ŇYe have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.Ó Matthew 5:27-28
ŇYe have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adulteryÓ (v.27)
Here, our Saviour Christ goeth about to restore the seventh commandment, touching adultery, to its true sense and meaning, and so to its proper and right use, by purging it from the false and erroneous interpretation of the Jews; for which end, He first lays down the false interpretation of the Scribes and Pharisees (v.27), and then adjoineth the true sense thereof (v.28 especially); yet so as He continueth the same in the verses following.
I. For the first; before the interpretation of the Jewish teachers, He prefixes this preface: Ye have heard that it hath been said of old time; or, of the ancient teachers; the meaning and use whereof we have before shewed (v.21). Then after follow the words of the seventh commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery; which are the proper words of the Holy Ghost; yet here must not they be taken in that sense which the Scribes and Pharisees gave unto them; for the better conceiving whereof, this one thing especially must be opened; namely, what is adultery here forbidden. Adultery properly is the breach of wedlock by such parties, some one whereof, at the least, is either married or espoused. I call it the breach of wedlock, to note the property of this sin, which is not in any other sin, unless it be of this kind, though the sin be far more grievous. Idolatry is a more heinous sin than adultery, being a breach of both the first and second commandment of the first table; and yet it comes short of adultery in this quality of breaking wedlock; for wedlock may be kept of those which are idolaters. Secondly, I say, between any parties, if one be married; meaning the husband as well as the wife, to confute the opinion of some Jews, and by some laws also maintained, that the man hath a privilege above the woman, so as he breaketh not wedlock when he goeth into another woman besides his wife; which is false; for though he have a prerogative over his wife, in being her head, yet he hath no privilege to free him from matrimonial fidelity, but is as much bound to keep himself unto his wife, as she is to keep herself unto him. The preeminence of superiority cannot free the husband from the bond of marriage, the husband is bound to the wife as much as the wife is to the husband, and she hath power over his body, as much as he hath over hers (1 Cor. 7:4). Thirdly, I say, or espoused, because adultery is not only committed by such parties whereof one or both be fully married; but also by them, whereof one is single, and the other contracted only; and therefore is the same punishment (Deut. 22:22-24) allotted to both; for contract in right is marriage. Thus we see the sin here directly forbidden, according to the letter of the law. Now, though the Lord under this one includes all the sins of the same kind, as we shall anon perceive; yet the Pharisees took this literal signification for the whole meaning, and taught that the sin here forbidden was bodily adultery only; and so made the adultery of the heart to be no adultery; which exposition here Christ confutes.
1. First, here observe the fraud and cunning of these Pharisees; they would seem faithful interpreters of the law, in that they keep themselves so close to the words, that they will not pass one jot beyond the literal sense; but yet in the meantime they omit the full meaning and true use of the law. The like hath been the practice of heretics in all ages; as the Arians who denied that Christ was God, stuck fast to these words of Scripture (John 14:28) The Father is greater than I, and to such like. And the papists to uphold their breaden-god by transubstantiation, will needs keep the literal sense of these words of Christ, This is my body, whereby they overturn the nature of that sacrament. And the like might be shewed by sundry examples in all ages; whereby we are taught not to stand upon the propriety of the words of Scripture only, but to labour to have the true spiritual sense joined with them.
2. Secondly, here observe how grievous a sin adultery is, in that Christ by name doth expressly forbid it, among all the sins of this kind; yea, the very Pharisees do everywhere condemn it; for though they would easily dispense with disobedience to parents (Matt. 15:4-6), yet the woman taken in adultery must be put to death (John 8:4-5). The greatness of this sin might be shewed by many arguments; for if he be worse than an infidel, that careth not for his family (1 Tim. 5:8), then far worse is the adulterer, for he destroyeth his family. Solomon (we know) maketh adultery worse than theft (Prov. 6:30,32), and yet theft is a notorious sin, greatly hated, and severely punished of all nations. Again, adultery destroyeth the seminary of the church, which is a godly seed in the family ((Mal. 2:15), and it breaketh the covenant between the parties and God, it robs another of the precious ornament of chastity, which is a gift of the Holy Ghost, it dishonoureth their bodies, and maketh them the temples of the devil, and the adulterer maketh his family a stew; for as David dealt with Uriah; so his own son Absalom dealt with him. And lastly, it bringeth GodŐs vengeance upon the posterity; and therefore Job calleth it a fire which shall devour unto destruction (Job 31:12); yea, the greatness of GodŐs punishment upon adultery, partly in this life, and principally after death, may plainly shew the greatness of this sin; for this and other sins, God overthrew Admah and Zeboim, Sodom and Gomorrah, with fire and brimstone from heaven (Deut. 29:23); and the place where they stood is made a pool of poisoning water unto this day. And although the Lord does not shew such extraordinary revenge against sin, yet His wrath is a consuming fire against whole families, towns and kingdoms for this sin. Though David repented of his adultery, yet for that very sin, the sword must not depart from his house for ever (2 Sam. 12:10). And for the life to come, adulterers and whoremongers God will judge (Heb. 13:4). Again (1 Cor. 6:9), neither fornicators, nor adulterers etc. shall inherit the kingdom of God; they may repent, and so be saved, but then they cease to be adulterers.
Now if adultery be so grievous a sin, worse than theft etc., then we must wish that in all places, it were severely punished as theft is; would families be reformed, and become good seminaries, both for church and commonwealth. Secondly, the grievousness of GodŐs wrath against this sin, must admonish everyone to beware thereof, for it brings the besom of destruction to sweep it all away, both in church and commonwealth.
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.Ó (v. 28)
II. Here our Saviour Christ lays down the true sense of this commandment, and as we see, He speaketh as the law-giver and Prophet of His church, who hath absolute power to give laws and expound the same. But I say unto you: The Pharisees said that there was no adultery but that which was outward and bodily; but Christ plainly confuteth that and saith that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her; that is, desireth to increase his lust; he hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Here then our Saviour Christ setteth down two things touching the interpretation of this law: First, the occasion of adultery, which is looking to lust; Secondly, that the lust of the heart, that is, the motion and inward inclination of the heart unto this sin, is adultery before God, though it never come into action.
1. For the occasion: To look upon a woman is not sin, but may be done lawfully; yea, thereby a man and woman may glorify God, as the Queen of Sheba, by beholding SolomonŐs person (I Kin. 10:8), and hearing his wisdom, did take occasion to glorify God; but here is meant the abuse of the sight; that is idle looking, or curious looking of men upon women, or women upon men. Now idle looking is when one looketh without just cause; as when a man looketh with intent to lust. Thus did the sons of God behold the daughters of men (Gen. 6:2), by whose looking came lust, and for lust came the flood. So PotipharŐs wife (Gen. 39:7) first lifted up her eyes upon Joseph, and then lusted after him; and Dinah, JacobŐs daughter (Gen. 34:1), went out to see the daughters of the country, and to be seen again, and so when Shechem saw her, he lusted after her, and ravished her. So the prophet David (2 Sam. 11:2,3), living in peace and security, cast his eyes idly and curiously upon Bathsheba as she was washing herself, whereupon he lusted after her and so committed both adultery and murder. This idle and curious looking, St Peter calleth an adulterous eye (2 Pet. 2:14), both because it is the beginning of lust, and the increase thereof. But this sin is little regarded, and made a small matter with many, who can be content to come with Christian ears into the assemblies, and yet will bring with them idle and curious, yea adulterous eyes; but such persons which so abuse their sight, to the dishonour of God, must know that they may persuade themselves that grace enters into their hearts by hearing, yet undoubtedly by their idle and curious eyes, Satan enters into their soul, and keeps out GodŐs Word, whereby their soul should be renewed. We therefore must here be admonished to take heed how we use the sight of our eyes, especially when we are in the assemblies of the saints, and holy exercises; and to prevent this evil, it were to be wished that men and women would sort themselves, and not be mingled in the congregation, unless it were the husband with his own wife. Again if the idle and curious eye be the beginning of adultery, then we must learn with care to govern our eyes, as the servants of God have done. David prayed to the Lord (Psa. 119:37) to keep his eyes from regarding vanity. And Job, because he would avoid unchaste thoughts, made a covenant with his eyes not to look on a maid (Job 31:1).
Now as looking to lust is here forbidden; so by proportion are all other like occasions unto adultery; as first, reading of unchaste and wanton books of love matters, using light and wanton talk. Many are given to these kinds of delights, but they must know that therein they sin grievously, for they have not only a wanton eye, but a lascivious tongue also. Secondly, the acting of all such plays and comedies, the matter whereof is the representation of the light behaviour of men and women; for therein are idle and curious looks set forth to the eye, which ought not to be, being here condemned. Thirdly, the wearing of vain and light attire whereby others are provoked to cast their eyes upon them to lust; for if the light and wanton eye be condemned, then that which causeth it is much more condemned. This ought to be regarded; for light and foreign attire is a secret profession of an unchaste heart. Fourthly, mixed dancing of men and women in time and measure; for therein is more occasion and provocation unto lust, than by the bare beholding each other with the eye. Fifthly, evil company: so are the words of the apostle Paul out of an heathen poet (1 Cor. 15:33), Evil conversing corrupt good manners; which may well include the unseemly conversing of men with women, not warranted either by the general or particular calling. Sixthly, the pampering of the body with dainty meats or strong drinks; that was the sin of Sodom (Ezek. 16:49); and it is much more an occasion of lust than the bare sight of the eye. Seventhly, idleness and laziness, in not employing the body in some honest calling, for thereby also is lust incited.
And thus much for the meaning of this commandment, forbidding all occasion to adultery under a lustful eye.
Now considering that a man is guilty of adultery, that useth occasions thereof; hereby we mat see that we cannot excuse ourselves from the breach of this law; for though we be clean from the bodily outward act, yet who can say, My heart is clean? Who is free from the occasions thereof? As from a wanton eye, vain apparel, wanton speech, intemperance and the rest; all of which makes us culpable of this sin; and therefore we must lay our hands upon our mouths, and condemn ourselves of guilt before God. We must humble ourselves, acknowledging our sins and breaches of this commandment; and lastly, we must take heed of all occasions that may move or incite us unto lust and wantonness.
2. The second point which our Saviour Christ propoundeth in the interpretation of this law is this: that the lust of the heart, though it never come into act, is adultery. Now that we may know what our Saviour Christ meaneth by lust, sundry points are to be handled: First, how lust can be a sin, considering it is only a hidden desire of the heart; secondly, how lust can be a sin of the seventh commandment, seeing it is forbidden in the tenth; and thirdly, how great a sin lust is.
(1) For the first, that lust is a sin is thus proved: GodŐs law requireth obedience of the whole man, both in soul and body, and in every part, faculty and power thereof. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy strength (Matt. 22:37); and that obedience which cometh not from the whole man is sinful. Now when a man conceiveth unchaste thoughts in his heart, then his soul and mind and his affections have not done their duty unto God, and so he sinneth in lusting.
Yet this doctrine was never received of all, but some have still excepted against it, and their principal reasons are two:
(i) They say, lust is a natural inclination, desire and appetite, which was in Adam before his fall, and so cannot be a sin. Answer: Lust or appetite in the heart is not simply a sin; for so it is a natural desire which was in our first parents in their integrity; but to lust after that which God forbiddeth, that is the sin; as for a man to lust after a woman, or a woman after a man, not being man and wife, which we see here Christ condemneth.
(ii) They say, God blesseth adulterers and fornicators in their lust with the issue of seed in child-bearing, as well as man and wife in lawful marriage; and therefore it cannot be a sin. Answer: In adultery two things may be considered: the unlawful lust of the heart, and the act of generation. Now when God gives issue to adulterers and fornicators, it is no approbation of their sinful lust, but only a common blessing of natural generation, which is His own ordinance by creation; for howsoever God approves not of the sin, yet He preserves nature in sinful works. And thus we see that lust is sin.
(2) How can lust be a sin of the seventh commandment, seeing it is directly forbidden in the tenth; for in this brief Decalogue there is no needless repetition of anything? Answer: Lust is twofold: either without consent of will; as when unchaste desires come into the mind and heart, and are not entertained of the will, but be speedily checked so soon as they arise; and such lust is forbidden in the tenth commandment; or with consent of will, when a man is willing to entertain and cherish the thoughts that come into his mind, though he never puts them into practice; and these are forbidden in the seventh commandment.
(3) The greatness of this sin of lust: This is here expressed by Christ calling it adultery before God; as if He should say, Look how great a sin bodily adultery is before men, who punish the sin with death; even so great and heinous a sin before God is the inward unchaste lusting of the heart, whereto a man gives consent of will, though he never brings it into action; for this he stands culpable of adultery before God, and shall therefore be condemned, unless he repent.
The use of this third point is manifold:
(i) First, hereby we may learn how to examine ourselves by this seventh commandment; for our Saviour Christ here teacheth us that they which willingly retain unchaste desires with delight, though they never give their bodies to the outward act, are adulterers before God; and therefore when we would examine ourselves by this commandment, we must search our hearts, whether we have willingly retained therein any lustful thoughts; and if we have, we must know that we are guilty of adultery before God. And because none of us are free from this sin, it must humble us and cast us down before God as breakers of this commandment.
(ii) Secondly, if the lust of the heart be adultery before God, then we must with care and diligence learn the apostle PaulŐs lesson (2 Cor. 7:1), to purge ourselves from all uncleanness both of flesh and spirit; that is, we must labour to keep our hearts and minds pure and chaste, as well as our bodies. And to induce us hereunto, consider the reasons following: First, we all desire to see God, and to know His love in Christ for our comfort in this life, and salvation for ever. But without holiness and purity of heart, we can never see God (Heb. 12:14), nor know the comfort of His love; for when a man defiles his mind with unchaste thoughts, he depriveth himself of the taste of GodŐs favour, and of the experience of His love. Secondly, consider the state and condition of manŐs heart by effectual calling; it is the dwelling place and temple of the Holy Ghost (for when a man is in Christ, he liveth in Christ by faith, and Christ in him by His Spirit); now then look as men use to trim up their dwelling houses for the receiving of some noble guest, so ought we to keep our hearts pure and clean from unchaste lusts, that they may be fit habitations for the blessed Spirit of God. But by unchaste lusts, we make the heart a stable for the devil, and a cage of all unclean spirits. Thirdly, if we suffer our hearts now to burn with fleshly lust, we make an entrance in them for the burning of hell fire for ever; for these two always go together, burning lust and hell fire (unless repentance come between). And therefore if we would escape hell fire, we must quench the fire of lust, and cleanse our hearts from this uncleanness. Fourthly, by profession we seem to be the members of Christ; and if we would be so indeed, then we must take heed of unchaste lusts, for thereby we pull our hearts from Christ, and knit them to an harlot.
These and such like reasons must move us to avoid all unchaste desires; and for the preservation of chastity in our hearts, these rules must be observed:
First, the mind must be filled with godly meditations, and the Word of God must dwell in our hearts plenteously; for unchaste lusts do therefore arise in our hearts because we are idle minded, and empty of GodŐs Word. If that were truly engrafted in us, these wicked desires could not enter, or at least take no place in us. Secondly, we must often give ourselves to the spiritual exercises of faith, repentance and new obedience; as to the usual hearing, reading and meditating on GodŐs Word, to the often receiving of the LordŐs Supper, and to continual prayers, not only publicly, but privately especially; for these confirm GodŐs graces in the heart, and do even nip in the head all ungodly motions whatsoever. Thirdly, we must use sobriety in meat, drink and apparel; for ungodly lusts are kindled, fed and nourished with too much pampering of the body. Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim sinned most grievously in this kind through fulness of bread; and therefore we must use moderation in these things, that grace may be strengthened, and all evil lusts weakened in us. Fourthly, we must always be doing some good thing, either in our general calling of a Christian, or in our particular calling; yea, in our lawful recreation we must intend and practice good; for when men are idle, Satan fills their hearts with evil thoughts, and so defiles the same. Fifthly, men and women must not privately converse together, without warrant so to do, either from their general or particular calling, so as with good conscience they can say, the Lord doth call them so to converse; for the mutual conversing of men and women is the cause of many noisome lusts, and therefore neither men nor women without good warrant should thrust themselves into such occasion of temptations. Remember what the apostle saith (1 Cor. 15:33), Evil conversings corrupt good manners. The apostle Peter felt the smart of this boldness, though in another case; for coming to warm himself in CaiaphasŐ hall, without good warrant so to do, when a silly maid demanded of him whether he was not one of ChristŐs company, he denied him flatly, and that with cursing; and so many men and women conversing without warrant where they should not, do fall into many noisome sins; and when they think themselves most strong, then with Peter they have the greatest falls.