THE WORD: The seventh Commandment

“Joseph and Potiphar's Wife“ by Guido Reni (circa 1631) is a painting in the collection of the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. (Public Domain)

This series explores the Ten Commandments through the words and admonishments of Arthur Pink.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The virtues of purity are the basis of the domestic relations, and as the family is the foundation of human society, the class of duties here involved is second only to those which preserve man’s existence. Hence it is that, immediately following the commandment which declares the sacredness of human life, there is that precept that is a hedge about relationship of creaturehood, thus safeguarding the holy function of the procreation of life. Nothing is more essential for the social order than that the relationship upon which all others are subsequently based should be jealously protected against every form of attack. The commandment is a simple, unqualified, irrevocable negative: “thou shalt not.” No argument is used, no reason is given, because none is required. This sin is so destructive and damning that the mere mention of its name is, in itself, sufficient cause for this stern forbidding.

This commandment plainly intimates that God claims the body as well as the soul for His service. For a Christian, this sin is sacrilege. “Know you not that your body is the temple of the holy Spirit which is in you… ?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). If Christ was indignant when He saw the house of God turned into a den of thieves, how much more heinous in His sight must be that wickedness which debases the temple of the Holy Spirit.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This prohibition is designed to guard the sanctity of the home, for strictly speaking “adultery” is a crime which none but a married person can commit–“fornication” being the name of it when done by one who is single. This commandment respects more especially the government of the affections and passions, the keeping of our minds and bodies in such a chaste frame that nothing impure or immodest may defile us. It requires the proper discipline of those inclinations which God has implanted for the increase of the human species. Therefore we are to avoid everything that may be an occasion of this sin, using all proper means and methods to prevent all temptations.
How God regards sins of impurity has been made clear by many passages in His Word. This sin, even on the part of an unmarried man, is called “great wickedness against God” (Genesis 39:9). Then how much more inexcusable and intolerable is it on the part of a married person. The temporal punishment meted out to it under the civil law of Israel was no less than death, the same that was meted out to murder.

To prevent this sin, God has instituted the ordinance of marriage. “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2) . The sin of adultery is therefore the violation of the marriage covenant and vow, and so adds perjury to infidelity. Though marriage is the appointed remedy for the sin of sexual impurity, that does not grant man the license to make a beast of himself.

“Let it not be supposed by married persons that all things are lawful to them. Every man should observe sobriety towards his wife, and every wife, reciprocally, towards her husband; conducting themselves in such a manner as to do nothing unfitting the decorum and temperance of marriage. For thus ought marriage contracted in the Lord to be regulated by moderation and modesty, and not to break out into the vilest lasciviousness. Such sensuality has been stigmatized by Ambrose with a severe but not unmerited censure, when he calls those who in their conjugal fellowship have no regard to modesty, the adulterers of their own wives” (Calvin).

Let no man flatter himself with the idea that he cannot be charged with unchastity because he has abstained from the actual deed while his heart is a cesspool of defiling imaginations and desires. Because God’s Law is “spiritual” (Romans 7:14), it not only forbids the gross outward acts of filthiness, but it prohibits and condemns unchastity of heart as well–all unlawful imaginations and contemplations. As there is such a thing as heart murder, so there is heart adultery, and he who commits speculative impurity and prostitutes his thoughts and imaginations to the impure embraces of lust is guilty of transgressing this commandment. “Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

This commandment forbids degrees to the sin prohibited, as looking in order to lust. Its force is, You shall in no way injure your neighbor’s chastity or tempt to impurity. Unclean conduct before marriage on the part of man or woman is a wrong done against the marriage to be. Though this commandment is expressed in the form of a negative prohibition, yet positively it enjoins all the opposite duties, such as cleanliness of the body, filling the mind with holy objects, setting our affection on things above, and spending our time in profitable occupations.

Arthur W. Pink, born in Nottingham, England, in 1886, pastored churches in Colorado, California, Kentucky and South Carolina. He moved to Sydney, Australia, and then returned to England in 1934. Pink relocated to Lewis, Scotland, in 1940 and remained there until his death in 1952 at the age of 66.