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The Punishment of Sexual Immorality

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 29 Mar 2021

Lee Gatiss preaches the final part of the 1547 Homily against adultery and sexual immorality.

In the second part of this sermon against adultery, you have learned how earnestly the Scripture warns us to avoid the sin of adultery and to embrace cleanness of life. We saw that through adultery we fall into all kinds of sins and are made bondservants of the devil, but through cleanness of life we live as members of Christ. And finally, we heard how far adultery takes someone from goodness and drives them headlong into all vices, mischief, and misery. Now I will declare to you next what grievous punishments God in times past plagued adultery, and how certain secular rulers also punished it. By this you will perceive that sexual immorality and fornication are sins which are detestable in the sight of God and all good people, as I have been saying.

Old Testament examples
In the first book of Moses, we read that when mankind began to be multiplied on the earth, the men and women gave their minds so greatly to fleshly delights and impure pleasure that they lived without all fear of God (Genesis 6-7). God, seeing this carnal and abominable living, and perceiving that they did not amend their lives but rather increased daily more and more in their sinful and unclean lifestyles, repented that he had ever made them. And to show how greatly he abhorred adultery, sexual immorality, fornication, and all uncleanness, he made all the foundations of the deep earth burst out, and the floodgates of heaven opened so that rain came down on the earth for forty days and forty nights. By this means, he destroyed the whole world and all mankind, all except eight people: Noah, the “preacher of righteousness” as St. Peter calls him (2 Peter 2:5), his wife, his three sons, and their wives. What a grievous judgment God sent here on all living creatures, for the sin of sexual immorality. Because of this, God took vengeance not only on mankind but also on birds, beasts, and all living creatures. Murder had been committed before, but the world had not been destroyed for that. But for sexual immorality, the world (apart from a few) was overwhelmed with water and so perished. An example worthy to be remembered, so that you may learn to fear God.

Again, we read that for the filthy sin of uncleanness, Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities near to them were destroyed with fire and brimstone from heaven, so that there was neither man, woman, child, or beast there left alive, nor anything that grew on the earth (Genesis 19:1-29). Whose heart does not tremble at the hearing of this history? Who is so drowned in sexual immorality and uncleanness that they will not now and forever leave this abominable lifestyle, seeing that God grievously punishes uncleanness, to rain fire and brimstone from heaven to destroy whole cities, to kill man, woman, and child, and all other living creatures who lived there, to consume with fire all that ever grew? What can be more manifest tokens of God’s wrath and vengeance against uncleanness and impurity of life? Mark this history (good people), and fear the vengeance of God.

Do we not also read that God struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of his ungodly desire for Sarai, the wife of Abraham (Genesis 12:14-17)? Likewise we read of Abimelech, King of Gerar, although he did not touch her or sleep with her (Genesis 20:1-7). God cast these plagues and punishments on impure and unclean people before the Law was given to declare how great his love for marriage is (the law of nature alone reigning in the hearts of humanity). The Law would later declare how much he abhors adultery, fornication, and all uncleanness. And when the Law that forbade sexual sin was given by Moses to the Jews, did not God command that those who broke it should be put to death? The words of the Law are these: “Whoever commits adultery with another man’s wife shall be put to death — both the man and the woman — because they have broken the bond of marriage” (Leviticus 20:10). In the Law it was also commanded that a woman and a man caught together in sexual sin should both be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

In another place we also read that God commanded Moses to take all the chiefs and leaders of the people, and to hang them on gallows openly so that everyone could see them, because they committed or did not punish sexual immorality (Numbers 25:4). And again, did not God send such a plague among the people, for fornication and uncleanness, that twenty-three thousand died in one day (Numbers 25:9; 1 Corinthians 10:8)?

I pass over for lack of time the many other histories in the holy Bible which declare the grievous vengeance and heavy displeasure of God against the sexually immoral and adulterers. Certainly, this extreme punishment appointed by God evidently shows how greatly God hates sexual immorality. So let us not doubt that God at this present time abhors all manner of uncleanness, no less than he did under the old Law, and will undoubtedly punish it, both in this world and in the world to come. For he is a God who can abide no wickedness. Therefore, all who care for the glory of God and the salvation of their souls ought to avoid it.

St. Paul says, “All these things are written for our example,” and to teach us the fear of God and obedience to his holy law (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11). For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare us who are only grafted on, if we commit such offences (Romans 11:21-22). If God destroyed many thousands of people, many cities, indeed the whole world, because of sexual immorality, let us not flatter ourselves and think that we shall escape and be free without punishment. For he has promised in his holy law to send most grievous plagues on those who transgress his holy commandments.

Civil punishments
Thus we have heard how God punishes the sin of adultery. Let us now hear about certain laws which the civil magistrates devised in various countries for the punishment of it. Then we will learn how uncleanness has always been detested in all well-ordered cities and commonwealths, and among all honest persons.

The law among the Lepreians was this: that when anyone was caught in adultery, they were bound and carried for three days through the city and afterwards, as long as they lived, they were despised and with shame considered as people without any honesty. Among the Locrians, adulterers had both of their eyes thrust out. The Romans in times past punished sexual immorality sometimes by fire, sometimes by sword. If a man among the Egyptians was taken in adultery, the law was that he should openly, in the presence of all the people, be whipped naked a thousand times; the woman that was caught with him had her nose cut off, and so was always identified as an adulteress and therefore to be abhorred by all. Among the Arabians, those who were caught in adultery had their heads cut off. The Athenians punished sexual immorality by death in a similar way. So likewise did the barbarous Tartars. Among the Turks, even today, those caught in adultery, both man and woman, are stoned to death straightaway without mercy.

Thus we see what godly laws were devised in times past by the authorities, for putting away sexual immorality and for maintaining holy marriage and pure relationships. And the author of these laws were not Christians, but heathen. Yet they were so inflamed with the love of honesty and purity of life, that for the maintenance and conservation of it they made godly statutes, allowing neither fornication nor adultery to reign in their realms unpunished. Christ said to the people: “The people of Nineveh will rise at the judgment with this nation (meaning the unfaithful Jews) and shall condemn them. For they repented at the preaching of Jonah, but behold,” he said, “one greater than Jonah is here (meaning himself), and yet you do not repent” (Matthew 12:41). So do you not think that in the same way, the Locrians, Arabians, Athenians, and the others will rise up at the judgment and condemn us? They ceased their sexual immorality at human command, and we have the law and clear precepts and commandments of God — and yet we do not forsake our impure lifestyles. Truly, truly, it shall be easier on the day of judgment for those heathen people than for us, unless we repent and change.

Although physical death seems to us a grievous punishment in this world for sexual immorality, yet that pain is nothing in comparison to the grievous torments which adulterers, fornicators, and all unclean persons shall suffer after this life. For all such people shall be excluded and shut out of the kingdom of heaven, as St. Paul says: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5). And St. John in his Revelation says that the sexually immoral shall have their part with murderers, sorcerers, enchanters, liars, idolators and such others, in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8). The punishment of the body, although it is death, has an end; but the punishment of the soul, which St. John calls “the second death” is everlasting: there shall be fire and brimstone, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the worm which there gnaws the conscience of the damned shall never die (Matthew 13:42; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 3:17; Isaiah 66:24).

O whose heart does not distil even drops of blood to hear and consider these things? If we tremble and shake at the hearing and naming of these pains, O what shall those who feel them do when they suffer them, and suffer them forever? God have mercy on us. Who is now so drowned in sin and past all godliness, that they will be more concerned for an impure pleasure (which soon passes away) than by the loss of everlasting glory? Again, who will so give themselves to the lusts of the flesh that they do not fear the pains of hell fire at all?

Keep your hearts pure
But now let us hear how we may avoid the sin of sexual immorality, so we may walk in the fear of God and be free from those most grievous and intolerable torments which afflict all unclean persons. To avoid fornication, adultery, and all uncleanness, let us ensure that above all things, we keep our hearts pure and clean from all evil thoughts and carnal lusts. For if our heart is so infected and corrupted, we fall headlong into all kinds of ungodliness. This we shall easily do if, when we feel inwardly that Satan our old enemy tempts us to sexual immorality, we by no means consent to his crafty suggestions but valiantly resist and withstand him by strong faith in the word of God. We must always bring against him in our heart this commandment of God: Scriptum est, non moechaberis; “It is written, ‘You shall not commit sexual sin’” (Matthew 5:27; Exodus 20:14).

It would be good also for us to always live in the fear of God and to set before our eyes the grievous threatenings of God against all ungodly sinners. And we should consider in our minds how impure, carnal, and brief that pleasure is to which Satan moves us. And again, how the pain appointed as punishment for that sin is intolerable and everlasting. Moreover, we must be moderate and sober in eating and drinking, avoid unclean conversation, avoid all immoral company, flee idleness, delight in reading holy scripture, and watch in godly prayers and virtuous meditations. And at all times to endure godly trials shall help greatly in the avoidance of sexual sin.

Here are all sorts of people to be admonished, whether they are married or unmarried, to love chastity and cleanness of life. For the married are bound by the law of God, so purely to love one another that neither of them seek any other love. The man must only join to his wife, and the wife only to her husband. They must so delight in one another’s company that neither of them covet any other. And as they are bound to live together like this in all godliness and honesty, so likewise is it their duty to bring up their children, that they do not fall into Satan’s snare or into any uncleanness, but that they may come pure and honest to holy marriage in due time.

So likewise ought all masters and rulers to provide that no sexual immorality or any kind of uncleanness is indulged in by their servants. And again, those who are single and feel in themselves that they cannot live without the company of a spouse, let them marry and so live together in a godly way. For it is better to marry than to burn (1 Corinthians 7:9). And to avoid fornication, the apostle says “each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Finally, all such as feel in themselves a sufficiency and ability (through the operation of God’s Spirit) to lead a single and self-controlled life, let them praise God for his gift, and seek by all means possible to maintain this, by reading holy scriptures, by godly meditations, by continual prayers, and other such virtuous exercises.

If we all endeavour to behave in this way — to avoid fornication, adultery, and all uncleanness, and lead our lives in all godliness and honesty, serving God with a pure and clean heart, and glorifying him in our bodies by leading an innocent life — we may be sure to be in the number of those of whom our saviour Christ speaks in the Gospel thus: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) — to whom alone be all glory, honour, rule, and power, forever and ever, Amen. 

Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society

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