There is no lack (good Christian people) of great swarms of vices which are worthy to be rebuked (into such decay has true godliness and virtuous living now come). Yet above other vices, the outrageous sea of adultery, promiscuity, fornication, and uncleanness has not only burst in, but also overflowed almost the whole world. This is to the great dishonour of God, the exceeding infamy of the name of Christ, the notable decay of true religion, and the utter destruction of the public wealth.
This vice is so abundantly common and has grown to such a height that among many it is counted no sin at all, but rather a pastime, a dalliance, and but a touch of youth — not rebuked but winked at, not punished but laughed at. Therefore it is necessary at this present time to implore you about the sin of promiscuity and fornication, declaring to you the greatness of this sin, and how odious, hateful, and abominable it is and has always been considered by God and all good people; and how grievously it has been punished, both by the law of God, and the laws of various countries. Also, it is necessary to show you certain remedies, by which you may (through the grace of God) avoid this most detestable sin of promiscuity and fornication, and lead your lives in all honesty and cleanness.
If you call to mind this commandment of God — “You shall not commit adultery” — you will perceive that fornication and promiscuity are most abominable sins in the sight of God. The word “adultery” properly means the unlawful joining together of a married man with any woman except his wife, or of a wife with any man except her husband. Yet it also signifies all unlawful use of those body parts which are ordained for procreation. And this one commandment forbidding adultery sufficiently paints the picture before our eyes of the greatness of this sin of promiscuity, and clearly declares how greatly it should be abhorred by all honest and faithful people. None of us should think of themselves as excepted from this commandment, whether we are old or young, married or unmarried, man or woman. Hear what God the Father says by his most excellent prophet Moses: “there shall be no prostitute among the daughters of Israel or the sons of Israel” (Deuteronomy 23:17). Here, promiscuity, fornication, and all uncleanness is forbidden, to all kinds of people, all degrees and all ages, without exception.
We should not doubt that this commandment applies to us. For hear what Christ, the perfect teacher of all truth, says in the New Testament. “You have heard”, says Christ, “that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Here our saviour Christ not only confirms and establishes the law against adultery given in the Old Testament by God the Father through his servant Moses, and applies it at full strength, so that it should continually remain for those who profess his name under the new law. He also condemns the gross interpretation of the Scribes and Pharisees, which taught that this commandment only required people to abstain from outward adultery and not from filthy desires and impure lusts. And he teaches us an exact and full perfection of purity and cleanness of life, that we should keep our bodies undefiled, and also keep our hearts pure and free from all evil thoughts, carnal desires, and fleshly feelings.
How then can we be free from this commandment, in which so great a charge is laid upon us? May a servant do their own will in anything, when they have a commandment from their master to the contrary? Is not Christ our Master? Are not we his servants? How then may we neglect our Master’s will and pleasure, and follow our own will and fantasy? “You are my friends,” says Christ, “if you do what I command” (John 15:14). Now Christ our Master has commanded us that we should forsake all uncleanness and lechery, both in body and spirit. This therefore we must do, if we seek to please God.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we read that the Scribes and Pharisees were grievously offended with Christ because his disciples did not keep the traditions of their forefathers. For they did not ceremonially wash their hands when they went to dinner or supper, among other things. Christ answered and said, “Hear and understand: it is not that which enters into the mouth while defiles a person, but that which comes out of the mouth which defiles someone. For those things which proceed out of the mouth comes forth from the heart, and they defile the person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are the things which defile a person” (Matthew 15:1-20). Here we may see that not only murder, theft, false witness, and blasphemy defile someone; but also evil thoughts, adultery, fornication, and sexual immorality.
Therefore, who is so stupid that they will consider sexual immorality and fornication to be things of small importance and of no weight before God? Christ, who is the Truth and cannot lie (John 14:6; Titus 1:2), says that evil thoughts, adultery, sexual immorality, and fornication defile a person. That is to say, they corrupt both the body and the soul, and make the temples of the Holy Spirit into a filthy dunghill or dungeon of unclean spirits; they make the mansion of God into the dwelling place of Satan.
Again, in the Gospel of John, when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Christ did he not say to her, “Go on your way, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Does he not here call sexual immorality a sin? And what is the reward of sin, but everlasting death (Romans 6:23)? If sexual immorality is sin, then it is not lawful to commit it. For St. John says, “The one who commits sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And our saviour says, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34; Romans 6:16). If sexual immorality was not a sin, surely John the Baptist would never have rebuked King Herod for taking his brother’s wife. But he told him plainly that it was not lawful for him to take his brother’s wife. He did not wink at the sexual immorality of Herod, even though he was a king of great power, but boldly rebuked him for his wicked and abominable living, even though he lost his head for this (Mark 6:17-29). He would rather suffer death than see God so dishonoured by the breaking of his holy precept, or to suffer sexual immorality to be un-rebuked, even in a king.
If sexual immorality was just a pastime, a dalliance, and a thing of little importance, as many consider it these days, then truly, John was more than twice mad for incurring the displeasure of a king and being cast into prison and losing his head, all for a mere trifle. But John knew very well how filthy, stinking, and abominable the sin of sexual immorality is in the sight of God. And therefore he would not leave it un-rebuked, no, not even in a king. If sexual immorality is not lawful for a king, neither is it lawful for a subject. If it is not lawful in a public official, neither is it lawful in a private person. If it is not lawful in king or subject, in public official or private person, then truly it is not lawful for any man or woman, whoever they are and however old they are.
The Apostles’ teaching
Furthermore, in the Acts of the Apostles we read that the apostles and elders, with the whole congregation, were gathered together to encourage the hearts of the faithful in Antioch (who were uneasy because of the false doctrine of certain Jewish preachers). They sent word to the brethren that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them to charge with no more than the necessary things. Among other things, therefore they urged them to abstain from idolatry, and fornication. “You will do well to avoid these things,” they said (Acts 15:22-29).
Note here how these holy and blessed fathers of Christ’s church charged the congregation with nothing more than was necessary. Mark also how among those things from which the brethren of Antioch were urged to abstain, fornication and sexual immorality are included. It is therefore necessary, by the determination of the Holy Spirit and the apostles and elders, with the whole congregation, that we must abstain from idolatry and superstition and also from fornication and sexual immorality. Is it necessary to salvation to abstain from idolatry? So it is also to abstain from sexual immorality. Is there any better way to lead to damnation than to be an idolator? No, and neither is there a better way to damnation than to be caught up in sexual immorality.
Now, where are those people who so lightly esteem the breaking of marriage vows, sexual immorality, fornication, and adultery? It is necessary, says the Holy Spirit, the blessed apostles, the elders, with the whole congregation of Christ — it is necessary to salvation, they say, to abstain from sexual immorality. If it is necessary for salvation, then woe to those who neglect their salvation and give their minds to so filthy and stinking a sin, to so wicked a vice, and to such detestable abomination.