In this chapter the apostle answers some cases proposed to him by the
Corinthians about marriage. He,
I. Shows them that marriage was appointed as a remedy against
fornication, and therefore that persons had better marry than burn,
1 Corinthians 7:1-9.
II. He gives direction to those who are married to continue together,
though they might have an unbelieving relative, unless the unbeliever
would part, in which case a Christian would not be in bondage,
1 Corinthians 7:10-16.
III. He shows them that becoming Christians does not change their
external state; and therefore advises every one to continue, in the
general, in that state in which he was called,
1 Corinthians 7:17-24.
IV. He advises them, by reason of the present distress, to keep
themselves unmarried; hints the shortness of time, and how they should
improve it, so as to grow dead and indifferent to the comforts of the
world; and shows them how worldly cares hinder their devotions, and
distract them in the service of God,
1 Corinthians 7:25-35.
V. He directs them in the disposal of their virgins,
1 Corinthians 7:36-38.
VI. And closes the chapter with advice to widows how to dispose of
themselves in that state,
1 Corinthians 7:39,40.
A. D. 57.
1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is
good for a man not to touch a woman.
2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his
own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and
likewise also the wife unto the husband.
4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and
likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the
5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for
a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and
come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your
6 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man
hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another
8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for
them if they abide even as I.
9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better
to marry than to burn.
The apostle comes now, as a faithful and skilful casuist, to answer
some cases of conscience which the Corinthians had proposed to him.
Those were things whereof they wrote to him,
1 Corinthians 7:1.
As the lips of ministers should keep knowledge, so the people
should ask the law at their mouths. The apostle was as ready to
resolve as they were to propose their doubts. In the former chapter, he
warns them to avoid fornication; here he gives some directions about
marriage, the remedy God had appointed for it. He tells them in
I. That it was good, in that juncture of time at least, to abstain from
marriage altogether: It is good for a man not to touch a woman
(not to take her to wife), by good here not understanding what is so
conformable to the mind and will of God as if to do otherwise were sin,
an extreme into which many of the ancients have run in favour of
celibacy and virginity. Should the apostle be understood in this sense,
he would contradict much of the rest of his discourse. But it is good,
that is, either abstracting from circumstances there are many things in
which the state of celibacy has the advantage above the marriage state;
or else at this juncture, by reason of the distress of the
Christian church, it would be a convenience for Christians to keep
themselves single, provided they have the gift of continency, and at
the same time can keep themselves chaste. The expression also may carry
in it an intimation that Christians must avoid all occasions of this
sin, and flee all fleshly lusts, and incentives to them; must neither
look on nor touch a woman, so as to provoke lustful inclinations.
II. He informs them that marriage, and the comforts and satisfactions
of that state, are by divine wisdom prescribed for preventing
(1 Corinthians 7:2),
Porneias--Fornications, all sorts of lawless lust.
To avoid these, Let every man, says he, have his own wife,
and every woman her own husband; that is, marry, and confine
themselves to their own mates. And, when they are married, let each
render the other due benevolence
(1 Corinthians 7:3),
consider the disposition and exigency of each other, and render
conjugal duty, which is owing to each other. For, as the apostle argues
(1 Corinthians 7:4),
in the married state neither person has power over his own body, but
has delivered it into the power of the other, the wife hers into the
power of the husband, the husband his into the power of the wife. Note,
Polygamy, or the marriage of more persons than one, as well as
adultery, must be a breach of marriage-covenants, and a violation of
the partner's rights. And therefore they should not defraud one another
of the use of their bodies, nor any other of the comforts of the
conjugal state, appointed of God for keeping the vessel in
sanctification and honour, and preventing the lusts of uncleanness,
except it be with mutual consent
(1 Corinthians 7:5)
and for a time only, while they employ themselves in some
extraordinary duties of religion, or give themselves to fasting and
prayer. Note, Seasons of deep humiliation require abstinence from
lawful pleasures. But this separation between husband and wife must
not be for a continuance, lest they expose themselves to Satan's
temptations, by reason of their incontinence, or inability to contain.
Note, Persons expose themselves to great danger by attempting to
perform what is above their strength, and at the same time not bound
upon them by any law of God. If they abstain from lawful enjoyments,
they may be ensnared into unlawful ones. The remedies God hath provided
against sinful inclinations are certainly best.
III. The apostle limits what he had said about every man's having
his own wife, &c.
(1 Corinthians 7:2):
I speak this by permission, not of command. He did not lay it as
an injunction upon every man to marry without exception. Any man might
marry. No law of God prohibited the thing. But, on the other hand, not
law bound a man to marry so that he sinned if he did not; I mean,
unless his circumstances required it for preventing the lust of
uncleanness. It was a thing in which men, by the laws of God, were in a
great measure left at liberty. And therefore Paul did not bind every
man to marry, though every man had an allowance. No, he could wish
all men were as himself
(1 Corinthians 7:7),
that is, single, and capable of living continently in that state.
There were several conveniences in it, which at that season, if not at
others, made it more eligible in itself. Note, It is a mark of true
goodness to wish all men as happy as ourselves. But it did not answer
the intentions of divine Providence as well for all men to have as much
command of this appetite as Paul had. It was a gift vouchsafed to such
persons as Infinite Wisdom thought proper: Every one hath his proper
gift of God, one after this manner and another after that. Natural
constitutions vary; and, where there may not be much difference in the
constitution, different degrees of grace are vouchsafed, which may give
some a greater victory over natural inclination than others. Note, The
gifts of God, both in nature and grace, are variously distributed. Some
have them after this manner and some after that. Paul could wish all
men were as himself, but all men cannot receive such a saying, save
those to whom it is given,
IV. He sums up his sense on this head
(1 Corinthians 7:9,10):
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, to those in a state
of virginity or widowhood, It is good for them if they abide even as
I. There are many conveniences, and especially at this juncture, in
a single state, to render it preferable to a married one. It is
convenient therefore that the unmarried abide as I, which
plainly implies that Paul was at that time unmarried. But, if they
cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to
burn. This is God's remedy for lust. The fire may be quenched by
the means he has appointed. And marriage, with all its inconveniences,
is much better than to burn with impure and lustful desires.
Marriage is honourable in all; but it is a duty in those who
cannot contain nor conquer those inclinations.
Inviolability of the Marriage Bond.
A. D. 57.
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord,
Let not the wife depart from her husband:
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be
reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a
wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him,
let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath a husband that believeth not, and
if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and
the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your
children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or
a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath
called us to peace.
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy
husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save
In this paragraph the apostle gives them direction in a case which must
be very frequent in that age of the world, especially among the Jewish
converts; I mean whether they were to live with heathen relatives in a
married state. Moses's law permitted divorce; and there was a famous
instance in the Jewish state, when the people were obliged to put away
their idolatrous wives,
This might move a scruple in many minds, whether converts to
Christianity were not bound to put away or desert their mates,
continuing infidels. Concerning this matter the apostle here gives
I. In general, he tells them that marriage, by Christ's command, is for
life; and therefore those who are married must not think of separation.
The wife must not depart from the husband
(1 Corinthians 7:10),
nor the husband put away his wife,
1 Corinthians 7:11.
This I command, says the apostle; yet not I, but the
Lord. Not that he commanded any thing of his own head, or upon his
own authority. Whatever he commanded was the Lord's command, dictated
by his Spirit and enjoined by his authority. But his meaning is that
the Lord himself, with his own mouth, had forbidden such separations,
Mark x. 11; Luke xvi. 18.
Note, Man and wife cannot separate at pleasure, nor dissolve, when they
will, their matrimonial bonds and relation. They must not separate for
any other cause than what Christ allows. And therefore the apostle
advises that if any woman had been separated, either by a voluntary act
of her own or by an act of her husband, she should continue unmarried,
and seek reconciliation with her husband, that they might cohabit
again. Note, Husbands and wives should not quarrel at all, or should be
quickly reconciled. They are bound to each other for life. The divine
law allows of no separation. They cannot throw off the burden, and
therefore should set their shoulders to it, and endeavour to make it as
light to each other as they can.
II. He brings the general advice home to the case of such as had an
(1 Corinthians 7:12):
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord; that is, the Lord had not
so expressly spoken to this case as to the former divorce. It does not
mean that the apostle spoke without authority from the Lord, or decided
this case by his own wisdom, without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
He closes this subject with a declaration to the contrary
(1 Corinthians 7:40),
I think also that I have the Spirit of God. But, having thus
prefaced his advice, we may attend,
1. To the advice itself, which is that if an unbelieving husband or
wife were pleased to dwell with a Christian relative, the other should
not separate. The husband should not put away an unbelieving wife, nor
the wife leave an unbelieving husband,
1 Corinthians 7:12,13.
The Christian calling did not dissolve the marriage covenant, but bind
it the faster, by bringing it back to the original institution,
limiting it to two persons, and binding them together for life. The
believer is not by faith in Christ loosed from matrimonial bonds to an
unbeliever, but is at once bound and made apt to be a better relative.
But, though a believing wife or husband should not separate from an
unbelieving mate, yet if the unbelieving relative desert the believer,
and no means can reconcile to a cohabitation, in such a case a
brother or sister is not in bondage
(1 Corinthians 7:15),
not tied up to the unreasonable humour, and bound servilely to follow
or cleave to the malicious deserter, or not bound to live unmarried
after all proper means for reconciliation have been tried, at least of
the deserter contract another marriage or be guilty of adultery, which
was a very easy supposition, because a very common instance among the
heathen inhabitants of Corinth. In such a case the deserted person must
be free to marry again, and it is granted on all hands. And some think
that such a malicious desertion is as much a dissolution of the
marriage-covenant as death itself. For how is it possible that the
two shall be one flesh when the one is maliciously bent to part
from or put away the other? Indeed, the deserter seems still bound by
the matrimonial contract; and therefore the apostle says
(1 Corinthians 7:11),
If the woman depart from her husband upon the account of his
infidelity, let her remain unmarried. But the deserted party
seems to be left more at liberty (I mean supposing all the proper means
have been used to reclaim the deserter, and other circumstances make it
necessary) to marry another person. It does not seem reasonable that
they should be still bound, when it is rendered impossible to perform
conjugal duties or enjoy conjugal comforts, through the mere fault of
their mate: in such a case marriage would be a state of servitude
indeed. But, whatever liberty be indulged Christians in such a case as
this, they are not allowed, for the mere infidelity of a husband or
wife, to separate; but, if the unbeliever be willing, they should
continue in the relation, and cohabit as those who are thus related.
This is the apostle's general direction.
2. We have here the reasons of this advice.
(1.) Because the relation or state is sanctified by the holiness of
either party: For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife,
and the unbelieving wife by the husband
(1 Corinthians 7:14),
or hath been sanctified. The relation itself, and the conjugal
use of each other, are sanctified to the believer. To the pure all
things are pure,
Marriage is a divine institution; it is a compact for life, by God's
appointment. Had converse and congress with unbelievers in that
relation defiled the believer, or rendered him or her offensive to God,
the ends of marriage would have been defeated, and the comforts of it
in a manner destroyed, in the circumstances in which Christians then
were. But the apostle tells them that, though they were yoked with
unbelievers, yet, if they themselves were holy, marriage was to them a
holy state, and marriage comforts, even with an unbelieving relative,
were sanctified enjoyments. It was no more displeasing to God for them
to continue to live as they did before, with their unbelieving or
heathen relation, than if they had become converts together. If one of
the relatives had become holy, nothing of the duties or lawful comforts
of the married state could defile them, and render them displeasing to
God, though the other were a heathen. He is sanctified for the wife's
sake. She is sanctified for the husband's sake. Both are one flesh. He
is to be reputed clean who is one flesh with her that is holy, and
vice versâ: Else were your children unclean, but now are they
(1 Corinthians 7:14),
that is, they would be heathen, out of the pale of the church and
covenant of God. They would not be of the holy seed (as the Jews are
but common and unclean, in the same sense as heathens in general were
styled in the apostle's vision,
This way of speaking is according to the dialect of the Jews, among
whom a child begotten by parents yet heathens, was said to be begotten
out of holiness; and a child begotten by parents made proselytes
was said to be begotten intra sanctitatem--within the holy
enclosure. Thus Christians are called commonly saints; such
they are by profession, separated to be a peculiar people of God, and
as such distinguished from the world; and therefore the children born
to Christians, though married to unbelievers, are not to be reckoned as
part of the world, but of the church, a holy, not a common and unclean
seed. "Continue therefore to live even with unbelieving relatives; for,
if you are holy, the relation is so, the state is so, you may make a
holy use even of an unbelieving relative, in conjugal duties, and your
seed will be holy too." What a comfort is this, where both relatives
(2.) Another reason is that God hath called Christians to peace,
1 Corinthians 7:15.
The Christian religion obliges us to act peaceably in all relations,
natural and civil. We are bound, as much as in us lies, to live
peaceably with all men
and therefore surely to promote the peace and comfort of our nearest
relatives, those with whom we are one flesh, nay, though they should be
infidels. Note, It should be the labour and study of those who are
married to make each other as easy and happy as possible.
(3.) A third reason is that it is possible for the believing relative
to be an instrument of the other's salvation
(1 Corinthians 7:16):
What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?
Note, It is the plain duty of those in so near a relation to seek the
salvation of those to whom they are related. "Do not separate. There is
other duty now called for. The conjugal relation calls for the most
close and endeared affection; it is a contract for life. And should a
Christian desert a mate, when an opportunity offers to give the most
glorious proof of love? Stay, and labour heartily for the conversion of
thy relative. Endeavour to save a soul. Who knows but this may be the
event? It is not impossible. And, though there be no great probability,
saving a soul is so good and glorious a service that the bare
possibility should put one on exerting one's self." Note, Mere
possibility of success should be a sufficient motive with us to use our
diligent endeavours for saving the souls of our relations. "What
know I but I may save his soul? should move me to attempt it."
A. D. 57.
17 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath
called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all
18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become
uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but
the keeping of the commandments of God.
20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was
21 Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if
thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
22 For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the
Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is
23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide
Here the apostle takes occasion to advise them to continue in the state
and condition in which Christianity found them, and in which they
became converts to it. And here,
I. He lays down this rule in general--as God hath distributed to
every one. Note, Our states and circumstances in this world are
distributions of divine Providence. This fixes the bounds of men's
habitations, and orders their steps. God setteth up and pulleth
down. And again, As the Lord hath called every one, so let him
walk. Whatever his circumstances or condition was when he was
converted to Christianity, let him abide therein, and suit his
conversation to it. The rules of Christianity reach every condition.
And in every state a man may live so as to be a credit to it. Note, It
is the duty of every Christian to suit his behaviour to his condition
and the rules of religion, to be content with his lot, and conduct
himself in his rank and place as becomes a Christian. The apostle adds
that this was a general rule, to be observed at all times and in all
places; So ordain I in all churches.
II. He specifies particular cases; as,
1. That of circumcision. Is any man called being circumcised? Let
him not be uncircumcised. Is any man called being uncircumcised? Let
him not be circumcised. It matters not whether a man be a Jew or
Gentile, within the covenant of peculiarity made with Abraham or
without it. He who is converted, being a Jew, has no need to give
himself uneasiness upon that head, and wish himself uncircumcised. Nor,
is he who is converted from Gentilism under an obligation to be
circumcised: nor should he be concerned because he wants that mark of
distinction which did heretofore belong to the people of God. For, as
the apostle goes on, circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is
nothing, but keeping the commandments of God,
1 Corinthians 7:19.
In point of acceptance with God, it is neither here nor there whether
men be circumcised or not. Note, It is practical religion, sincere
obedience to the commands of God, on which the gospel lays stress.
External observances without internal piety are as nothing. Therefore
let every man abide in the calling (the state) wherein he was
1 Corinthians 7:20.
2. That of servitude and freedom. It was common in that age of the
world for many to be in a state of slavery, bought and sold for money,
and so the property of those who purchased them. "Now," says the
apostle, "art thou called being a servant? Care not for it. Be
not over-solicitous about it. It is not inconsistent with thy duty,
profession, or hopes, as a Christian. Yet, if thou mayest be made
free, use it rather,"
1 Corinthians 7:21.
There are many conveniences in a state of freedom above that of
servitude: a man has more power over himself, and more command of his
time, and is not under the control of another lord; and therefore
liberty is the more eligible state. But men's outward condition does
neither hinder nor promote their acceptance with God. For he that is
called being a servant is the Lord's
freed-man--apeleutheros, as he that is called
being free is the Lord's servant. Though he be not discharged from
his master's service, he is freed from the dominion and vassalage of
sin. Though he be not enslaved to Christ, yet he is bound to yield
himself up wholly to his pleasure and service; and yet that service is
perfect freedom. Note, Our comfort and happiness depend on what we are
to Christ, not what we are in the world. The goodness of our outward
condition does not discharge us from the duties of Christianity, nor
the badness of it debar us from Christian privileges. He who is a
slave may yet be a Christian freeman; he who is a freeman may yet be
Christ's servant. He is bought with a price, and should not therefore
be the servant of man. Not that he must quit the service of his master,
or not take all proper measures to please him (this were to contradict
the whole scope of the apostle's discourse); but he must not be so the
servant of men but that Christ's will must be obeyed, and regarded,
more than his master's. He has paid a much dearer price for him, and
has a much fuller property in him. He is to be served and obeyed
without limitation or reserve. Note, The servants of Christ should be
at the absolute command of no other master besides himself, should
serve no man, any further than is consistent with their duty to him.
No man can serve two masters. Though some understand this
passage of persons being bought out of slavery by the bounty and
charity of fellow-Christians; and read the passage thus, Have you
been redeemed out of slavery with a price? Do not again become
enslaved; just as before he had advised that, if in slavery they
had any prospect of being made free, they should choose it rather. This
meaning the words will bear, but the other seems the more natural. See
1 Corinthians 6:20.
III. He sums up his advice: Let every man wherein he is called abide
therein with God,
1 Corinthians 7:24.
This is to be understood of the state wherein a man is converted to
Christianity. No man should make his faith or religion an argument to
break through any natural or civil obligations. He should quietly and
comfortably abide in the condition in which he is; and this he may well
do, when he may abide therein with God. Note, The special presence and
favour of God are not limited to any outward condition or performance.
He may enjoy it who is circumcised; and so may he who is uncircumcised.
He who is bound may have it as well as he who is free. In this respect
there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision,
barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free,
The favour of God is not bound.
Prudential Directions to Virgins.
A. D. 57.
25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord:
yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the
Lord to be faithful.
26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present
distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou
loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin
marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble
in the flesh: but I spare you.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth,
that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that
rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as
though they possessed not;
31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the
fashion of this world passeth away.
32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is
unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he
may please the Lord:
33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the
world, how he may please his wife.
34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The
unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may
be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married
careth for the things of the world, how she may please her
35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a
snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may
attend upon the Lord without distraction.
The apostle here resumes his discourse, and gives directions to virgins
how to act, concerning which we may take notice,
I. Of the manner wherein he introduces them: "Now concerning virgins
I have no commandment of the Lord,
1 Corinthians 7:25.
I have no express and universal law delivered by the Lord himself
concerning celibacy; but I give my judgment, as one who hath
obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful," namely, in the
apostleship. He acted faithfully, and therefore his direction was to be
regarded as a rule of Christ: for he gave judgment as one who was a
faithful apostle of Christ. Though Christ had before delivered no
universal law about that matter, he now gives direction by an inspired
apostle, one who had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. Note,
Faithfulness in the ministry is owing to the grace and mercy of Christ.
It is what Paul was ready to acknowledge upon all occasions: I
laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God
which was with me,
1 Corinthians 15:10.
And it is a great mercy which those obtain from God who prove faithful
in the ministry of his word, either ordinary or extraordinary.
II. The determination he gives, which, considering the present
distress, was that a state of celibacy was preferable: It is good
for a man so to be, that is, to be single. I suppose, says
the apostle, or it is my opinion. It is worded with modesty, but
delivered, notwithstanding, with apostolic authority. It is not the
mere opinion of a private man, but the very determination of the Spirit
of God in an apostle, though it be thus spoken. And it was thus
delivered to give it the more weight. Those that were prejudiced
against the apostle might have rejected this advice had it been given
with a mere authoritative air. Note, Ministers do not lose their
authority by prudent condescensions. They must become all things to all
men, that they may do them the more good. This is good, says he,
for the present distress. Christians, at the first planting of
their religion, were grievously persecuted. Their enemies were very
bitter against them, and treated them very cruelly. They were
continually liable to be tossed and hurried by persecution. This being
the then state of things, he did not think it so advisable for
Christians that were single to change conditions. The married state
would bring more care and cumber along with it
(1 Corinthians 7:33,34),
and would therefore make persecution more terrible, and render them
less able to bear it. Note, Christians, in regulating their conduct,
should not barely consider what is lawful in itself, but what may be
expedient for them.
III. Notwithstanding he thus determines, he is very careful to satisfy
them that he does not condemn marriage in the gross, nor declare it
unlawful. And therefore, though he says, "If thou art loosed from a
wife (in a single state, whether bachelor or widower, virgin or
widow) do not seek a wife, do not hastily change conditions;"
yet he adds, "If thou art bound to a wife, do not seek to be
loosed. It is thy duty to continue in the married relation, and do
the duties of it." And though such, if they were called to suffer
persecution, would find peculiar difficulties in it; yet, to avoid
these difficulties, they must not cast off nor break through the bonds
of duty. Duty must be done, and God trusted with events. But to neglect
duty is the way to put ourselves out of the divine protection. He adds
therefore, I thou marry thou hast not sinned; or if a virgin marry
she hath not sinned: but such shall have trouble in the flesh.
Marrying is not in itself a sin, but marrying at that time was likely
to bring inconvenience upon them, and add to the calamities of the
times; and therefore he thought it advisable and expedient that such as
could contain should refrain from it; but adds that he would not lay
celibacy on them as a yoke, nor, by seeming to urge it too far, draw
them into any snare; and therefore says, But I spare you. Note,
How opposite in this are the papist casuists to the apostle Paul! They
forbid many to marry, and entangle them with vows of celibacy, whether
they can bear the yoke or no.
IV. He takes this occasion to give general rules to all Christians to
carry themselves with a holy indifferency towards the world, and every
thing in it.
1. As to relations: Those that had wives must be as though
they had none; that is, they must not set their hearts too much on
the comforts of the relation; they must be as though they had none.
They know not how soon they shall have none. This advice must be
carried into every other relation. Those that have children should be
as though they had none. Those that are their comfort now may prove
their greatest cross. And soon may the flower of all comforts be cut
2. As to afflictions: Those that weep must be as though they wept
not; that is, we must not be dejected too much with any of our
afflictions, nor indulge ourselves in the sorrow of the world, but keep
up a holy joy in God in the midst of all our troubles, so that even in
sorrow the heart may be joyful, and the end of our grief may be
gladness. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come in the
morning. If we can but get to heaven at last, all tears shall be
wiped from our eyes; and the prospect of it now should make us
moderate our sorrows and refrain our tears.
3. As to worldly enjoyments: Those that rejoice should be as though
they rejoiced not; that is, they should not take too great a
complacency in any of their comforts. They must be moderate in their
mirth, and sit loose to the enjoyments they most value. Here is not
their rest, nor are these things their portion; and therefore their
hearts should not be set on them, nor should they place their solace or
satisfaction in them.
4. As to worldly traffic and employment: Those that buy must be as
though they possessed not. Those that prosper in trade, increase in
wealth, and purchase estates, should hold these possessions as though
they held them not. It is but setting their hearts on that which is not
to do otherwise. Buying and possessing should not too much engage our
minds. They hinder many people altogether from minding the better part.
Purchasing land and trying oxen kept the guests invited from the
And, when they do not altogether hinder men from minding their chief
business, they do very much divert them from a close pursuit. Those are
most likely to run so as to obtain the prize who ease their minds of
all foreign cares and cumbrances.
5. As to all worldly concerns: Those that use this world as not
1 Corinthians 7:31.
The world may be used, but must not be abused. It is abused when it is
not used to those purposes for which it is given, to honour God and do
good to men--when, instead of being oil to the wheels of our obedience,
it is made fuel to lust--when, instead of being a servant, it is made
our master, our idol, and has that room in our affections which should
be reserved for God. And there is great danger of abusing it in all
these respects, if our hearts are too much set upon it. We must keep
the world as much as may be out of our hearts, that we may not abuse it
when we have it in our hands.
V. He enforces these advices with two reasons:--
1. The time is short,
1 Corinthians 7:29.
We have but little time to continue in this world; but a short season
for possessing and enjoying worldly things; kairos
synestalmenos. It is contracted, reduced to a narrow compass.
It will soon be gone. It is just ready to be wrapped up in eternity.
Therefore do not set your hearts on worldly enjoyments. Do not be
overwhelmed with worldly cares and troubles. Possess what you must
shortly leave without suffering yourselves to be possessed by it. Why
should your hearts be much set on what you must quickly resign?
2. The fashion of this world passeth away
(1 Corinthians 7:31),
schema--the habit, figure, appearance, of the
world, passeth away. It is daily changing countenance. It is in a
continual flux. It is not so much a world as the appearance of one. All
is show, nothing solid in it; and it is transient show too, and will
quickly be gone. How proper and powerful an argument is this to
enforce the former advice! How irrational is it to be affected with the
images, the fading and transient images, of a dream! Surely man
walketh in a vain show
in an image, amidst the faint and vanishing appearances of things. And
should he be deeply affected, or grievously afflicted, with such a
VI. He presses his general advice by warning them against the
embarrassment of worldly cares: But I would have you without
1 Corinthians 7:32.
Indeed to be careless is a fault; a wise concern about worldly
interests is a duty; but to be careful, full of care, to have an
anxious and perplexing care about them, is a sin. All that care which
disquiets the mind, and distracts it in the worship of God, is evil;
for God must be attended upon without distraction,
1 Corinthians 7:35.
The whole mind should be engaged when God is worshipped. The work
ceases while it diverts to any thing else, or is hurried and drawn
hither and thither by foreign affairs and concerns. Those who are
engaged in divine worship should attend to this very thing, should make
it their whole business. But how is this possible when the mind is
swallowed up of the cares of this life? Note, It is the wisdom of a
Christian so to order his outward affairs, and choose such a condition
in life, as to be without distracting cares, that he may attend upon
the Lord with a mind at leisure and disengaged. This is the general
maxim by which the apostle would have Christians govern themselves. In
the application of it Christian prudence must direct. That condition of
life is best for every man which is best for his soul, and keeps him
most clear of the cares and snares of the world. By this maxim the
apostle solves the case put to him by the Corinthians, whether it were
advisable to marry? To this he says, That, by reason of the present
distress, and it may be in general, at that time, when Christians were
married to infidels, and perhaps under a necessity of being so, if
married at all: I say, in these circumstances, to continue unmarried
would be the way to free themselves from any cares and incumbrances,
and allow them more vacation for the service of God. Ordinarily, the
less care we have about the world the more freedom we have for the
service of God. Now the married state at that time (if not at all
times) did bring most worldly care along with it. He that is married
careth for the things of the world, that he may please his wife,
1 Corinthians 7:33.
And she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she
may please her husband. But the unmarried man and woman mind the
things of the Lord, that they may please the Lord, and be holy both in
body and spirit,
1 Corinthians 7:32,34.
Not but the married person may be holy both in body and spirit too.
Celibacy is not in itself a state of greater purity and sanctity than
marriage; but the unmarried would be able to make religion more their
business at that juncture, because they would have less distraction
from worldly cares. Marriage is that condition of life that brings care
along with it, though sometimes it brings more than at others. It is
the constant care of those in that relation to please each other;
though this is more difficult to do at some reasons, and in some cases,
than in others. At that season, therefore, the apostle advises that
those who were single should abstain from marriage, if they were under
no necessity to change conditions. And, where the same reason is plain
at other times, the rule is as fit to be observed. And the very same
rule must determine persons for marriage where there is the same
reason, that is, if in the unmarried state persons are likely to be
more distracted in the service of God than if they were married, which
is a case supposable in many respects. This is the general rule, which
every one's discretion must apply to his own particular case; and by it
should he endeavour to determine, whether it be for marriage or
against. That condition of life should be chosen by the Christian in
which it is most likely he will have the best helps, and the fewest
hindrances, in the service of God and the affairs of his own
Prudential Directions to the Unmarried.
A. D. 57.
36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely
toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need
so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them
37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having
no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so
decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.
38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he
that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
In this passage the apostle is commonly supposed to give advice about
the disposal of children in marriage, upon the principle of his former
determination. In this view the general meaning is plain. It was in
that age, and those parts of the world, and especially among the Jews,
reckoned a disgrace for a woman to remain unmarried past a certain
number of years: it gave a suspicion of somewhat that was not for her
reputation. "Now," says the apostle, "if any man thinks he behaves
unhandsomely towards his daughter, and that it is not for her credit to
remain unmarried, when she is of full age, and that upon this principle
it is needful to dispose of her in marriage, he may use his pleasure.
It is no sin in him to dispose of her to a suitable mate. But if a man
has determined in himself to keep her a virgin, and stands to this
determination, and is under no necessity to dispose of her in marriage,
but is at liberty, with her consent, to pursue his purpose, he does
well in keeping her a virgin. In short, he that gives her in marriage
does well; but he that keeps her single, if she can be easy and
innocent in such a state, does what is better; that is, more convenient
for her in the present state of things, if not at all times and
1. Children should be at the disposal of their parents, and not
dispose of themselves in marriage. Yet,
2. Parents should consult their children's inclinations, both to
marriage in general and to the person in particular, and not reckon
they have uncontrollable power to do with them, and dictate to them, as
3. It is our duty not only to consider what is lawful, but in many
cases, at least, what is fit to be done, before we do it.
But I think the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and
advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do,
the man's virgin being meant of his virginity. Terein ten
heautou parthenon seems to be rather meant of preserving his
own virginity than keeping his daughter a virgin, though it be
altogether uncommon to use the word in this sense. Several other
reasons may be seen in Locke and Whitby, by those who will consult
them. And it was a common matter of reproach among Jews and civilized
heathens, for a man to continue single beyond such a term of years,
though all did not agree in limiting the single life to the same term.
The general meaning of the apostle is the same, that it was no sin to
marry, if a man thought there was a necessity upon, to avoid popular
reproach, much less to avoid the hurrying fervours of lust. But he that
was in his own power, stood firm in his purpose, and found himself
under no necessity to marry, would, at that season, and in the
circumstances of Christians at that time, at least, make a choice every
way most for his own conveniency, ease, and advantage, as to his
spiritual concerns. And it is highly expedient, if not a duty, for
Christians to be guided by such a consideration.
Prudential Directions to Widows.
A. D. 57.
39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth;
but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to
whom she will; only in the Lord.
40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I
think also that I have the Spirit of God.
The whole is here closed up with advice to widows: As long as the
husband liveth the wife is bound by the law, confined to one
husband, and bound to continue and cohabit with him. Note, The
marriage-contract is for life; death only can annul the bond. But,
the husband being dead, she is at liberty to marry whom she will.
There is no limitation by God's law to be married only for such a
number of times. It is certain, from this passage, that second
marriages are not unlawful; for then the widow could not be at liberty
to marry whom she pleased, nor to marry a second time at all. But the
apostle asserts she has such a liberty, when her husband is dead, only
with a limitation that she marry in the Lord. In our choice of
relations, and change of conditions, we should always have an eye to
God. Note, Marriages are likely to have God's blessing only when they
are made in the Lord, when persons are guided by the fear of God, and
the laws of God, and act in dependence on the providence of God, in the
change and choice of a mate--when they can look up to God, and sincerely
seek his direction, and humbly hope for his blessing upon their
conduct. But she is happier, says the apostle, if she so
abide (that is, continue a widow) in my judgment; and I think I
have the Spirit of God,
1 Corinthians 7:40.
At this juncture, at least, if not ordinarily, it will be much more for
the peace and quiet of such, and give them less hindrance in the
service of God, to continue unmarried. And this, he tells them, was by
inspiration of the Spirit. "Whatever your false apostles may think of
me, I think, and have reason to know, that I have the Spirit of God."
Note, Change of condition in marriage is so important a matter that it
ought not to be made but upon due deliberation, after careful
consideration of circumstances, and upon very probable grounds, at
least, that it will be a change to advantage in our spiritual
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for '1 Corinthians' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".