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All history bears witness to the fact that when vital godliness is at a low ebb, the sacred institution of marriage is held in light esteem

Now, we have been studying Matthew's gospel chapter 5 in the recent year that has gone by. We have been studying in the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps almost two years ago we were studying the Beatitudes, and then we took a break for a while and we commenced again our studying in the Sermon on the Mount. We've been going through a few verses - we've been interrupted in recent weeks with the start of the new season here in the Assembly, we've been having a week of prayer and we've been ministering around that and so on. We're returning again this week, as announced, to the subject of the Sermon on the Mount - specifically the relation of adultery, which you find in verse 27 right through, and then we find in verses 31 and 32 the subject of divorce.

This is a very controversial subject, and I want to bear my heart before you today to let you understand that I, in no shape or form, want to offend or embarrass anyone. So please do not feel that I am getting at anyone. I don't seek to hurt anyone, or wound those who have already been wounded or touched by this very controversial subject. I can't avoid it, and maybe, in my heart of hearts, if I could avoid it I would. But when you're going systematically through a passage of the word of God, and especially the Sermon on the Mount, you have to do exegetical somersaults and just ignore these verses - and I'm not prepared to do that. The other reason that I'm addressing this subject is I feel it's very important for our young people, maybe many engaged couples and couples going together, that need to know what the scriptures teach with regard to divorce and remarriage.

Let me also say, before we read the word of God: many godly people, many godly commentators, Christian leaders, disagree with what I will say this morning. I believe it with all my heart. I don't say that I know everything about the subject or the word of God from cover to cover, but I seek this morning to deal with it as honestly and as biblically as I can. But understand that I am not saying that other people who don't believe what I believe are unspiritual or ungodly. There are men and women who have been used in mighty ways who do not believe what I will teach from the word of God today. But I must deal with it, and I won't be dealing with it like a sermon as such because we must go through individual scriptures - and therefore it will be quite an analytical study, and I want you to turn to a few verses. But we must, I hope, be of a disposition today to learn and to know what the Lord says.

So let us read from Matthew chapter 5 and verses 31 and 32. We'll read the whole section - verse 27 - in order to get the flow. The Lord Jesus says: "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. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 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", except, or "saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery".

One famous commentator of the word of God said these immortal words: 'All history bears witness to the fact that when vital godliness is at a low ebb, the sacred institution of marriage is held in light esteem'. I repeat: 'All history bears witness to the fact that when vital godliness is at a low ebb, the sacred institution of marriage is held in light esteem'.

If you know the word of God and the gospel writings of the apostles and, indeed the words of the Lord Jesus, you will see that divorce was unhappily a common occurrence in our Lord's time as it is today. It was a matter of controversy and a matter of common discussion. One of the most principle cases of all that can be found in John chapter 4 and verse 18, where you find the woman who was married several times whom the Lord met at the well at Sychar. There the Lord Jesus revealed Himself to her as Messiah, as the Saviour - the One who had to come to deliver Israel and, indeed to deliver all men from their sins. The Lord spoke prophetically to that woman and said: 'For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband'.

Sadly we must acknowledge that, that many see divorce as an open door and an option that they can take if things do not turn out the way they expect them

Although that is a specific case and cannot be seen as the general situation in Palestine in that day, it certainly gives us an illustration how there were similarities with society and certainly with the demise of the institution of marriage. In the few decades before the fall of both the Grecian and Roman empires, marriage was held in such a low esteem that it was a common thing for a woman to keep tabs on her divorces by the number of rings that she wore on her finger. You could count the rings and count how many husbands she had.

Now, what the Lord is first of all saying is He is addressing what He has already said in verses 29 and 30 with regards to plucking out your right eye and cutting off your right hand. He was telling us how to mortify sin. In other words, how to cut sin away from us and, indeed discard it, throw it away so that it wouldn't infiltrate and pollute the rest of the human being. But the Lord, I believe, as He moves away from that illustration, He wants to tell the people who are listening: 'Those offending members that you're to cut off and throw away does not extend to the divorcement of your wives and your husbands'. In other words, you can't just cut off your wife or cut off your husband and discard them, no matter what thorn in the flesh they may be to you. That was opposed to the views of the Jews in that day. You can see that in the Apocryphal writings of Ecclesiasticus 25:26 - and this is one of the reasons why we reject the Apocrypha as not being the word of God. It writes this: 'If your wife go not as you would have her, cut her off from thy flesh, give her a bill of divorce and let her go'. You can see the imagery there, and how men and women could misunderstand the imagery of the Lord Jesus, of plucking out an eye and cutting off a hand.

Josephus, the great Jewish historian of the church said that, in Judaism, divorce was to be given 'for any cause'. Indeed he himself, in his own life and in his own home, was a prime illustration of that because he put away his wife after she had borne him three children because he was not pleased with her behaviour. So you can see how common it was in the Lord's day to divorce your wife. The same as in society today and, sadly, even those within the church are entering into the holy estate of matrimony believing - at the back of their mind or in the depths of their heart - that it is an option to divorce if things go wrong. Sadly we must acknowledge that, that many see it as an open door and an option that they can take if things do not turn out the way they expect them.

I'm led to believe that divorce in 25 year olds and under has soared 500 per cent since the 1970s in our nation. We are told that marriage is out of fashion, and that is embodied in the fact that a quarter of all couples today co-habit - they live together - and they don't get married. Because of this legal predicament, the law courts, the law society in our country are under so much pressure that they want the divorce laws to be relaxed - in fact, for them to be entirely changed. They want it to be the case that there will be no legal battle in court. For that to happen they want the idea of a guilty party to be abolished: that you're not wrong, or your husband wrong, or your wife wrong; and you just want a divorce and you get a divorce. So there's the dropping of the need or the cause for a divorce.

So you can see in our land today, divorce will no longer and is no longer according to whether adultery has been committed or not, but in fact it is permitted if any reason comes out in court. At the moment the law is that if there's a two year separation with the consent of both parties, or indeed a five year separation without the consent of either party, you're divorced. We must note this please, in the church, and you theologians need to realise this: that we are living in a society today that if your partner wants to divorce you, and you don't want divorce, there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. You must acknowledge that, and we must grapple with that within the church of Jesus Christ. Our laws are changing, so much so that what the law wants to bring is: one year's separation and then a divorce for no reason at all. You'll not need to go to court, you'll not need to give a reason, there'll be no cause: you can just have a divorce after one year's separation. So I hope that you can understand the difficult situation that we face today as our laws change from year to year. That is the reason why I feel that we must be aware of the principles that govern marriage and divorce within the word of God.

We must note this please, in the church, and you theologians need to realise this: that we are living in a society today that if your partner wants to divorce you, and you don't want divorce, there's absolutely nothing you can do about it

We must realise that these verses that we're reading today are not the Lord's view on when a divorce is legitimate and when it is not. Don't fall into that trap. The primary reason that the Lord is bringing these verses is to enshrine again in His holy law - the holy law of the Lord Jesus Christ - the holiness of marriage. Whatever your view on divorce is - whether you believe it's legitimate for adultery, or whether you believe it's not legitimate for any case, it doesn't matter - you must concede that the purpose of the Lord saying these words was to enshrine in His holiness the fact that marriage is a holy estate and is not to be broken. Therefore the Lord is guarding us against anything that would encroach upon the peace, the happiness, and indeed the sanctity of the Christian home.

It's natural that the discussion of purity and adultery and so on, in this passage, should lead to the question of divorce. What is the Lord's teaching on divorce? There are four occasions where the Lord Jesus alludes to this subject. I want you to turn to each of them. The first, we have already read, and I want you to look at it in chapter 5 of Matthew and verses 31 and 32. I may - I'm warning you now - I may go on 5 minutes or so longer so don't throw anything at me! Matthew 5:31 and 32, and you see the Lord says: 'It has been said'. Now, there's a debate on about what has been said: is the Lord quoting from scripture here? Is He quoting something that God has said? Well, it's a bit of both in a way because your margin will tell you that the Lord is quoting from Deuteronomy chapter 24 and verse 1. That is included in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, which is the law. But the Lord is not quoting from the perfect revealed will of God in the law. What I mean by that is simply this: the Lord is quoting something that was brought into institution by Moses because of the hardness of men's hearts. It is found in Deuteronomy but we will learn, in a moment later, why it's found in Deuteronomy. In verses 31 and 32 of Matthew chapter 5 the Lord mentions the man, He mentions nothing to do with the woman: 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement'. In verse 32 also it's in relation to the man, which shows that He's speaking of a certain situation - and He speaks only, in this context, of the conduct of the male in the marriage relationship.

Now, turn to Matthew 19 - Matthew chapter 19 and verses 3 to 9. The Lord speaks again, and He says: 'The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you' - distinguishing - 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery'.

Now, let me give you a little bit of background. The Pharisees come to Him - verse 3 - and test Him. Why are they testing Him? They are testing Him with the backdrop of two Rabbis, two schools of thought on the subject of divorce that were diametrically opposed. One was Rabbi Shammai and the other was Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Shammai said that a divorce can only be given upon the cause of adultery - divorce can only be given if adultery has taken place. Rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, broadened it out as far as you like - in fact, for any cause he legitimised the male in the relationship to divorce his wife if she didn't please him. That ranged from adultery, extramarital affairs, right through to if he just went off her, if he didn't find her attractive anymore and even right through to if she burnt the dinner. That was Rabbi Hillel opposed to Rabbi Shammai. So there are two views that the Lord has in the backdrop of what He says. One man says only for adultery, and the other man says for any cause.

Now, I want you note that as the Pharisees come before the Lord and ask this question, they are assuming already that divorce is legitimate. You must see that! They haven't even entered into the possibility that divorce is not legitimate. For that reason, when they come with whatever views they have - whether they followed Shammai or Hillel - the Lord comes and says in verse 9: 'I say unto you, except for fornication', and again He addresses the men, it doesn't mention the women, 'except for fornication' - that's the only reason you can have divorce.

If the Lord meant adultery when He said 'fornication', why didn't He say 'adultery'?

Now, this is very interesting. Look at the reaction of His own disciples in verse 10. His own disciples say to Him: 'If the case of the man be so with his wife' - now, notice they're emphasising this is the case of the man with his wife - 'it is not good to marry'. Now, what are they saying? The Pharisees come assuming that there's some grounds for divorce, whether Shammai is right with adultery or whether Hillel is right for any cause. They come and say: 'What is the reason to divorce your wife?', and the Lord Jesus says: 'I say unto you, don't divorce except for fornication'. His own disciples are astounded at this: 'Lord, what are You saying? If this is the case, it's better not to marry at all. Lord, You're too narrow. You're taking too narrow an interpretation of the word of God'. Now, I want you to remember that please.

Now, turn with me to the third passage where the Lord mentions this subject, in Mark chapter 10 and I want you to notice the difference between Matthew and Mark. Mark chapter 10, and we are going to take time to go through these things today for they're important. Verse 2: 'And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? testing the Lord. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered', allowed, permitted, 'to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder'. Then it goes on verse 10: 'And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter'.

Now, I want you to notice that, comparing Mark 10 with Matthew 5 and Matthew 19, the Lord Jesus finishes short of what He said in Matthew's gospel. This is where a great deal of confusion comes in. He reaches the point where He's about to say, in Matthew, that divorce is only allowed upon the exception of fornication, but He doesn't say that in Mark. He stops short of saying it! He makes no pronouncement relative to fornication.

Then, in verse 10 and 11 and verse 12, He does something in Mark's gospel that He didn't do in Matthew. He begins to introduce the case of the woman: 'And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery'. He didn't address the woman in Matthew 5 or Matthew 19, but all of a sudden in Mark He doesn't mention fornication, He doesn't mention an exception, and He begins to address the woman.

Now, these raise grave questions for us and so does Luke chapter 16 if you turn to it for the last reference of the Lord to this great subject. Luke chapter 16 and verse 18, and the Lord again, like in Matthew, says these words - but again He mentions what He doesn't mention, and He doesn't mention what He mentioned in Matthew. Verse 18: 'Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery'. Verse 19 - the rich man and Lazarus, He stops - no exception. Now, you have to notice this - and please do see - I know I'm going through this rather quickly, but in Matthew 5 and 19 He alone speaks of an exception to divorce. Only in Matthew does He mention 'except', or 'save for the case of fornication'.

They were clear in their mind that fornication meant the sin in the betrothal period

Now, go with me in your mind back to Genesis chapter 2. We don't need to turn to it but you will remember there that the marriage bond was instituted. The characteristic of that scene is the dispensation, if you like, of innocence. As it was instituted there was no possibility, as Adam and Eve where there in perfection in the beautiful garden, that it could be broken. There's not even a consideration that the union can be broken, because of their innocence and the lack of sin. Now, often when we come to the question of whether people, believers, are allowed to divorce, and whether they are allowed to remarry, Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 are the texts that people use for the grounds of divorce. But you will find that they believe that the word 'fornication' that you find in verse 32 means 'adultery'. 'Except for fornication', they believe it means 'except for adultery'.

Now, I want to say to you right away that I do not believe that. I do not believe fornication here is understood as adultery, nor includes adultery. Now, I want to spend a little bit of time - and bear with me - in this. The reasons why I don't believe that are these: first of all, if the Lord meant adultery when He said 'fornication', why didn't He say 'adultery'? As you look down at the passage you may ask the question: 'Why didn't He say what He meant?'. In the context of this great subject where precision of words is a vital thing, He used the word 'fornication' and not 'adultery'.

Now, men and women in the age of the Lord Jesus understood and knew the difference, I believe, between fornication and adultery. In John chapter 8 you have the case of the woman caught in the act of adultery, and she's brought before the Lord Jesus. As the Lord Jesus tells her to 'Go away and sin no more', the Pharisees and the Scribes rise up against Him and they make an accusation concerning His birth. They say to the Lord Jesus: 'We were never born of fornication'. In John chapter 8 adultery is mentioned in the context of the woman caught in adultery, but then the Pharisees turn to the Lord and say: 'We were not born of fornication'. Maybe you do believe, if you don't you need to know, that the Pharisees believed that the Lord was born and conceived out of wedlock. In other words, that Mary had slept with someone else apart from Joseph before the two of them were bonded together properly in marriage. They believed - I can't even say the word, but you know what the word is, OK? That's what they believed. They put the tag of fornication upon that act. They distinguished it from adultery that they were talking about already in the passage. Mary had conceived the Lord, they said, in that betrothal period with another man apart from Joseph. They were clear in their mind that fornication meant the sin in the betrothal period. The Pharisees were clear on the difference. I want you to see that: those whom the Lord was speaking to were clear on the difference between fornication and adultery.

Now, many people come and say fornication has a wider meaning in its word. It means illicit sexual sin of every kind, including adultery. Everything under the sun, sexually, that is against God's law, including adultery. I would concur that that is the meaning in certain places of the New Testament scriptures. There's no denying that: it can be used as an umbrella term for extramarital sexual sin - but that is not the question before us today. The question is not how it is used right throughout the scriptures, but rather the prime question is: how does the Lord Jesus use the word 'fornication'? By finding out that, you will find out what He means when He says 'except for fornication' in relation to divorce. I believe, if you look at the word of God and read, that only three times (Matthew 5, Matthew 15 and Matthew 7) the Lord uses - or it appears - the word 'adultery'. The Lord uses the word 'adultery' and not the word 'fornication' in Matthew 5, 15 and 7. You will find that He actually uses the word 'adultery' in the broad sense. Adultery is not used as the specific act of unfaithfulness outside of marriage. He uses the word 'adultery' as an umbrella term that incorporates much more than simply that extramarital affair of a husband or of a wife. In fact, each case when He is using 'fornication' He uses it, not in an umbrella term, but in the precise term, contrasting to adultery.

So therefore we ask the question: is divorce allowed 'except for adultery'? Can you have a divorce if one of your partners has committed adultery? Is that the grounds?

Now, let me show you this, it's important. The question before us is this: is fornication wider, including adultery, as some scholars say? The Lord never used 'fornication' once when speaking of wider sexual sin. When He spoke of wider sexual sin He used the word 'adultery', and that shows you and I that He had a narrow definition of fornication. Now, let me show this to you. Matthew 5, that we're already in, He talks about what it's like to look and to lust after a woman - that a man, when he looks and lusts after a woman; what does the Lord say he commits? Adultery! Now, does he commit literal physical adultery? No he doesn't. But the Lord is talking about the mind, so He uses the word 'adultery' as a wider, broader term for sexual sin. He doesn't choose 'fornication', He chooses the word 'adultery'. In Matthew 12 and Matthew 16 the Lord speaks of 'an evil and an adulterous generation'. He's alluding to the wickedness of this old world in which we live. But He's not alluding simply to the act of adultery. He's talking about all the idolatry and the sin and the degradation in this whole world, and He doesn't use the word 'fornication' that many say is a broad umbrella term - He uses the word 'adultery' in a broad sense. When He uses the word 'fornication' He always uses it in a narrow sense. I want you to see that. He uses it in its precise definition and usage.

So therefore we ask the question: is divorce allowed 'except for adultery'? Can you have a divorce if one of your partners has committed adultery? Is that the grounds? The answer is no, my friend! In the light of the word of God, I can see that the answer is no, for adultery was never the grounds of divorce even in the Old Testament. If you go into the Old Testament you find that the consequence of adultery in the Old Testament was that you were stoned. You were stoned to death! That made you free to remarry, why? Because your partner was dead and you could remarry! It was a capital offence. Now, if the Lord Jesus, here in the New Testament, is now making adultery the grounds of divorce I would put before you that the Lord is adding to the scripture, and that is exactly what He condemned the Pharisees for doing: adding to the word of God. Adultery was never the grounds for divorce.

Now, I admit to you - Deuteronomy chapter 24 - why is it there? I'll tell you why. Because the Israelites wouldn't obey God's law with regards to adultery. They wouldn't stone people who had committed it and therefore divorce came in, as the Lord said: 'This was not always so from the beginning but, because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses permitted you divorce'. Don't you get it into your head that God legislated divorce in any way in the Old Testament or in the New Testament.

So what is this 'fornication' if it doesn't mean specifically 'adultery'? Well, I believe the answer is found in Matthew 5 and 19, because it alone is found in Matthew 5 and 19. Now please, you don't need to turn to these verses because I want to bring a whole lot before you, but in Matthew 5 and 19, as I've already said the Lord alone says: 'except for fornication'. He doesn't say it in Mark and He doesn't say it in Luke. Also in Matthew He's unique in that He speaks concerning the man, He doesn't speak concerning the woman. Mark and Luke are unique because they don't legislate for an exception. Now, that's vital! They don't mention 'except for fornication'. However you interpret this whole subject of marriage and remarriage you must not conflict Matthew with Mark and Luke. You mustn't have them contradicting one another. That means that, if they are not contradicting one another, why is Matthew different from Mark and Luke? Why is the Spirit - the Holy Spirit, who inspires the same book, the Bible - why does Mark and Luke leave out this exception clause? Why? I mean, if I could proffer it to you for a moment, the scholars believe that Mark's gospel was the first gospel that was written. If that is so, Mark was circulated in the church before Matthew. If Mark was circulated in a church before Matthew they would have read these words without an exception clause to do with fornication, then Luke's gospel would have come along without an exception clause to do with fornication, and then one day someone would deliver Matthew's gospel. All of a sudden, those who had staked their life upon the word of God in Mark and Luke realise: 'Oh, there's an exception here. I can give or take a divorce for fornication'. Now, the question, today, before us is this: does the word of God contradict? Does Matthew contradict Mark, and does Matthew contradict Luke?

Now, the question, today, before us is this: does the word of God contradict? Does Matthew contradict Mark, and does Matthew contradict Luke?

Now, let me say this: there has to be an explanation. More than that, there must be an explanation in the gospel of Matthew, because the gospel of Matthew is the gospel that is the different one. I think everyone would agree - those dispensational and those who are not - that Matthew's gospel was the gospel that was written primarily for the Jew. Mark and Luke were written for the Gentiles. As you go into Deuteronomy 22 you find fornication there defined as 'playing the whore'. In Matthew chapter 1 you find fornication there in the story of Mary being conceived of the Lord in her womb before the betrothal period was ended. You read the words in Matthew 1:19 and 20: 'Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost'.

He was mindful in that betrothal period, he thought she was playing the whore! He was mindful to put her away, to divorce her. That is what fornication means in Matthew's gospel. You can see that further in Matthew 19 where the subject of Rabbi Shammai, who believed you could divorce on adultery, or Rabbi Hillel for any cause, that fornication was too narrow for them. Please note that! They were debating among themselves if it was for adultery or if it was just for any cause, and the Lord comes along and He doesn't mention adultery. He says: 'Except for fornication'. They all stand back, and even His own disciples say: 'What? It's better not even getting married!'.

In Israel a woman couldn't get a divorce. That's why Matthew doesn't mention the woman. He speaks only of the male, and in Mark's gospel and Luke's gospel, Gentiles who are being written to have no idea of a betrothal period. They don't have a custom where, like an engagement, for the first year you're bound together in a marriage, but the marriage is not consummated yet - you're not fully married. So they didn't know anything about that. So what's the point in Mark and Luke writing to Gentiles about it? They don't know anything about it, but notice also that they don't have an exception clause. The exception clause has something to do with this betrothal period.

I would get you to look further - don't turn to it - but 1 Corinthians 7. Where does Paul quote from when he talks about marriage? Do you know where he quotes from? He quotes from Mark, he doesn't mention Matthew, he doesn't mention an exception clause. Why? He's writing to Gentiles, and Gentiles cannot commit this particular sin of fornication in a betrothal period that they don't have. Paul, as a Jew, understood that this had absolutely nothing to do with Gentiles.

Now let me say, in the closing moments of our meeting let us lay down - and I'm doing this for your benefit - I'm telling you  - I don't have time to go into everything, but I want you to know that I'm not doing this in any way to make you feel uncomfortable. I love you in the Lord. But what I do want our young people to know is this: marriage is permanent! This holy estate is not to be entered into lightly or unadvisedly because it is permanent. Genesis 2:24 that the Lord quotes: 'the two become one flesh'. Malachi 2 and verse 14 - I wish we had time to turn to it, but the story is this: some of the Jews had taken to themselves in captivity - you read about it Ezra and Nehemiah - they put away their wives, they married foreign wives. God told them to put away their foreign wives, and He gave them a reason: because of the wife of your covenant, the wife of your youth. What the Lord is saying is: 'It doesn't matter that you've divorced your Jewish wives and taken to you these other wives. They are still the wives of your youth', as the Lord says, 'the wives of your covenant'. That means this: once you enter into that covenant of marriage, it is permanent! In verse 16, in that same context where the Lord makes those declarations, He says: 'I hate divorce'.

We must not today use the word of God in order to lay down a reason to get divorced. The word of God tells us that marriage is holy, and divorce was only ever permitted for unbelievers

From the start of Genesis, right through to the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, what you get is that marriage is permanent. Yes, Moses allowed the people to divorce. Why? For the hardness of their heart to prevent further sin. But the law of the Lord said 'No' to divorce within God's framework. Therefore we must not today use the word of God in order to lay down a reason to get divorced. The word of God tells us that marriage is holy, and divorce was only ever permitted for unbelievers.

In Romans chapter 7 Paul again gives the last word: 'For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband'. First Corinthians 7 the same: 'The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth'. The law of the word of God is: you're only released from marriage when your spouse dies. Now, my friends, look, we must spend a little bit more time. I must spend this time - forgive me.

There are laws today that make it very, very difficult to implement these scriptures - for you can be divorced of whether you like it or not. So whether divorce is wrong or not, your spouse can divorce you whether you like it or not. We've got to grapple in this Hall with these things from the word of God. But let me say this categorically, I don't have all the answers but what I do know is this:

One: Divorce was permitted in Israel for the hardness of their heart - the church of Jesus Christ is not Israel and their hearts shouldn't be hard.

Two: It only applies to the betrothal period, because we find it in Matthew's gospel.

Three: It's only mentioned in Matthew to the male because in Judaism (and it's specifically to Judaism) there was no law of the wife. They had no say.

Four: The Lord uses 'fornication', and not the word 'adultery'.

Five: Mark and Luke are to Gentiles, and the exception is omitted.

Six: Paul never quotes Matthew or the exception clause used in Matthew 5:19. If that's what those verses mean it makes all of Paul's writings and all the rest of the New Testament void.

Seven: The law I've last mentioned - Paul's last word in scripture, the revelation, is: 'No divorce'.

You've got it right throughout and I could add more things. There's Ephesians 4 - that we are to forgive one another; 1 Corinthians 6 - we're not to take one another to court. My friends, I know that there are many hard questions - and I am not for one minute saying that a woman should take a beating for the rest of her days, or should have a husband running around with every female under the sun. I am not saying that. All I am doing is trying to present to you what God has revealed with regards to marriage and remarriage and divorce.

Now, let me say this please, bear with me: the disciples had to walk a narrow road and we must walk that road today. But note, in individual cases - in individual cases - the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself to people in this situation. People who are divorced and remarried - whether you think it's a sin or not a sin, I'll tell you this: the Lord says if you lust after a woman in your heart and your head you're guilty of adultery. We are falling down where this is concerned, but what I want to bring to you today is this: when the Lord came to a woman caught in adultery He said, 'Go and sin no more'. There is forgiveness! Oh, there is forgiveness! Beware: this doesn't justify you going down an unscriptural road of divorce and remarriage. But let me tell you this: the Lord Jesus  - and do you believe this, saints today, as we preach to a dying world and a compromising church? Do you believe this? 'All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven you'.

We need to have hearts of grace, hearts of compassion to a world around that are affected by these things, people in our own assembly perhaps that are touched by these things

As we close, we need to have hearts of grace, hearts of compassion to a world around that are affected by these things, people in our own assembly perhaps that are touched by these things. We need to have grace toward them. Do you know why? 'Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God; and such were some of you, but ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God'. Praise His name! There is grace that is greater than all our sin! Hallelujah!

Our time has run away. Get the tape and go over it slowly, because I know I was like a train there this morning, but I wanted to give you all that for your benefit and your exhortation.

Let us pray together - please bring folks back tonight, I'll not preach as long as that tonight, don't worry about that! Let us pray, let us pray for our young people, let us pray for our young married people. Let us pray for us all - for, if the truth be told, we're all touched and affected with this in our families and maybe in our past. But praise God, there's a sympathising, compassionate Redeemer who's full of grace. Hallelujah!

Father, we thank You for the Saviour. We thank You for the truth of God that has not changed since the beginning of time: 'From the beginning this was not so'. But yet Lord we thank You for Your truth that guides us today, but yet we acknowledge that many of us have failed. Many of us in our mind, or even literally and practically, have committed sins that we wish we could forget. But thank You Lord that they're beneath the blood if we're redeemed. If we're saved they're gone as far as the east is from the west, and they're buried with Christ. Oh Lord, may the joy of our Redeemer and redemption fill us today. Not a critical spirit, not a condemnatory judgmental view but, Lord, the grace of God that is greater than all of our sin. Hear us today we pray, and bless us now in the Saviour's name. Amen.

Don't miss Part 9 of 'The Sermon On The Mount': "Nothing But The Truth"

Transcribed by:
Preach The Word.
October 2001

This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighth tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "The Subject Of Divorce" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.

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