The Sinful Corruption of Marriage
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Mark 10:7-8NKJV
Today we continue our examination of Question 139 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?” The third part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are… prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage.” Last time we considered how all sexual sin begins in the mind. This week we look at how sin can corrupt marriage.
The verse at the head of this article provides the Biblical solution to sexual sin: godly marriage. God created sex. God also created sexual desire and pleasure. These things are good; they glorify God and delight man; provided that they are kept within the bounds God created for them. Marriage provides these bounds. Thus, regarding marriage, whenever we stay within the boundaries of God’s Law we glorify God and are blessed by Him, but whenever we stray from God’s Law we dishonor God and suffer under His judgments. Surely, marriage between two sinners will always involve difficulties and hardships, but these things are due to our sins not to God’s laws. If we would obey God’s Law in our marriages, from our hearts and not merely with eye service, every couple would know more joy and happiness.
The first sin regarding marriage listed by the Catechism is the prohibiting of lawful marriages. The Western Catholic Church officially endorsed mandatory celibacy for all clergy at the Lateran Council in 1059, though it would take a little longer to bring more remote countries like England into total conformity. Even apart from the explicit Biblical condemnation of “forbidding to marry” as one of the “doctrines of demons,” (1 Tim. 4:1-3), how often has history exposed the folly of such a sinful forbidding of lawful marriage? The most recent example is the massive amounts of child-molesting uncovered among thousands of Roman Catholic clergy in the late 20th century, which is still rocking the church to this day. God declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Gen. 2:18). The undue elevation of celibacy over lawful marriage is a direct assault on the wisdom of God, and man has and continues to pay dearly for it.
Dispensing with unlawful marriages probably means allowing them to happen, distributing them. Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife was condemned as unlawful by John the Baptist (Mark 6:18), though Israel’s leadership must have “dispensed” it. Today it is not so much incestual but homosexual marriages that are being condoned by state and church leaders. The Bible teaches “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination,” (Lev. 18:22). Notice how it is homosexual sex per se that is specifically condemned here. The clear teaching of the verse is that sex is good when it is between one man and one woman, for it is only when a man lies with a man as he would legitimately do so with a woman, that it is abominable. Furthermore, since the Bible teaches that “lying with” (sex) is only lawful in the context of marriage, this verse necessarily condemns homosexual marriage. Thus, homosexual sex is inherently evil even as heterosexual sex is inherently good. The latter is true to the nature of man and thus glorifies God, the former perverts man’s nature, shames him, and thus sins against God.
Finally, “stews” is the old word for brothel and appears in the plural when referring to them. Clearly, with the emphasis of four different participles: allowing, tolerating, keeping, and resorting; the Catechism is against the legalization or making use of prostitution in any way! The other two prohibitions, the vows of a single life or the unnecessary delaying of marriage both exalt marriage as God’s will for man’s sexual desire and need. No one should vow to perpetually keep a condition God called “not good,” and no one should delay lawful marriage as if something else (usually making more money or wanting to be “free”) is more important. Marriage is good. It is God’s ordinary will for all mankind. We should do our best to pursue it and to practice it according to God’s Law, for His glory and our good.