Having re-emphasised the fact that death alone can break the marriage bond, we now continue with our Lord's teaching from Matthew chapter 5. Here is the same scripture portion that we examined in our previous chapter, but with the fornication clause set aside even as Mark, Luke and Paul have done. "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (Matthew 5:31-32). Christ's "it hath been said" is a clear reference to Moses' concessions; however, the Lord follows this up with His all-powerful "but I say unto you," thereby dismissing what Moses had said. Rather than govern a nation out of which a small remnant clave unto God as Moses did, Christ is addressing His church as a "holy nation," His "body" and His "bride." He will, in a day to come, present her to Himself as a bride without spot and without blemish. His body and bride is made up of those who have answered the gospel call, repented and turned from sin. In fact right here in chapter 5, the Lord is addressing those overcomers who are destined to reign with Him forever, namely: "the poor in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers" and "the persecuted for righteousness sake." We feel sure that the above would prefer to be in the enjoyment of happy family life. However, those who have truly come to repentance and have by grace gained an interest in their Saviour's death are not about to submit a bill of rights to God. Such are content to suffer loss if need be, rather than be found living in contradiction to God's holy word. In contrast to the world's bill of rights the truly repentant possesses a humble gratitude coupled with self-denial and obedience. The prayer of such is: "Lord please forgive me and my spouse for all our sins and please restore our family that your Holy Name may be glorified." Such realise that the spirit of divorce and remarriage is Babylonish and entirely foreign to the kingdom of God and all that it stands for.
Dear friends, the Lord has set before us a "narrow way", asking each of us to take up our cross and follow Him. There is nothing in the beatitudes about a life of ease and self-will. We are following "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). There will be time enough for celebration when He takes us home, but while we are in the world we will have tribulation. Yet we possess a hope that is steadfast and sure. The obedient child of God possesses a deep and overflowing joy that the world cannot give nor take away. Those who possess this joy unspeakable have no desire to sing: "I did it my way," but in a day to come they will sing: "we did it His way." Sadly, many religious people at the time of Christ's earthly ministry were not prepared to lay down their life, their selfish aspirations, their bill of rights. They wanted to enter heaven but were loath to crucify the flesh. Christ lovingly warns us against the peril of this "way that seemeth right unto man." "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).
True salvation is "Not of works lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9). This exceeding righteousness referred to by our Lord is His own which we poor sinners may inherit. But the terms of the will demand death to all that is contrary to God's commands. We cannot live in contradiction to His word and at the same time claim our inheritance.
Now it is clear from Christ's commands that a man who puts away his wife is the cause of her becoming an adulteress should she remarry. It was extremely difficult in Christ's day for a lady to survive alone, especially if she had no brothers or if her father was deceased. The pressure to remarry was enormous. Christ adds to this that any man who marries the woman unfortunate enough to have been divorced also commits adultery. No matter how badly her husband has behaved, she is and will be as long as he lives his wife. Any man who seeks to deny this fact by marrying the divorced woman also cuts across God's immutable command and is called by God an adulterer. Remember, it is not sin to marry after a broken engagement bond, but it is sin to violate the immutable marriage bond. This obviously is a most serious matter and worthy of our closest scrutiny, seeing we have it on authority that no practicing adulterer will enter into the kingdom of heaven. We know of many church leaders who admit to Christ's definition of adultery. They counsel their followers to confess their sin and repent. However, their credibility collapses totally after they then claim that these once-illegitimate relationships became legitimate upon confession and so-called repentance. That would be like a thief confessing to his crime and claiming to have repented, and then insisting that he gets to keep the money.
Please consider this hypothetical example: I am preaching the gospel and a man comes forward under conviction of sin and begins to confide in me. He was involved in an armed hold-up of an armoured car ten years ago. In the ensuing scuffle he shot a guard, but he and his accomplice managed to escape with $800,000. He then explains that he was able to launder his share of the money. Since then he has married, purchased a business, is raising a family and appears to be a respectable citizen. Yet he has no peace, for he is continually haunted by his crimes. I am a sinner, he cries, can I be forgiven? Now, in receipt of this knowledge I have immediately become an accessory after the fact. How do I honour God, the law and this man's confidence? Do I say: Sure, don't tell anyone else. Just confess to God and repent. Old things will pass away and all things will become new when you become a Christian. Just be good from here on. God forbid that I should ever represent the gospel of repentance and remission of sins in such a loose way! No, my advice will be consistent with the gospel of repentance: upon the confession of our sins and our preparedness to forsake them, the blood of our Lord Jesus will wash us clean. His precious blood, though, will not cover sin. It is a washing agent, not a covering. If true repentance is at work and true conversion has taken place, this former robber and murderer will not leave a stone unturned as he faces the consequences of his crimes: the indictment of his accomplice and also the man who drove the getaway car and the money launderers, the public humiliation, all that he possesses sold to pay back the bank, letters of deep contrition to the shot guard's family, his wife and children destitute, plus thirty years in prison! Yet, though he is a prisoner, he will be a free man. His wife and children will respect and honour him for having the sincerity and courage needed to put things right with God and man. Their husband's and fathers true repentance will comfort them even while facing hardship. He has done even as that great repentance preacher preached long ago: "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8).
Yes it is hard, but it is right. To the carnal mind, this would seem to be the end; but God will honour this forgiven man, and his family will be blessed even though he is not personally able to care for them. In prison he will sing psalms and spiritual songs; he will have a powerful ministry with all he comes in contact with. No, he hasn't saved himself any more than that robber saved himself while hanging next to Christ. He has, though, shown fruit of the true work of God in his life and is in possession of a conscience that is void of offence before God and man, a great treasure to have in possession. We affirm: a robber cannot keep stolen money, a murderer cannot cover his crime, and an adulterer cannot continue to live in contradiction to God's law. Repentance means not just confession but also a turning from sin, followed by restoration and restitution wherever possible. We do not convict people; the Holy Spirit does that. But woe be to us if we hinder convicted people from salvation and peace by turning them away from bringing forth works appropriate to and consistent with true repentance.
Often, children are used to excuse illegitimate relationships and keep them together. As sad and touching as such cases may be, children can never legitimise what Christ has defined as adultery any more than our example's children could be used to legitimise his committing murder and robbery. Nevertheless, a man who divorces his wife and marries another, or a man who marries a divorced woman while her husband yet lives, will upon true repentance not only forsake the adulterous relationship but do all within his power to provide for his children, both legitimate and illegitimate. Love and care, with all holiness and purity too, should be shown toward that person with whom they were previously in an unlawful relationship. If Christ would have us love our enemies, how much more should we love those who have lived in sin with us! A truly repentant adulterer or adulteress may return to their legitimate mate; or if this is not possible, should abide alone. The children born out of illegitimate relationships have a far better chance of spiritual rebirth if they have witnessed their parent's true repentance rather than that they continue to suffer under the heavy load of their parent's continued adulterous relationship. It is totally false to continue in sin and claim that it is for the children's welfare.
Rather than sanction what Christ has defined as adultery, the church should spring to the aid of repentant adulterers. They need all the love and support that we can give. Sadly, deserted partners and repentant adulterers are generally neglected by the church, rather than being taken for the valuable church members that they are.
In conclusion then, the Lord's judgement in Matthew chapter 5 is that any man who puts away his wife puts her in serious jeopardy of committing adultery. Also, any man who marries her that has been put away from her husband, also commits adultery. Our cry to those living in contradiction to the clear word of God is: repent and turn from your sin while you can. Don't listen to the false justifications of man, as attractive as they may sound, but listen to the clear and loving warnings of your Creator before it is forever too late. Our warning to church leaders who have in the past aided and abetted those committing the crime of adultery: repent! You won't be able to blame your denomination or your congregation for your sin, when ultimately you answer to the One who has spoken these righteous laws into being.
Finally, to those of us who have been true to our spouses and upheld Christ's testimony, may we remember that merely looking and lusting is as serious as the crime of adultery, according to our Lord. Let us admire our beautiful ladies with pure minds, and cast down every thought and imagination that exalts itself above the word of God. Anything short of that needs to be confessed and repented of, so let us walk honourably before God and man; and in godliness and meekness, seek to help one another as we with patience run the race.