THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
The following commandments are now easy to be understood in themselves from the interpretationof the preceding; for they all tend to the protection of our neighbor against every kind of injury. They are, indeed, arranged in a judicious order. First, they secure his own person; second, they respect the person nearest himself, ro the nearest good next to his body, namely, his consort, who is one flesh and blood with him; so that no one can do him greater injury in any thing. It is for this reason explicitly said here, that we should bring no disgrace on his wife. And it speaks particularly concerning adultery; because, among the Jewish people every one was commanded to enter into the matrimonial state. Therefore youths were married at a very early age; consequently a state of virginity was of no moment among them; nor was a life of fornication or obscenity tolerated; hence adultery was the most general species of unchastity among them.
But inasmuch as there exists among us a shameful mixture of all kinds of vices, and lewdness of the basest order, this commandment is likewise directed against every species of unchastity, no matter how it may be called; and it forbids not only the outward act, but also every cause, inducement, and means, leading to it; so that our hearts, our lips, and our whole bodies may be chaste, giving no occasion, assistance, or advice tending to immorality. And not only so, but it also requires us to guard, protect, and rescue our neighbor where there is danger or necessity; and, moreover, to assist and advise him, so that he may sustain his honor. For, if you tolerate this, when you are able to prevent it, or if you connive at it, as if it did not concern you, you are guilty, as well as the perpetrator himself. This commandment, then, briefly requires each of us to live chaste himself, and also to assist his neighbor in doing so. For God wishes the consort of every one to be secured and protected, by this commandment, against insult and outrage.
But inasmuch as this commandment has so express a reference to a state of matrimony, and since we have occasion to speak of it, you should in the first place observe how highly God honors and requires this estate, in confirming and protecting it by his command. He has confirmed it above in the fourth commandment: "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother." But here, as we have said, he has secured it. He therefore desires us also to honor it, and to observe and use it as a holy, blessed state, since he has instituted it superior to all others; and for this reason he created male and female differently, as it is evident, not for lustful or licentious purposes, but in order that they might live together in a state of matrimony, and be fruitful, nourishing their families, and rearing them up to the honor of God.
For this reason God has also most abundantly blessed it above all other states; and besides, he has crowned it with all things in the world, and committed all things to it, in order that this state might be richly and amply provided for. Consequently, the state of matrimony is no jest or device; but it is a sacred and a divine reality; for, to operate against vice and Satan, it is of the utmost importance to God, that persons be reared up to serve the public, to promote the knowledge of God, a happy life, and all virtues.
Wherefore, I have always taught that no one should contemn this state, nor hold it as dishonorable, as the blind world and our false ecclesiastics do; but it should be viewed according to the Word of God, with which it is adorned and sanctified, so that it is not only set on an equality with other states, but that it is more exalted and excellent than all others, whether they be imperial, sovereign, episcopal, or whatever they may be. For both spiritual and secular estates must humble themselves, and all be found in this condition, as we shall hereafter hear. It is, therefore, not a particular, but a universal and an exalted state, which prevails and extends through all Christendom; yes, through the whole world.
In the second place, it is also necessary for you to know that this is not only an honorable state, but that it is also necessary and earnestly commanded of God, and that in general, in all conditions or occupations of life, male and female who are fitted for the enjoyment of matrimony, should be found living in these social ties; some few however excepted, whom God has peculiarly excluded, because they are not adapted to it, or whom he has exempted through extraordinary gifts, so that they are enabled to observe chastity without marriage. For where nature predominates, as implanted by the Creator, it is impossible to remain chaste without matrimony; for flesh and blood remain flesh and blood, and the natural inclinations and attractions maintain an unfettered, an unconstrained influence, as every one sees and feels. Wherefore, in order that it might be the more easy to avoid, in some measure, unchastity, God has instituted marriage, so that each one might have his allotted wife, and live with her satisfied; although the grace of God is still necessary, that the heart may also be chaste.
From this you perceive how our Papistical rabble– priests, monks, and nuns, who contemn and prohibit marriage, strive against the order and command of God, avow perpetual chastity, presume to observe it, and besides, deceive the illiterate with false words and appearances. For no persons have less love and desire for chastity, than those who, on account of their pretended holiness, avoid matrimony, and either publicly and impudently indulge in fornication, or privately exercise a worse practice, which decency forbids us to name; as alas! has been too much experienced. And, to be brief, even if they abstain from this deed, yet their hearts are full of unchaste thoughts and evil desires, so that there are incessant ragings of passion and internal sufferings, which may be avoided in married life. Therefore, by this commandment every illegitimate vow of chastity is condemned, and leave given, yes, it is even commanded to all poor captivated consciences, deceived through their monastic vows, to forsake their unchaste conditions, and to enter into a state of matrimony; for even admitting that monastic life might be godly, it still does not lie in their power to observe continence; and if they do continue in this observance, they must sin to a greater extent against this commandment.
These things I have said in order that young persons might be persuaded to obey their desires for matrimony, and that they may know that it is a happy state, and acceptable in the sight of God. For by this means we might be able, in the course of time, to restore it to its due honor, that this polluted, obscene, and inordinate course of conduct, might be diminished, which now prevails every where in the world in a manner so offensive to chastity, with fornication and other shameful vices which have resulted from a contempt of married life. For this reason parents and magistrates are also under obligation to see to the young, that they be reared in decency and honesty; and when they are grown, that they be seasonably joined in honorable matrimony; for this purpose God will grant his blessings and his favors, so that peace and joy must result from it.
From all this, let it be said then, in conclusion, that this commandment requires each one not only to live chastely in thoughts, words, and actions, in his condition, that is, especially in his matrimonial estate, but also to love and esteem the consort hat God has given him. For if conjugal chastity is to be observed, husband and wife must above all things live together in love and harmony, so that one confide in the other from the heart, and with entire reliance. For this is one of the most important points which create love and desire for chastity, and from which, where it exists, chastity will follow spontaneously. For this reason Paul also so diligently admonished married persons to love and honor each other, Eph. 5, 22; Col. 3, 18, 19. Here, then, you have very precious works, yes, numerous and excellent good works, which you may cheerfully perform in opposition to all ecclesiastic orders established without the word and command of God.