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The first scruple or case of conscience which the Corinthians wrote to the apostle about was concerning marriage. Amongst many other wicked opinions, which the Gnostics, those ancient heretics, maintained, this was one, That marriage was from the devil.
Our apostle elsewhere, Hebrews 13:4, asserts marriage to be holy and honourable; here he determines first in general, that such as have the gift of continency, and can live chaste in a single state, do well; and in particular, that a single life at that time was most advisable, and most agreeable to the calamitous and afflicted state of the church; so that when the apostle says in this verse, It is good for a man not to touch a woman, his meaning is, it is more agreeable to the present necessity, more convenient in regard of the persecuted state of the church, as being a condition less disturbed with cares, and less troubled with distraction: for marriage plunges men into an excess of worldly cares, it multiplies their business, and usually their wants, and those wants are hardlier supplied than in a single life, and more difficultly borne; it is much easier to bear personal wants than family wants: with respect to all which, says the apostle, especially as the present state of the church stands, it is good for a man not to touch a woman: not that it is at any time simply unlawful, but at sometimes manifestly inexpedient.
As if the apostle had said, "Such are the inclinations of human nature, that every man cannot always do that which is most for his own quiet and ease, but men find the strength of lust and the power of concupiscence so strong in themselves, that marriage, which is God's ordinance for avoiding fornication, and for the propagation of mankind, is of absolute necessity to some persons; therefore for avoiding fornication, and all sorts of uncleanness, (which was so common at Corinth) let every man retain his own wife, and every woman her own husband."
Here observe, 1. The apostle's expression: he says, Quisque et quaeque, not quidam et quaedam; let every man and every woman marry, not some men and some women only; he excepts none, neither priest nor nun, but every one is here permitted, yea, for avoiding fornication, commanded, to marry.
Observe farther, How the apostle directs every man to have his own wife, and every woman her own husband: more than one is forbidden; and polygamy, or the sin of having either more wives or more husbands at a time than one, is here condemned. To bridle and restrain men's extravagant lusts, the wisdom of God has directed every man to enjoy his own wife, and every woman her own husband.
Let the church of Rome consider how she will answer at the bar of God, for spitting in the face of this ordinance of God, for denying the lawfulness of marriage to her priests and nuns, when God has told her, that marriage is honourable in all, and that all unclean persons God will judge; Hebrews 13:4 and such too often have their priests and nuns been one with another.
Observe here, 1. That matrimonial conversation, or the husband's and wife's performing towards each other all the duties of marriage which they promised, is an act of justice, which they owe to one another: this is intimated in the word render, and consequently to deny the same is injustice and fraud: Defraud not one another. Marriage takes away from persons that power which they had over themselves and their own bodies, and transfers it in some sort to the person they are married to.
Yet observe, 2. That persons in a married state may, and in some cases ought, (namely, for religious ends and purposes,) by mutual consent to abstain from a conjugal duty for some time: Defraud not one another, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.
Observe, 3. The apostle lays no obligation upon any single persons to take upon them a vow for a single life, nor doth he direct married persons to those perpetual divorces from the marriage-bed, which the papists practise, under pretence of religion: for the apostle admits of no perpetual separation between husband and wife, upon any pretence whatever: no, not that they may give themselves to prayer and fasting; but only permits it for a time, upon condition that they come together again. So far was this holy man from laying a snare upon the consciences of any persons, either in a single or married state.
As if the apostle had said, "Mistake me not, as if I imposed marriage upon all persons as a duty: no, but I declare it is permitted to all as a remedy against fornication; for so far am I from that, that I could wish all men were unmarried, even as I myself am, and that they had the gift of continence with myself; but God, who will have the world yet farther continued and increased, hath not given this gift to all, nor to all alike in the same measure.
Therefore to the unmarried I say, that so many are the advantages of a single life, that if they can abide chaste and single, as I do, it will be many ways for their advantage: but if they cannot, let them use God's remedy, which is marriage; for it is better to marry, than to burn in lust, to be perpetually assaulted with unclean desires, and subject to the ravings and insults of lust."
Learn hence, 1. That marrying or not marrying is according to several circumstances, matter of advice and counsel, but neither of them absolutely of precept.
2. That second marriages are not only lawful, but an incumbent duty, if persons cannot contain themselves within the bounds and rules of chastity: To the widows I say, if they cannot contain, let them marry.
As if the apostle had said, Although it be no sin to marry, yet it is a sin to depart when married; herein I lay the authority of God's command upon you, that you agree together, and that no difference which may arise between you cause you to separate and live asunder. But to marry upon departure, is a double sin.
Therefore if any disagreements and discontents between husband and wife cause you to live asunder for a time, think not either of you of marrying to another person; but be reconciled to each other, and live together in love, as it becometh persons professing godliness.
A civil war in families is fatal, as well as in the commonwealth. Domestic contentions, especially betwixt husband and wife, are dangerous and destructive of love and peace. If at any time they arise to that height as to cause a separation betwixt them two who are one flesh, yet nothing of that nature can warrant their divorce; nothing but death or adultery can untie the marriage knot, and release them from their obligation to each other.
1. Here we have another case of conscience put by the Corinthians to the apostle; namely, whether such husbands as had heathen and infidel wives might put them away?
And whether such wives as had infidel husbands, might not, and ought not, to depart from them?
The apostle resolves the case, That they ought, according to the intent and end of marriage, to cohabit and dwell together: and he assigns the reason for it, because the unbelieving or infidel wife is sanctified to the believing or Christian husband.
Not in her nature, but in her use; so that they might lawfully cohabit and converse together, being by marriage made one flesh with him or her that is holy.
"And for our children," says he, "they are not seminally unclean, like the children of Heathens, but federally holy."
How are they holy?
Not with an inherent, internal, personal holiness; for the holiest man's child is born in sin, and by nature a child of wrath; but with an external, relative, and federal holines. They are not common and unclean, like the children of infidels, but fit to be partakers of the privileges of the church, to be admitted into covenant with God, as belonging to his holy people: Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.
Observe, He doth not say, Else were your children bastards, but now are they legitimate, (as the enemies of infant baptism, those duri infantum patres, would make them speak:) but else were they unclean, that is, Heathen children not to be owned as a holy seed, and therefore not to be admitted into covenant with God as belonging to his holy people.
If by holiness here the apostle means a matrimonial holiness, as the Anabaptists dream, then, according to their interpretation of the word holy, the apostle speaks neither pertinently nor truly.
Not pertinently, 1. For then the answer had been nothing to the purpose. The case put was concerning husbands and wives, not concerning men and whores; and the question propounded by the Corinthians, was not, whether a believing husband, and an unbelieving wife, were lawful man and wife together? nobody questioned that: but, whether the Christian husband might put away his heathen, wife?
The apostle answers, he ought not, if she were willing to dwell with him, for she is sanctified to him; not sanctified in respect of her personal condition, but in respect of her conjugal relation, otherwise their children would be looked upon as unclean, like the children of heathens: but now are they holy, that is, to be accounted visible saints, and as such to be admitted to church-privileges.
2. According to this interpretation of the word holy, the apostle had not spoken truly: for the children of heathens born in lawful wedlock, are no more bastards than the children of Christians; for their parents' marriage frees them from the charge of illegitimacy as well as others.
Add to this, that in all the New Testament, though the word holy be used above five hundred times, yet in never once signifies legitimacy, but is always used for a state of separation to God.
Therefore, to make it signify so here, is a bold practising upon scripture a racking and wresting of the word of God, to maintain a private opinion, to make the text speak what they would have, and not what the apostle intends.
But the argument for infant baptism from this text runs thus: "If the holy seed among the Jews were therefore to be circumcised and made federally holy, by receiving the sign of the covenant, and being admitted into the number of God's holy people, because they were seminally holy; for the root being holy, the branches were also holy: then by like reason the holy seed of Christians ought to be admitted to baptism, and receive the sign of the Christian covenant, the laver of regeneration, and so be entered into the society of the Christian church."
Here another doubt is resolved by the apostle, in case the unbelieving party, either husband or wife, depart, that is, refuse to cohabit and dwell with their believing yoke-fellow, and so make void, as much as in him or her lieth, the marriage-bond, out of hatred to the faith.
In that case, if they will go, let them; you are not bound to leave your family to follow them. However, let every Christian husband or wife omit nothing, but endeavour in every thing to the utmost, to oblige and win, to incline and engage, their unbelieving yoke-fellows to live quietly with them: for God hath called us to peace; and therefore we must give no occasion of quarrel with, or separation from, so near a relation.
And besides, by the peaceable dwelling together, there is hope of, and a fair opportunity for, the gaining and bringing over the unbeliever to the faith of Christ, and of being the instrument of his or her salvation. But however that may be, let every Christian discharge his duty in every relation in which God has set him.
This order I appoint in all churches to Christianity, knowing it to be agreeable to the mind of God, "That no Christian could pretend his profession of religion to excuse him from the duties of any relation."
Here the apostle proceeds to exhort the Corinthians to be content with the lot and condition which God had distributed unto them, and to frame themselves to walk Christianly in it.
Particularly he shows, That if any person amongst them were a native Jew, and so circumcised, and afterwards converted to Christianity, he should neither trouble himself to get off that mark from his flesh, nor affect the state of him who, being a Gentile, had never been circumcised.
On the other side, if any of them were native Gentiles, and never circumcised, but now converted to Christianity, let him not affect the state of one who was a native Jew, and circumcised: For circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing; that is, nothing now available to salvation, nothing that renders persons more or less acceptable in the sight of God; but the keeping of the commandments of God, this is all in all. For God regards not men's outward conditions, but obedience to his commands.
Christianity consists not in a warm zeal, either for or against outward ceremonies, but in positive holiness, and a strict conformity to divine precepts.
The apostle seems to intimate from these words, that some persons converted to Christianity in the primitive times, apprehended that thereupon they must leave their worldly callings and employments, as if they were snares to them, or unnecessary diversions from better things.
No, says the apostle, Let every one in his calling, wherein he is called, therein abide with God; that is, look in what honest, civil calling they were found when they became Christians, let them keep to that calling still. For God doth not call us from our worldly employments and business, but calls us to be holy in them ; nor doth our serving God any whit acquit or discharge us from serving one another.
But particularly it was the opinion of some servants converted to Christianity, that their spiritual freedom by Christ exempted them from all civil service to their masters. The apostle therefore tells them they are indeed freed by Christ, from sinful slavery, but not from civil servitude and subjection; from Jewish bondage, but not from Christian obedience.
Learn hence, That Christianity doth not free men from any civil obligations which before they lay under. Our advantages by Christ are spiritual, and not secular; no man's outward condition is changed by his becoming a Christian; though he be now the Lord's freeman, yet he is a servant still, if he was so before; nay, their Christianity did not exempt them from their secular relation to their heathen and infidel masters. A service to man doth not exempt us from, nor is inconsistent with, the service of God; so our spiritual calling doth not make void our civil; Therefore let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
The next case, which our apostle comes to resolve, is concerning virgins; whether they, being at their own disposal, should marry or keep themselves single? He tells them, first, that he had no special command whereby the state of virginity was either enjoined or prohibited, but he would faithfully give his advice according to the best of his judgment. And this he doth in two particulars:
First, That by reason of the present distress, and danger of persecution, which threatened the church, it was most convenient, that such as were single should continue so, if it might lawfully be done.
Yet, secondly, He declares, that if they marry, they do not sin; only they will be exposed to more troubles as the church's troubles do increase.
Here note, 1. That the apostle pronounces marriage lawful in all persons of both sexes, and not sinful at any time, or in any state or condition whatsoever.
Note, 2. That he signifies to all persons, That the troubles of a married life are more than those which attend a single state: Such shall have trouble in the flesh.
Marriage plunges men into an excess of worldly cares; it multiplies their business, and usually their wants; and their wants are far hardlier borne than in a single life.
Note, 3. That besides the ordinary inconveniences of a married life, which all persons are to expect, such as enter the married condition, when the church is under persecution must prepare to meet with more than ordinary troubles.
Such, that is, in those times of persection, shall have trouble, that is, more trouble in the flesh. But I spare you; that is, "I forbear to speak any more of that matter, lest I should seem to dissuade you from marriage, which is the ordinance of God, more than is fit, and be thought by any to lay the yoke of celibacy, or a single life, upon you. I only tell you, that when Christians are under persecution and distress, it is much more for their ease and quiet to be single, than to have a wife and children to care for in poverty or flight."
As if he had said, "Let all persons, both married and unmarried, consider that the time of this life is short and passing; it is but a point of time we have to live, and shortly it will not be a pin to choose whether we had wives or not, or children or not; but before the expected fruits or the comforts be ripe, we ourselves may be rotten. It is therefore true spiritual wisdom to look upon these things now, as they will be shortly; to be very moderate in the enjoyment of them, not to be too much affected when we have them, or too much afflicted when we want them."
Observe here, 1. The apostle's proposition: The time is short. This is true in all the notions of it.
Take it first for the whole duration of this world, from the day of its creation to the hour of is dissolution; compare it with what succeeds it, eternity; and it is very short, but a moment.
Secondly, Take time for the whole duration of any one man's life, so 'tis shorter; so short, that it is nothing.
Thirdly, Take time for the special season, either of doing or enjoying good in this life, so 'tis shortest of all.
Observe, 2. The inference which the apostle draws from this proposition: therefore let them that have wives, be as if they had none, &c.
Learn thence, That the consideration of the great shortness of time, and the uncertainty of human life, should keep our hearts in a great deal of moderation towards the best and sweetest of our outward comforts and enjoyments: That we neither love inordinately any mercy when we enjoy it, nor mourn immoderately for any contentment when we come to be deprived of it. They that weep as though they wept not; and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not.
Observe, 3. The advice which the apostle gives to such as have great possessions and revenues in this world.
(1.) To take heed that though they possess these things, that they be not possessed by them.
(2.) That they so use them as not to abuse them, nor be abused by them.
There is much evil in the world; yet we may, we must use it, and it will be our wisdom to make a good use of this world while we are in it; otherwise we neither answer the end of God in sending us into the world, nor the design of God in trusting us with the good things of this world.
Observe, 4. The reason assigned why we should use the world in the aforementioned manner: because the fashion of this world passeth away. Here the apostle compares the things of this world to a scene which is presently changed,and vanisheth almost as soon as it appears. As fashions in this world alter, so doth the fashion of this world alter every day. There is a world to come, the fashion whereof shall never pass away; but the fashion or scheme of this world passeth away continually. This world is like a stage, persons interchangeably act their parts upon it, but they soon disappear, and the stage itself ere long will be pulled down; The fashion of this world passeth away.
Thence learn, That this consideration, that all the comforts and conveniences of this life are fading and passing away from us, should be a strong motive and inducement to us not to set our hearts upon them.
Here our apostle subjoins another reason why a single life is to be preferred before a married life; namely, because single persons are comparatively more free from cares and distractions, and have commonly more time and leisure to attend upon the Lord in religious duties. For the unmarried man has but one care upon him, namely, how he may serve and please God; but the married man has another care upon him, to wit, how he amy oblige and please his wife.
In like manner, a married woman is encumbered with household affairs, disturbed with domestic affairs, and concerned in lawful things to please her husband; and consequently has neither so much time nor freedom for holy exercises. But the virgin that has no family to care for, no husband to seek to please, has more leisure to attend upon God in his holy duties and religious exercises; therefore he advises them to choose that state of life in which they may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
Learn hence, 1. That a married condition is certainly and necessarily attended with many diversions and distractions, from which a single life is free.
Learn, 2. That persons in a conjugal relation may and ought to seek the obliging and pleasing one another with their utmost endeavours, without violating their duty to Almighty God.
Learn, 3. That persons in a single state have great advantages (may they improve them!) of serving God above others, in regard of their freedom from domestic cares, troubles, and temptations; they have time and leisure for pious performances, if the heart be disposed for them.
Learn, 4. That it is the duty, and ought to be the endeavour, of all persons, both married and unmarried, not only to serve God in religious duties, but to attend upon him in them, as much as may be, without distraction.
Distractions are the wanderings of the heart, mind, and thoughts, from God in religious duties. The nature of God requires, that we watch and strive against them; his majesty and greatness, his purity and holiness, his omniscience and all-seeing eye upon us, and within us, do oblige us to this careful endeavour; and the nature of his worship calls for it, which is a reasonable service, and a spiritual service; and the nature of distractions should make us dread them. They divide the heart, they deaden the duty, contract guilt, and provoke displeasure. Lord, help us, in all the services we perform unto thee, to attend upon them without distraction!
The next case, which our apostle speaks to, is concerning virgins, who are under the power of others, (and not at their own disposal,) as parents and guardians, namely, whether it be best and most advisable for them to dispose of their virgins in marriage or not?
The apostle answers, that in this case particular respect must be had to particular circumstances; as, namely, if she be of marriageable years, and be fully satisfied in his own mind that he wrongs not his daughter in declining to marry her, if he has a perfect freedom in his own will, and his will is not contradicted by his daughter's desire, he doth well, yea, he doth best, not to marry her; best, with respect to the distressed condition of the church, best, with respect to the troubles of the world, which she will be the more free from; and best, with respect to the young woman's liberty and freedom for the service of God, and the exercises of religion.
Learn hence, That although children are to be disposed of in marriage by their parents, yet parents have no such absolute power over their children, as to hinder them from marriage, or to compel them to it. To do either is very sinful, very unnatural.
The apostle concludes the chapter with a resolution of the case of conscience; namely, whether second marriages of widows were lawful or not?
He answers, They were. After the first husband was dead, the widow might marry again, provided that she married in the Lord: that is, with a believer, not an infidel; with one of the same faith with herself.
It is very dangerous and sinful for persons professing the true faith of Christ to match with idolaters. There is far greater ground of fear that they will pervert you, than there is ground of hope that you shall convert them.
But though the apostle asserts it lawful for widows to marry again, yet he declares, that in regard of the present danger which the church was in of persecution, they would be more happy in their widowhood.
So that the determination of the apostle, as to the case of marriage and a single life is concluded thus: "That ordinarily, where there is no necessity, a single life is more for a person's peace, more free from distractions in God's service, and therefore best."
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24