself alone. Let us, however, bear in mind, that we have nothing in our power, except in so far as we are directed by him as instruments.
17.Unless every one, according as God has dispensed his grace, etc. Such is the literal meaning: only I have in my rendering made use of the nominative, (405) in order that the connection may be more easy and natural. The meaning is: “What, then, is to be done, unless (406) that every one walk according to the grace given to him, and according to his calling? Let every one, therefore, labor for this, and use his endeavor, that he may do good to his neighbors, and, more especially, when he ought to be excited to it by the particular duty of his calling.” He mentions two things — the calling, and the measure of grace These he desires us to look to in deliberating as to this matter; as it ought to be no small stimulus to us to duty, that God condescends to make us ministers of his grace for the salvation of our brethren; while the calling, on the other hand, should hold us, as it were, under God’s yoke, even where an individual feels his situation to be an unpleasant one.
And so in all the Churches. I am of opinion that he added this, with the view of obviating the calumnies of some who boasted that he assumed more authority over the Corinthians than he ventured to do over others. At the same time he might have also another end in view — that this doctrine might have the more weight, when the Corinthians understood that it was already published in all the Churches. For we embrace the more readily what we understand that we have in common with all the pious. The Corinthians, on the other hand, would have felt it hateful to be bound more closely than others.
18.Circumcised, etc. As he had made mention of the calling, he takes occasion, from a particular instance, to make a digression for a little into a general exhortation, as he is wont to do in many instances; and, at the same time, he confirms, by different examples, what he had said respecting marriage. The sum is this, that in external things you must not rashly abandon the calling on which you have once entered by the will of God. And he begins with circumcisions, respecting which many at that time disputed. Now, he says that with God it makes no difference whether you are a Gentile or a Jew. Hence he exhorts every one to be contented with his condition. It must always be kept in view, that he treats only of lawful modes of life, which have God as their approver and author.
19.Circumcision is nothing While this similitude was suited to the subject in hand, it appears to have been designedly made use of with the view of reproving, in passing, the superstition and haughtiness of the Jews. For, as the Jews gloried in circumcision, it was possible that many might feel dissatisfied with the want of it, as if their condition were the worse on that account. Paul, therefore, places both conditions upon a level, lest, through hatred of the one, the other should be foolishly desired. These things, however, must be understood as referring to the time when circumcision was at length abolished; for, if he had had an eye to the covenant of God, and his commandment, he would, without doubt, have estimated it higher. In another passage, it is true, he makes light of the letter of circumcision, (Romans 2:27,) and declares that it is of no account in the sight of God; but here, as he simply contrasts circumcision with uncircumcision, and makes both alike, it is certain that he speaks of it as a matter of indifference and of no moment. For the abolishing of it has this effect — that the mystery which had been previously conveyed under it, does not now any longer belong to it: nay more, it is now no longer a sign, but a thing of no use. For baptism has come in the place of the symbol used under the law on this footing, that it is enough that we be circumcised by the Spirit of Christ, while our old man is buried with Christ.
But the keeping of the commandments As this was one of the commandments, so long as the Church was bound to legal ceremonies, we see that it is taken for granted, that circumcision had been abolished by the advent of Christ, so that the use of it, indeed, was allowed among the ignorant and weak, but advantage in it — there was none. For Paul speaks of it here as a thing of no moment: “As these are outward things, let them not take up your attention, but devote yourself rather to piety and the duties which God requires, and which are alone precious in his sight.” As to the circumstance that Papists bring forward this passage for the purpose of overthrowing justification by faith, it is utterly childish; for Paul is not disputing here as to the ground of justification, or the way in which we obtain it, but simply as to the object to which the aim of believers ought to be directed. “Do not occupy yourselves to no purpose in things of no profit, but, on the contrary, exercise yourselves in duties that are well pleasing to God.”
20.Every man in the calling in which. This is the source from which other things are derived, — that every one should be contented with his calling, and pursue it, instead of seeking to betake himself to anything else. A calling in Scripture means a lawful mode of life, for it has a relation to God as calling us, (407) — lest any one should abuse this statement (408) to justify modes of life that are evidently wicked or vicious. But here it is asked, whether Paul means to establish any obligation, (409) for it might seem as though the words conveyed this idea, that every one is bound to his calling, so that he must not abandon it. Now it were a very hard thing if a tailor (410) were not at liberty to learn another trade, or if a merchant were not at liberty to betake himself to farming. I answer, that this is not what the Apostle intends, for he has it simply in view to correct that inconsiderate eagerness, which prompts some to change their condition without any proper reason, whether they do it from superstition, or from any other motive. Farther, he calls every one to this rule also — that they bear in mind what is suitable to their calling He does not, therefore, impose upon any one the necessity of continuing in the kind of life which he has once taken up, but rather condemns that restlessness, which prevents an individual from remaining in his condition with a peaceable mind (411) and he exhorts, that every one stick by his trade, as the old proverb goes.
21.Art thou called being a servant ? We see here that Paul’s object (412) is to satisfy their consciences; for he exhorts servants to be of good cheer, and not be cast down, as if servitude were a hinderance in the way of their serving God. Care not for it then, that is to say, be not concerned how you may throw off the yoke, as if it were a condition unbecoming a Christian, but be contented in mind. And hence we infer, not merely that it is owing to the providence of God that there are different ranks and stations in the world, but also, that a regard to them is enjoined by his word.
But if thou mayest even be made free The particle even (in my opinion) has simply this force, — “If, in place of servitude, you could attain even to liberty, it would be more advantageous for you.” It is uncertain, however, whether he continues his discourse to servants, or turns to address those that are free. In the latter case, γενέσθαι would here mean simply to be Either meaning suits sufficiently well, and they amount to the same thing. He means to intimate, that liberty is not merely good, but also more advantageous than servitude. If he is speaking to servants, his meaning will be this — While I exhort you to be free from anxiety, I do not hinder you from even availing yourselves of liberty, if an opportunity presents itself to you. If he is addressing himself to those that are free, it will be a kind of concession, as though he had said — I exhort servants to be of good courage, though a state of freedom is preferable, (413) and more to be desired, if one has it in his choice.
22.For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant To be called in the Lord, being a servant, is to be chosen out of the rank of servants, and made a partaker of the grace of Christ. Now this statement is designed to furnish consolation to servants, and, at the same time, to beat down the haughtiness of those that are free-born. As servants feel their situation irksome, in respect of their being mean and despicable, it is of importance that the bitterness of servitude be alleviated by some consolation. Those, on the other hand, that are free, need to be restrained, in order that they may not be unduly elated on account of their more honorable condition, and be lifted up with pride. The Apostle does both; for he teaches, that as the liberty of the spirit is greatly preferable to the liberty of the flesh, servants ought to feel the unpleasantness of their condition the more tolerable, when they take into view that inestimable gift with which they have been endowed; and, on the other hand, that those who are free ought not to be puffed up, inasmuch as their condition in the principal respect is not superior to that of servants. We must not, however, infer from this, that those that are free are made inferior to servants, or that political order is subverted. The Apostle saw what suited both. Those that were free required (as I have said) to be restrained, that they might not in a wanton manner triumph over servants. To servants, on the other hand, some consolation required to be administered, that they might not be disheartened. Now these things tend rather to confirm political order, while he teaches that the inconvenience of the flesh is compensated by a spiritual benefit.
23.Yea are bought with a price We had these words in the preceding chapter, (1 Corinthians 6:20,) but for a different purpose. As to the word price, I have stated there, what is my view of it. The sum is this, that he exhorts servants, indeed, not to be anxious as to their condition, but wishes them rather to take heed not to subject themselves to the wicked or depraved inclinations of their masters. “We are holy to the Lord, because he has redeemed us: let us, therefore, not defile ourselves for the sake of men, as we do when we are subject to their corrupt desires.” This admonition was very necessary at that time, when servants were driven by threats and stripes, and even fear of death, to obey every kind of command without selection or exception, so that they reckoned the procuring of prostitutes, and other crimes of that nature, to be duties belonging to servants, equally with honorable employment’s. It is, therefore, not without reason that Paul makes this exception — that they are not to yield obedience in things base and wicked. Would that this were thoroughly and entirely impressed upon the minds of all! There would not, in that case, be so many that prostitute themselves to the lusts of men, as if exposed for sale. As for us, let us bear in mind, that we belong to him who has redeemed us.
24.Let him abide with God. I have already noticed above, that men are not here bound by a perpetual necessity, so as never to have it in their power to change their condition, if at any time there should be a fit occasion for it; but that he simply represses those thoughtless humors, which hurry men hither and thither, so that they are harassed by a continual restlessness. Hence Paul says, that it is all one in the sight of God what a person’s manner of life is in this world, inasmuch as this diversity does not hinder agreement in piety.
25.Concerning virgins He now returns to treat of marriage, of which he had begun to speak in the commencement of the chapter. What he is now about to state he had previously touched upon, but briefly and somewhat obscurely. He accordingly intimates more explicitly what his views are respecting virginity; but as it is a matter that is liable to be misapprehended, and is full of difficulties, he always speaks, as we shall see, conditionally. Virgins here I understand as meaning virginity. As to this, he says he has no commandment of the Lord; because the Lord does not in any part of the Scriptures declare what persons ought to remain unmarried. Nay, on the contrary, inasmuch as the Scripture says, that
male and female were created together, (Genesis 2:21,)
it seems as if it called every one equally and without exception to marriage: (414) at least celibacy is nowhere enjoined upon any one, or commended.
He says that he gives advice, not as if there were anything doubtful in it, and had little or no stability, but as being certain, and deserving to be maintained without any controversy. The word, too, that he employs, γνώμη, signifies not merely advice, but a decisive judgment. (415) Papists, however, rashly infer from this, that it is allowable to go beyond the limits of God’s word, since nothing was farther from Paul’s intention than to go beyond the limits of God’s word for if any one attends more closely, he will see, that Paul here advances nothing but what is included in what Christ says in Matthew 5:32, and Matthew 19:5; but in the way of anticipating an objection, he acknowledges that he has no express precept in the law, pointing out who ought to marry, and who not
Having obtained mercy to be faithful. He secures authority for his decision, that no one may think himself at liberty to reject it, if he chooses. For he declares that he does not speak simply as a man, but as a faithful teacher of the Church, and an Apostle of Christ. According to his custom, he declares himself to be indebted for this to the mercy of God, (416) as it was no common honor, nay superior to all human merits. Hence it appears, that whatever things have been introduced into the Church by human authority, (417) have nothing in common with this advice of Paul. But faithful here means truthful — one who does not do what he does merely from pious zeal, but is also endowed with knowledge, so as to teach with purity and faithfulness For it is not enough for a teacher to be conscientious, if he has not also prudence and acquaintance with the truth.
26.I think therefore that this is good. While I translate this passage of Paul’s writings differently from Erasmus or the Vulgate, I at the same time do not differ from them as to its meaning. They divide Paul’s words in such a way, that the same thing is repeated twice. I, on the other hand, make it simply one proposition, and not without authority, for I follow ancient and approved manuscripts, which make it all one sentence, with merely a colon between. The meaning is this: “I think it expedient on account of the necessity, with which the saints are always harassed in this life, that all should enjoy the liberty and advantage of celibacy, as this would be of advantage to them.” There are some, however, that view the term necessity as referring to the age of the Apostle, which was, undoubtedly, full of trouble to the pious: but he appears to me to have had it rather in view to express the disquietude with which the saints are incessantly harassed in the present life. I view it, therefore, as extending to all ages, and I understand it in this way, that the saints are often, in this world, driven hither and thither, and are exposed to many and various tempests, (418) so that their condition appears to be unsuitable for marriage. The phrase so to be, signifies to remain unmarried, or to abstain from marriage.
27.Art thou bound to a wife? Having stated what would be most advantageous, he adds at the same time, that we ought not to be so much influenced by the advantages of celibacy, that one that is bound by the tie of marriage should shake off the connection. It is therefore a restriction upon the preceding statement, lest any one, influenced by his commendation of celibacy, should turn his thoughts to it, and despise marriage, forgetful of his necessity or of his calling Now in these words he does not merely forbid the breaking up of the connection of marriage, but also represses the dislikes that are wont to creep in, that every one may continue to live with his wife willingly and cheerfully.
Art thou loosed from a wife? This second clause must be taken with a reservation, as is manifest from the entire context. He does not, then, allow to all the choice of perpetual celibacy, but only to those to whom it is given. Let no one, therefore, who is not constrained by any necessity, rashly ensnare himself, for liberty ought not to be lightly thrown away. (419)
28.But if thou shouldest even marry. As there was a danger of one’s thinking from the preceding statement, that he tempted God, if he knowingly and willingly bound himself to marriage, (as that would be to renounce his liberty,) he removes this scruple; for he gives liberty to widows to marry, and says, that those that marry do not sin. The word even also seems to be emphatic — to intimate, that even though there be no positive necessity urging to it, the unmarried are not prohibited from marrying whenever they may see fit.
And if a virgin marry Whether this is an amplification, or simply an illustration, this, in the first place, is beyond all controversy, that Paul designed to extend the liberty of marriage to all. Those who think that it is an amplification, are led to think so by this, that it seems to approach nearer to a fault, and is more open to reprehension, or at least has more occasion of shame, to loose the virgin girdle (as the ancients express themselves) than, upon the death of a husband, to enter into a second marriage. The argument then would be this: “If it is lawful for a virgin to marry, much more may widows.” I am rather of opinion, that he makes both equal in this way: “As it is allowable for a virgin, so is it for widows also.” For second marriages among the ancients were not without some mark of reproach, as they adorned those matrons, who had contented themselves with one marriage during their whole life, with a chaplet of chastity (420) — an honor that tended to reflect reproach upon those that had married repeatedly. And it is a well known saying of Valerius, (421) that “it betokens a legitimate excess (422) when a second marriage is desired.” The Apostle, therefore, makes virgins and widows alike as to liberty of marriage.
Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh. He frequently repeats the reason why he leans more to the side of celibacy in his exhortations, lest he should seem to prefer the one condition to the other on its own account, rather than on account of its consequences. He says, that there are many troubles that are connected with the married life, and that on that account he wishes all to be free from marriage, who desire to be exempt from troubles. When he says, that they will have trouble of the flesh, or in the flesh, he means, that the anxieties and distresses in which married persons are involved arise from the affairs of the world. The flesh, therefore, is taken here to mean the outward man. To spare means to indulge, or to wish them to be exempted from the troubles that are connected with marriage. “I am desirous to make provision for your infirmity, that you may not have trouble: now marriage brings with it many troubles. This is the reason why I should wish you not to require to marry — that you may be exempt from all its evils.” Do not, however, infer from this that Paul reckons marriage to be a necessary evil for those troubles of which he speaks do not arise so much from the nature of marriage, as from the corruption of it, for they are the fruits of original sin.
29.Because the time is short, etc. Again he discourses respecting the holy use of marriage, for the purpose of repressing the wantonness of those who, when they have married, think of nothing but the delights of the flesh. They have no remembrance of God. Hence he exhorts believers not to give way to unbridled desire in such a way, that marriage should have the effect of plunging them into the world. Marriage is a remedy for incontinency. It has really the effect, if it be used with moderation. He therefore exhorts married persons to live together chastely in the fear of the Lord. This will be effected, if marriage is made use of by them, like other helps of this earthly life, having their hearts directed upwards to meditation on the heavenly life. Now, he draws his argument from the shortness of human life: “This life,” says he, “which we are now spending is frail, and of short duration. Let us not therefore be held entangled by it. Let those accordingly who have wives, be as though they had none. ” Every one, it is true, has this philosophy in his mouth, but few have it truly and in good earnest impressed upon their minds. In my first translation, I had followed a manuscript, to which (as I afterwards discovered) not one of the many others gave any countenance. I have accordingly deemed it proper to insert the particle because, to make the meaning more apparent, and in accordance also with the reading in some ancient copies. For as in those cases in which we are deliberating as to anything, we look to the future rather than to the past, he admonishes us as to the shortness of the time that is to come.
As though they had none All things that are connected with the enjoyment of the present life are sacred gifts of God, but we pollute them when we abuse them. If the reason is asked, we shall find it to be this, that we always dream of continuance in the world, for it is owing to this that those things which ought to be helps in passing through it become hindrances to hold us fast. Hence, it is not without good reason, that the Apostle, with the view of arousing us from this stupidity, calls us to consider the shortness of this life, and infers from this, that we ought to use all the things of this world, as if we did not use them. For the man who considers that he is a stranger in the world uses the things of this world as if they were another’s — that is, as things that are lent us for a single day. The sum is this, that the mind of a Christian ought not to be taken up with earthly things, or to repose in them; for we ought to live as if we were every moment about to depart from this life. By weeping and rejoicing, he means adversity and prosperity; for it is customary to denote causes by their effects. (424) The Apostle, however, does not here command Christians to part with their possessions, but simply requires that their minds be not engrossed in their possessions. (425)
31.And they that use this world In the first clause there is the participle χρώμενοι (using,) in the second, there is a compound of it — καταχρώμενοι (abusing.) Now the preposition κατα in a compound state is generally taken in a bad sense, or at least denotes intensity. (426) Paul, therefore, directs us to a sober and frugal use of things, such as may not impede or retard our course, but may allow of our always hastening forward toward the goal.
For the fashion of this world passeth away By the term here used, the Apostle has elegantly expressed the vanity of the world. “There is nothing,” says he, “that is firm or solid; (427) for it is a mere show or outward appearance, as they speak.” He seems, however, to have had an allusion to theatrical representations, in which, on the curtain being drawn up in a single moment, a new appearance is presented, and those things that held the eyes of the spectators in astonishment, are immediately withdrawn from their view. I do not see why it is that Erasmus has preferred the term habitus (form.) He certainly, in my opinion, obscures Paul’s doctrine; for the term fashion is tacitly opposed to substance. (428)
32.But I would wish you. He returns to the advice which he had spoken of, (1 Corinthians 7:25,) but had not as yet fully explained, and in the outset he pronounces, as he is wont, a commendation upon celibacy, and then afterwards allows every one the liberty of choosing what he may consider to suit him best. It is not, however, without good reason that he returns so frequently to proclaim the advantages of celibacy, for he saw that the burdens of matrimony were far from light. The man who can exempt himself from them, ought not to refuse such a benefit, and it is of advantage for those who resolve to marry, to be forewarned of those inconveniences, that they may not afterwards, on meeting with them unexpectedly, give way to despondency. This we see happens to many, for having promised themselves unmixed honey, on being disappointed in that expectation, they are very readily cast down by the slightest mishap. (429) Let them know, therefore, in good time, what they have to expect, that they may be prepared to endure everything patiently. The meaning is this: “Marriage brings along with it hindrances, from which I should wish you to be free and exempt.”
As, however, he has previously made use of the term trouble, (1 Corinthians 7:28,) and now makes mention of cares or anxieties, it may admit of doubt whether they have a different signification, or not. I am of opinion that the trouble referred to is what arises from things of a distressing nature, such as loss of children, widowhood, quarrels, and little differences, (as lawyers speak,) (430) many occasions of dislike, faults of children, difficulty in bringing up a family, and the like. The anxieties, on the other hand, are, in my opinion, connected with things that are joyful, as for example marriage fooleries, jests, and other things with which married persons are taken up. (431)
He that is unmarried careth for the things of the Lord. Mark the kind of exemption from anxieties that he desires in behalf of Christians — that they may devote to the Lord all their thoughts and aims. This, he says, belongs to celibacy; and therefore he desires all to enjoy this liberty. He does not mean, however, that it is invariably so in unmarried life, as experience shows it to be quite otherwise in priests, monks, and nuns, than whose celibacy nothing can be conceived to be farther from God. Add to this the many base fornicators who abstain from marriage for the very purpose of having greater liberty for the indulgence of lust, and that their vice may not appear. Where there is burning, (1 Corinthians 7:9,) no love of God can exist. But Paul’s meaning is this — that an unmarried person is free, and is not hindered from thinking of the things of God. The pious make use of this liberty. Others turn everything to their own destruction.
33.He that is married careth for the things of the world. By the things of the world you must understand the things that belong to the present life; for the world is taken here to mean the condition of this earthly life. But from this someone will infer, that all, therefore, who are married are strangers to the kingdom of God, (432) as thinking of nothing but this earth. I answer, that the Apostle speaks only of a portion of the thoughts, as though he had said: “They have one eye directed to the Lord, but in such a way as to have the other directed to their wife; for marriage is like a burden, by which the mind of a pious man is weighed down, so that he does not move God-ward with so much alacrity.” Let us always, however, bear in mind, that these evils do not belong to marriage, but proceed from the depravity of men. Hence the calumnies of Jerome, (433) who scrapes together all these things for the purpose of bringing marriages into disrepute, fall. For, were any one to condemn agriculture, merchandise, and other modes of life, on this ground, that amidst so many corruption’s of the world, there is not one of them that is exempt from certain evils, who is there that would not smile at his folly? Observe, then, that whatever evil there is in marriage, has its origin somewhere else; for at this day a man would not have been turned away from the Lord by the society of his wife, if he had remained in a state of innocence, and had not corrupted the holy institution of God; but a wife would have been a help-meet to him in everything good, as she was created for that end. (Genesis 2:18.)
But some one will say: “If anxieties that are faulty and blameworthy are invariably connected with marriage, how is it possible for married persons to call upon God, and serve him, with a pure conscience?” I answer, that there are three kinds of anxieties. There are some that are evil and wicked in themselves, because they spring from distrust. Of these Christ speaks in Matthew 6:25 : There are others that are necessary, and are not displeasing to God; as, for example, it becomes the father of a family to be concerned for his wife and children, and God does not mean that we should be mere stumps, so as to have no concern as to ourselves. The third class are a mixture of the two former; when we are anxious respecting those things as to which we ought to feel anxiety, but feel too keenly excited, in consequence of that excess which is natural to us. Such anxieties, therefore, are not by any means wrong in themselves, but they are corrupt, in consequence of αταξια, that is to say, undue excess. And the Apostle did not intend merely to condemn here those vices by which we contract guilt in the sight of God, but he desires in a general way, that we may be freed from all impediments, so as to be wholly at leisure for the service of God.
And is divided. It is surprising how there has come to be so much diversity upon this passage. For the common Greek version is so widely different from the old Latin translation, that the diversity cannot be ascribed to mistake or inadvertence, in the way in which a mistake often happens in a single letter or a single word. Now the Greeks commonly read it literally, “He that is married thinks of the things of the world, how he may please his wife: a married woman and a virgin are divided: She that is unmarried, thinketh of the things of the Lord,” etc. And being divided they understand as meaning to differ, as if it had been said: “There is a great difference between a married woman and a virgin; for the one is at leisure to attend to the things of God exclusively, while the other is taken up with various matters.” But as this interpretation is somewhat at variance with the simple meaning of the word, I do not approve of it, especially as the meaning of the other reading (which is found also in some Greek manuscripts) is more suitable and less forced. We may, accordingly, understand it in this manner — that a man who is married is divided, (434) inasmuch as he devotes himself partly to God and partly to his wife, and is not wholly and exclusively God’s.
34.The unmarried woman and the virgin. What he had laid down as to men he now declares in like manner as to women — that virgins and widows are not prevented by earthly things from devoting their whole cares and their whole affections to God. Not that all act this part, but that there is opportunity for it, if the mind is so disposed. When he says, that she may be holy in body and in spirit, he shows what kind of chastity is true and acceptable to God — when the mind is kept unpolluted in the sight of God. Would to God that this were more carefully attended to! As to the body, we see what kind of devotement to the Lord there commonly is on the part of monks, nuns, and the whole scum of the Papistical clergy, than whose celibacy nothing can be imagined that is more obscene. (435) But not to speak at present of chastity of body, where is there one to be found among those that are held in admiration in consequence of their reputation for continency, that does not burn with base lusts? We may, however, infer from this statement of Paul, that no chastity is well pleasing to God that does not extend to the soul as well as to the body Would to God that those who prate in such haughty terms as to continency, did but understand that they have to do with God! They would not be so confident in their contendings with us. At the same time, there are none in the present day who dispute on the subject of continency in more magnificent style than those who are openly and in the most shameless manner guilty of fornication. But though they should conduct themselves ever so honorably in the sight of men, that is nothing, if they do not keep their minds pure and exempt from all uncleanness.
35.And this for your benefit. Observe the Apostle’s moderation. (436) Though he knew the vexations, troubles, and difficulties of the married life, and, on the other hand, the advantages of celibacy, yet he does not venture to prescribe. On the contrary, having commended celibacy, and being afraid that some of his readers might be led away by such commendations, and might straightway say within themselves what the Apostles said in reply to Christ — It is good, therefore, so to be, (Matthew 19:10) (437) — not in the meantime taking into view their ability, he here declares in express terms, that he points out, indeed, what is most advantageous, but does not wish to impose a necessity upon any one.
And here you have two things worthy of observation. The first is, for what purpose celibacy is to be desired — not on its own account, nor on the ground of its being a state that is nearer to perfection, but that we may cleave to God without distraction — that being the one thing that a Christian man ought exclusively to look to during his whole life. The second thing is, that no snare must be put upon men’s consciences, so as to keep back any one from marriage, but that every one must have liberty allowed him. It is well known what grievous errors have been fallen into on both these points. As to the second point, those assuredly have been bolder than Paul, who have not shrunk from passing a law respecting celibacy, with the view of prohibiting the whole of the clergy from matrimony. The same may be said of those who have made vows of perpetual continency, which are snares by which not a few myriads of souls have been drawn into endless ruin. Hence, if the Holy Spirit has spoken by the mouth of Paul, Papists cannot clear themselves from the crime of fighting against God, (Acts 5:39,) while binding men’s consciences in a matter in which He designed that they should remain free unless, perhaps, He (438) has since that time adopted a new plan, so as to construct a snare, which he had previously disapproved of.
36.But if any one thinketh that it were unseemly for his virgin. He now directs his discourse to parents, who had children under their authority. For having heard the praises of celibacy, and having heard also of the inconveniences of matrimony, they might be in doubt, whether it were at all a kind thing to involve their children in so many miseries, lest it should seem as if they were to blame for the troubles that might befall them. For the greater their attachment to their children, so much the more anxiously do they exercise fear and caution on their account. (439) Paul, then, with the view of relieving them from this difficulty, teaches that it is their duty to consult their advantage, exactly as one would do for himself when at his own disposal. (440) Now he still keeps up the distinction, which he has made use of all along, so as to commend celibacy, but, at the same time, to leave marriage as a matter of choice; and not simply a matter of choice, but a needful remedy for incontinency, which ought not to be denied to any one. In the first part of the statement he speaks as to the giving of daughters in marriage, and he declares that those do not sin in giving away their daughters in marriage, who are of opinion that an unmarried life is not suitable for them.
The word ἀσχημονεῖν (to be unseemly) must be taken as referring to a special propriety, which depends on what is natural to the individual; for there is a general propriety, which philosophers make to be a part of temperance. That belongs equally to all. There is another, that is special, because one thing becomes one individual that would not be seemly in another. Every one therefore should consider (as Cicero observes) what is the part that nature has assigned to him. (441) Celibacy will be seemly for one, but he must not measure all by his own foot; (442) and others should not attempt to imitate him without taking into view their ability; for it is the imitation of the ape — which is at variance with nature. If, therefore, a father, having duly considered his daughter’s disposition, is of opinion that she is not prepared for celibacy, let him give her away in marriage. (443)
Bythe flower of her age he means the marriageable age. This lawyers define to be from twelve to twenty years of age. Paul points out, in passing, what equity and humanity ought to be exercised by parents, in applying a remedy in that tender and slippery age, when the force of the disease requires it. And it requires to be so. In this clause I understand him as referring to the girl’s infirmity — in the event of her not having the gift of continency; for in that case, necessity constrains her to marry. As to Jerome’s making a handle of the expression sinneth not, for reviling marriage, with a view to its disparagement, as if it were not a praiseworthy action to dispose of a daughter in marriage, it is quite childish. (444) For Paul reckoned it enough to exempt fathers from blame, that they might not reckon it a cruel thing to subject their daughters to the vexations connected with marriage.
37.But he who standeth firm in his heart. Here we have the second part of the statement, in which he treats of young women who have the gift of abstaining from marriage. He commends therefore those fathers who make provision for their tranquillity; but let us observe what he requires. In the first place, he makes mention of a steadfast purpose — If any one has fully resolved with himself. You must not, however, understand by this the resolution formed by monks — that is, a voluntary binding over to perpetual servitude — for such is the kind of vow that they make; but he expressly makes mention of this firmness of purpose, because mankind often contrive schemes which they next day regret. As it is a matter of importance, he requires a thoroughly matured purpose.
In the second place he speaks of the person as having no necessity; for many, when about to deliberate, bring obstinacy with them rather than reason. And in the present case (445) they do not consider, when they renounce marriage, what is in their power, but reckon it enough to say — “such is my choice. ” Paul requires them to have power, that they may not decide rashly, but according to the measure of the grace that has been given them. The absence of necessity in the case he appropriately expresses in the following clause, when he says that they have power over their own will. For it is as though he had said — “I would not have them resolve before knowing that they have power to fulfill, for it is rash and ruinous (446) to struggle against an appointment of God.” But, “according to this system,” some one will say, “vows are not to be condemned, provided these conditions were annexed.” I answer that, as to the gift of continency, as we are uncertain respecting the will of God as to the future, we ought not to form any determination for our whole life. Let us make use of the gift as long as it is allowed us. In the meantime, let us commit ourselves to the Lord, prepared to follow whithersoever he may call us (Revelation 14:4.)
Hath decreed in his heart. Paul seems to have added this to express the idea more fully, that fathers ought to look carefully on all sides, before giving up anxiety and intention as to giving away their daughters in marriage. For they often decline marriage, either from shame or from ignorance of themselves, while, in the meantime, they are not the less wanton, or prone to be led astray (447) Parents must here consider well what is for the interests of their daughters, that by their prudence they may correct their ignorance, or unreasonable desire.
Now this passage serves to establish the authority of parents, which ought to be held sacred, as having its origin in the common rights of nature. Now if in other actions of inferior moment no liberty is allowed to children, without the authority of their parents, much less is it reasonable that they should have liberty given them in the contracting of marriage. And that has been carefully enacted by civil law, but more especially by the law of God. So much the more detestable, then, is the wickedness of the Pope, who, laying aside all respect, either for Divine or human laws, has been so daring as to free children from the yoke of subjection to their parents. It is of importance, however, to mark the reason. This, says he, is on account of the dignity of the sacrament. Not to speak of the ignorance of making marriage a sacrament, what honor is there, I beseech you, or what dignity, when, contrary to the general feeling of propriety in all nations, and contrary to God’s eternal appointment, they take off all restraints from the lusts of young persons, that they may, without any feeling of shame, sport themselves, (448) under pretense of its being a sacrament? Let us know, therefore, that in disposing of children in marriage, the authority of parents is of first-rate importance, provided they do not tyrannically abuse it, as even the civil laws restrict it. (449) The Apostle, too, in requiring exemption from necessity, (450) intimated that the deliberations of parents ought to be regulated with a view to the advantage of their children. Let us bear in mind, therefore, that this limitation is the proper rule — that children allow themselves to be governed by their parents, and that they, on the other hand, do not drag their children by force to what is against their inclination, and that they have no other object in view, in the exercise of their authority, than the advantage of their children.
38.Therefore he that giveth in marriage. Here we have the conclusion from both parts of the statement, in which he states, in a few words, that parents are free from blame if they give away their daughters in marriage, while he at the same time declares that they do better if they keep them at home unmarried. You are not, however, to understand that celibacy is here preferred to marriage, otherwise than under the exception which was a little before expressed. For if power be wanting on the part of the daughter, (451) the father acts an exceedingly bad part if he endeavors to keep her back from marriage, and would be no longer a father to her, but a cruel tyrant. The sum of the whole discussion amounts to this — that celibacy is better than marriage, because it has more liberty, so that persons can serve God with greater freedom; but at the same time, that no necessity ought to be imposed, so as to make it unlawful for individuals to marry, if they think proper; and farther, that marriage itself is a remedy appointed by God for our infirmity, (452) which all ought to use that are not endowed with the gift of continency. Every person of sound judgment will join with me in acknowledging and confessing, that the whole of Paul’s doctrine on this point is comprehended in these three articles.
39.The wife is bound He had previously spoken indiscriminately of husbands and wives, but as wives, on account of the modesty of their sex, might seem to have less liberty, he has thought it necessary to give in addition some special directions in reference to them. He now, therefore, teaches that women are not less at liberty than men to marry a second time, on their becoming widows. (453) We have already mentioned above, that those who desired a second marriage were branded with the reproach of intemperance, and that, with the view of putting some kind of slight upon them, those who had been contented with being once married, were wont to be presented with the “chaplet of chastity.” Nay more, this first opinion had, in course of time, become prevalent among Christians; for second marriages had no blessing pronounced upon them, and some Councils prohibited the clergy from being present on such occasions. The Apostle here condemns tyranny of that sort, and declares, that no hindrance ought to be thrown in the way of widows’ marrying, if they think proper.
It is of little consequence, and so far as the sense is concerned it matters nothing, whether we say that the wife is bound legi , (to the law,) in the dative, or lege , (by the law,) in the ablative. For it is the law that declares the connection between husband and wife to be indissoluble. If, however, you read it in the dative, the term will convey the idea of authority or obligation. (454) Now he reasons from contraries; for if a woman is bound to her husband for life, she is, then, set at liberty by his death. After she has been set at liberty, let her be married to whom she will
When the verb to sleep means to die, (455) it refers not to the soul, but to the body, as is manifest from its constant use in Scripture. (456) It is a foolish part, therefore, that is acted by certain fanatics, who, from this little word, make it their endeavor to prove that the souls of men, after being separated from their bodies, are destitute of thought and intelligence, or, in other words, of their life.
Only in the Lord This is thought to be added for the purpose of admonishing them in passing, that they ought not to yoke themselves with the irreligious, or to covet their society. This, I acknowledge, is true, but I am of opinion that more is meant that they should do this in a religious way, and in the fear of the Lord, (457) for it is in this manner that marriages are formed auspiciously.
40.But she is happier if she so abide Why? Is it because widowhood is of itself a virtue? No; but because it will have less to distract, and is more exempt from earthly cares. As to what he adds — according to my judgment, he does not mean by this expression that his opinion was doubtful; but it is as if he had said that such was his decision as to this question; for he immediately adds that he has the Spirit of God, which is sufficient to give full and perfect authority. There appears, at the same time, to be somewhat of irony when he says I think For as the false apostles were ever and anon boasting in high-sounding terms of their having the Spirit of God, for the purpose of arrogating to themselves authority, and in the meantime endeavored to derogate from that of Paul, he says that he thinks that he is not less a partaker of the Spirit than they
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter