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 Cor. 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 general,
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. Yet,
II. He informs them that marriage, and the comforts and satisfactions of that state, are by divine wisdom prescribed for preventing fornication (1 Cor. 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 Cor. 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 Cor. 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 Cor. 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, etc. (1 Cor. 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 Cor. 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, Matt. 19:11.
IV. He sums up his sense on this head (1 Cor. 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.