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6 The Law Against Adultery

Thou shalt not commit adultery

Exodus 20:14

In their outward form, the Ten Commandments are arranged in the order of their sanctity, and thus of their importance. Inwardly, they all cohere with each other; and in the inmost sense they describe man's covenant with the Lord. Still, the last six of the precepts, in which are specified certain acts which we are forbidden to do, have regard to man's duties to his neighbor rather than to his duty toward the Lord. In them it is definitely enjoined on us that we must not kill any one, for this is to take away the life which the Lord gave him; we must not commit adultery, for adultery is nearly as effective in spoiling a life as is murder; we must not steal a man's possessions, for property-right is at the basis of man's life in society, and to deprive him of what is his is to endanger and diminish his life and to interfere with his uses; neither must we bear false witness, for lying undermines justice, deprives others of their good name, and thus in another way interferes with the life rightfully theirs.

These commandments are all intended to safeguard the neighbor's life. If society is not to perish, a man's body, his life, possessions, and reputation, must be held sacred by his fellows. This is the reason why every country - quite apart from any religious intentions, but for its own self-defense - protects its citizens by laws against homicide, laws regulating marriages, laws against theft, laws against injurious falsehoods.

The New Churchman, in the light of the Word and the Heavenly Doctrine, regards these laws as necessary. They protect earthly society; and society is necessary for usefulness. Society and its uses are provided by the Lord Himself as a means to serve His purpose of leading man to heavenly societies and heavenly uses, and of preparing him for such heavenly community life. For this reason earthly society and its laws must be loved, and upheld, and protected, and if possible made truly effective in becoming true means to spiritual ends, and thus in advancing the kingdom of the Lord in the hearts of men.

Yet earthly society will always reflect the state of the Church in the world. Crimes that obviously endanger the order of society, and impede the freedom of commerce and industry, and many other things which are treasured by the Love of the World can be met, and in some degree subdued, by the prudence of civil government. But when we examine the problems attending such a law as the sixth precept - "Thou shalt not commit adultery" - it becomes obvious that no civil power can effect anything of permanent value except so far as this effort is upheld by the state of religion among its citizens. And even where religion rules, it is relatively easier to follow the ideals of the Church and the dictates of its thought and doctrine, when these coincide with the current opinion of the world.

Public crimes, which threaten society with immediate consequences, are generally publicly condemned. But personal evils - such as relate to the relation and mutual attitude of the sexes, and whose consequences are at first private and thus less apparent - are not so popularly condemned. Here, therefore, the battle is more severe. Man has to fight, in silence, an individual battle against his own heart - a battle where his conscience stands out against the laxities and compromises of public opinion, on the one hand, and against the hypocrisies of the Pharisees of today, on the other. This battle is the special battle of the New Church; and the Church will find her true distinctiveness, her reason for existence, and her road of progress, when she learns to discern and shun the evils which the world connives at.

It is constantly borne in upon those who read the Writings of the New Church, that we are living in the age of a consummated church; that the New Church represents only a small remnant, unable as yet to create any dominant state in the world, and that the world as a whole regards marriage as a merely worldly provision for the satisfaction of the normal instincts of man, for the propagation of the race, and for the rearing of the young. The true idea - that marriage is essentially meant as a progressive union of two souls and minds - is today absent from the world's serious thought; even though it may still linger in the daydreams of poets and lovers.

In the Christian World no true idea of conjugial love and of marriage prevails. The old Christian Church is in spiritual adultery; and there is no true marriage of good and truth in it (AE 1008:2). The perception of truth in religious matters has largely departed from present day Christianity, and its place has been usurped by false teachings, by a vast spiritual ignorance, and by a creeping agnosticism. And since it is the tendency of falsity to excuse evils and conjoin them to itself, there is scarcely present in the world any internal aversion to adultery, but only an external aversion, which is, in part, blind to the source and nature of adultery and its brood of kindred evils. For the essential character of marriage can be seen only by those who recognized and will that it shall last into eternity, not merely unto the death of the body.

To the New Church the promise has been given that truly conjugial love can and shall be restored. And if the New Church shall ever be truly and permanently established on earth, it must be by its treasuring of that promise. There is no use so great here on earth - no influence so wide, no work so effective - as that which two married partners perform when they live together in truly conjugial love. For the shunning of the love of adultery is the only means of breaking and modifying the evil heredity of the human race, and thus - in each generation -of laying an organic and actual foundation in human flesh and blood for the spiritual advance of mankind, and of handing on to the next generation the inclinations towards spiritual things which the parents - by their battles against evils - have confirmed (CL 202-204).

We cannot here dwell on the uses of the marriage of conjugial love, on the regenerative effects of the conjugial life, on the educative value of a home which is built up around a love of the Lord, a conjugial love between parents, and thus a love of offspring. Nor can we more than refer to the felicity and delights which only truly conjugial love can give, and the protection against hell which such love guarantees (AE 999). So important is the knowledge of these things to the New Church of the present and to the world of the future, that an entire volume of revealed doctrine is devoted to the virtual exposition of the Sixth Commandment, under the title of Conjugial Love. Without the inspiration of that God-given work, the New Church could not hope to survive through the temptations of the present world. Without the reverent reading of that work, no young man or woman is adequately equipped either to meet the problems which come to him and to her in the later years of adolescence, or to understand themselves truly, or to ensure for themselves the strength of a pure, clean, manhood or womanhood on which their future happiness will rest. And when they read, in the 49th paragraph of that work, the glorious promise that "those who from early youth had loved, wished for, and asked of the Lord, a legitimate and lovely companionship with one, and who spurn and reject wandering lusts as an offense to their nostrils," will find, even here on earth, their real mate with whom they shall live in eternal and heavenly union - what ideal could have a more powerful effect on their lives than this Divine promise! and what could keep their ways ever lit up by a more real hope and a more tangible blessedness!

Surely it shall be a fact, and already is a fact, that "those who will be of the New Jerusalem" will shun especially all that savors of adultery, of the love of dominion, of deceit, as deadly evils which close heaven to man (SD 6053). And the reason why adultery is first mentioned is because the love of adultery is the fundamental love of hell, and the form into which all evils tend, if not in this life, yet in the next; while conjugial love is the fundamental of all good loves - celestial, spiritual, and natural - and the form into which they tend, for the blessedness of men and angels.

This being so, we may see that the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," does not only forbid the breaking of the marriage vow. The actual infidelity of adultery is the end of a long road, and while comparatively few arrive at that end in this life and thus become guilty in act, yet untold multitudes travel on the road which leads there, and thus are guilty in intention and purpose. This was referred to by the Lord when He said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:27, 28).

The sin of adultery thus includes all obscenity, all impurity of act and speech, and all thought or insinuation which in any way degrades the holy estate of monogamous marriage, which the Lord Himself as Creator has intended and instituted for a seminary of heaven and for the fruition of human life, and as Redeemer has uplifted from the degradations of polygamy and placed before us as a spiritual and eternal means of blessedness and perfection.

The sixth commandment is by no means given only for the married, or only for the adult. To infants it should mean Innocence and Charity. To children it should mean Purity and (in their behavior toward the opposite sex) Courtesy and Obedience, Tenderness and Friendship and Chivalry. To the adolescent youth it must mean an open-minded confidence in his or her parents and thoughtful consideration of their guidance; it must mean responsible self-control in the face of unknown temptations, modesty, and mutual respect between the sexes, and a deepening reverence towards marriage; it must mean the cultivation of a wholesome idealism which leads to an aversion against what is immoral or unhealthy, and to an avoidance of evil companionship. To the young man and the young woman, the sixth commandment means especially the need for a religious ideal in their relations to those of the other sex, whether in their general social life or in their marriage. For only by regeneration can the Lord give them, as their own, the gift of conjugial love and the chaste love of the sex, and only by community of spiritual life can a true marriage be formed - an eternal union of two minds and hearts which are bent upon the same heavenly goal and are able to walk by the same road of spiritual instruction and obedience. Personal loyalty one to another is not sufficient to knit two souls together; there must be a common loyalty to the Truth which is higher than them both.

We may thus trace the growth of conjugial love from the primitive forms which contain it in childhood, which prophesy and prepare for its coming. But no genuine good is from man. Man is born merely corporeal, and by heredity he inclines to evil rather than to good, to hell rather than to heaven, to adultery rather than to true conjugial love. By nature man is a beast, an animal, and it is only by education, by moral and spiritual truths, that he is lifted up into the human state and degree. The love of the sex with man is natural, and thus not very different from that of animals. And it is carefully emphasized in the Heavenly Doctrine, that the "love of the sex" is not the origin of Conjugial Love. Truly human love comes only from the Lord; and it is from Him that it inflows when man is ready to receive it; and man is ready only if he looks to the Lord, shuns evils as sins, and, both in ideals and in practice, determines his love to one of the sex.

It is only by new truth - by spiritual verities about the nature and eternity of marriage - that conjugial love can be restored among men, restored to its proper position of regard, restored as a hope and an ideal, restored as an actual possibility and as a fact in natural life. Among the many protracted struggles which lie before the New Church is the effort to remove -from within its own borders - the veil of embarrassment, which the world's evils and man's self-consciousness have combined to spread around the ideals and the doctrine of true conjugial love. Conjugial love is the center, the focus, of all good loves. The finest and the most loyal and noble and selfless instincts of heaven enter into it. All good men seek for it. God created us for it. It does exist - even now in utmost purity. Yet the sphere of adultery and faithlessness and deceit and insane stupidity from hell is so strong in the world that when marriage is mentioned evil men and evil spirits insinuate the idea of what is unhappy and impure. The New Church must defend itself from this sphere of infestation, in whatever form it comes; for only by constant resistence to such spheres can the basis be laid for a sphere of Innocence within the Church, in which the marvelous and beautiful form of love truly conjugial can unfold itself and grow. Innocence means the state of being led willingly by the Lord. And the Lord leads the men of the New Church by the laws of His order, which are the truths of His Heavenly Doctrine. Only by obedience not half-hearted part-obedience, but full and eager consent, evidenced and supported by a research of the laws of Conjugial Love, a study of the Lord's conditions for granting true love - only by such unquestioning obedience is a sphere of innocence established in the church -a sphere from heaven, which, in its essence, is so powerful that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it and evil spirits will flee from it. In this atmosphere of loyalty to the Doctrine, the fulfillment shall come of the promise given, that those (only) will appropriate conjugial love to themselves who will be received by the Lord into the New Church which is the New Jerusalem (CL 43).

What a great responsibility is thus laid upon every man and woman of the Church to maintain and keep unsullied the sphere of innocence within the communion of the Church - the sphere of a spiritual marriage of faith and charity, of willing obedience to our grand and lofty faith in this love which the Lord can give! It is by a life of faith that the Church becomes the Bride and Wife of the Lamb. From that celestial marriage, and from that alone, comes the marriage of love truly conjugial. It cannot come in any other way than by a faithful observance of the prescribed laws of heaven, which are now also revealed and accommodated to be the laws of the Church.

It is especially to woman that the main-tainance of conjugial love is assigned. "Conjugial love depends on the love of the wife" (De Conj. 34). "In every woman conjugial love is implanted from creation" (CL 409). "The conjugial sphere is received by the female sex"; through this it affects the male sex and "is transferred into the male sex"; and because, as we read, "conjugial love exists solely with the female sex" (CL 223), it was said to Adam that "a man should cleave to his wife." In fact, the stability of society - which in the last analysis rests upon the institution of marriage and thus upon conjugial love - demands that the very nature of woman should incline to monogamy, to the marriage of one man and one woman. And so Providence has ordained. Woman is the guardian of conjugial love, and has therefore a most sacred role which only the most foolish of women dare trifle with or treat with levity or flippancy. It is hers to inspire conjugial love, and provide a safe future for the next generation.

It may be hers, too, to flaunt her charms, or to permit familiarity of touch - and touch is a sense which is sacred to conjugial love - to do this without the modesty which remembers that her powers, greater than she perhaps knows, are yet only entrusted to her by the Lord the Creator for His good purposes. She may thus destroy her use - may encourage the spheres of evi1 passion - and realize only too late the truth of the Biblical proverb which says, "Can one take fire in his bosom and one's clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals and one's feet not be burned?" (Prov. 6:27,28). Herein speaks the wisdom of all the ages. And despite what man may do, and the rational wisdom which he may have for her to love, the woman has the power to set the standards in moral life, and it is for the man to cleave to them, to adapt himself to her ideals to win her favor. This is and has been the immemorial basis of society and the foundation of the home.

The higher virtues of love to God and to fellow-men all cohere within conjugial love; and all have their opposites which cohere within adultery, and which indeed lead to abominable perversions in hell. The most obvious sin within adultery is of course the breaking of the sacred marriage promise, which initiated the conjugial life by an assurance of its continuance beyond the end of life. Without a looking to eternity, conjugial love and conjugial unity can never be achieved.

In inward aspect adultery causes other bonds, other covenants, to be broken; heavenly convenants which, when broken, lead to separations far more terrible than that of two human beings from each other, or the breaking up of homes. For by adultery man separates himself from heaven, and from the Lord, and from the goods and truths of the Church. This separation, or rejection of spiritual things, is not a sudden thing. Indeed, the interior rejection of the truths of life often is what paves the way more and more for the loosening of outward bonds, until the conscience against doing evil has been destroyed.

The precept, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," therefore must stand guard before us against the terrible forces - living, insidious forces - of the spiritual world, which invade the minds of men seeking to relax the bonds of conscience and to dissolve the marriage-union between Truth and Obedience, between Wisdom and Love, between Faith and Charity. But the Lord Himself, as far as He is loved, is present within His commands. He is there to guard and to withstand the assaults of temptation. For without His constant presence the Church would be powerless against the subtle infestations of evil. He rules the genii and spirits of hell, and when He has fought the battle and redeemed His Bride at last, there shall be everlasting peace and internal blessedness of life in the New Jerusalem.


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6 The Law Against Adultery

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