The Harlots Face in the Looking-Glass of Scripture
by John Flavel
Proverbs 6:32 "But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself!"
The next danger I shall give you warning of, is the sin of immorality; with which I fear too many of the rude and looser sort of seamen defile themselves; and possibly, the temptations to this sin are advantaged and strengthened upon them more than others, by their condition and employments.
Let no man be offended that I here give warning of this evil. I intend to asperse no man's person, or raise up jealousy against any; but would faithfully discharge my duty to all, and that in all things. It was the complaint of Salvian many hundred years ago, that he could not speak against the vices of men, but one or another would thus object, "There he meant me; he hit me," and so storm and fret. Alas (as he replies), "It is not we that speak to you, but your own conscience; we speak to the order, but conscience speaks to the person."
I shall use no other apology in this case. That this sin is a dreadful gulf, a quick-sand that has sucked in, and destroyed thousands, is truly apparent both from scripture and experience. Solomon tells us, Proverbs 22:14, that it is a "deep ditch, into which such as are abhorred of the Lord shall fall." Oh, the multitudes of dead that are there, and if so, I cannot in duty to God, or in love to you, be silent, where the danger is so great. It is both needless, and besides my intention here is to insist largely upon the explication of the particulars in which immorality is distributed: the more ordinary and common sins of this kind are known by the names of adultery and fornication.
Fornication is when single persons come together out of the state of marriage. Adultery is when at least one of the persons committing immorality is contracted in marriage. This now is the evil I shall warn you of and, that you may never fall into this pit, I shall endeavor to hedge and fence up the way to it by these ensuing arguments; and, oh, that the light of every argument may be powerfully reflected upon your conscience!
Many men are wise in general things, but very vain in the reasonings or imaginations, as the apostle calls them, Romans 1:21; that is, in their practical inferences. They are good at speculation, but bunglers at application. But it is truth in the particulars, that, like an hot iron, pierces; and, oh, that you may find these to be such in your soul! To that end consider,
The names and titles by which this sin is known in Scripture are very vile and base. The Spirit of God, doubtless, has put such odious names upon it, on purpose to deter and affright men from it. In general it is called lust; and so (as one notes) it bears the name of its mother; it is immorality in the abstract, Numbers 5:19; filthiness itself; an abomination, Ezekiel 22:11. And they that commit it are called abominable, Revelation 21:8.
Varro says, the word imports that which is not lawful to mention; or rather, abominably persons, such as are not fit for the society of men, such as should be hissed out of all men's company. They are rather to be reckoned to be beasts than men.
Yes, the Scripture compares them to the filthiest of beasts, even to dogs. When Ishbosheth charged this sin upon Abner, 2 Samuel 3:8, "Am I a dog's head," says he, "that you charge me with a fault concerning this woman?" And in Deuteronomy 23:18, the hire of a whore, and the "price of a dog,'' are put together.
The expression of this lust in words or gesture, is called neighing, Jeremiah 5:8, even as horses do, that scatter their lust promiscuously.
Or, if the Scripture speaks of them as men, yet it allows them but the external shape of men, not the understanding of men. Among the Jews they were called fools in Israel, 2 Samuel 13:13, and so Proverbs 6:32, "Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding." And sinners, Luke 7:37, "And behold a woman that was a sinner," that is, an eminent notorious sinner--by which term the Scripture deciphers an immoral person, as if, among sinners, there were none of such a prodigious stature in sin as they.
We find, that when the Spirit of God would set forth any sin by an odious name, he calls it adultery; so idolatry is called adultery, Ezekiel 16:32. And indeed this spiritual and physical adultery oftentimes are found in the same persons. Those who give themselves up to the one, are, by the righteous hand of God given up to the other, as it is too manifestly and frequently exemplified in the world.
So earthly-mindedness has this name put upon it on purpose to affright men from it, James 4:4. Now certainly God would never borrow the name of this sin to set out the evil of other sins, if it were not most vile and abominable. It is called the sin of the heathens, 1 Thessalonians 4:5. And, oh, that we could say, it were only among them that know not God?
How then are you able to look these Scriptures in the face, and not blush? O what a sin is this! Are you willing to be ranked with fools, dogs, sinners, heathens--and take your lot with them? God has planted that affection of shame in your nature to be as a guard against such filthy lusts; it is a sin that has filthiness enough in it to defile the tongue that mentions it, Ephesians 5:3.
It is a sin that the God of Heaven has often prohibited and severely condemned in the word, which abundantly declares his abhorrence of it. You have prohibition upon prohibition, and threatening upon threatening in the word against it. Exodus 20:14, "You shall not commit adultery." This was delivered upon Mount Sinai with the greatest solemnity and terror by the mouth of God himself.
Turn to and ponder the following scriptures among many others, Proverbs 5:2-4; Acts 5:29; Romans 1:24, 29; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:13-18; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:29. All these, with many others, are the true sayings of God--by them you shall be tried in the last day.
Now, consider how terrible it will be to have so many words of God, and such terrible ones too as most of those are, to be brought in and pleaded against your soul in that day. Mountains and hills may depart, but these words shall not depart. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one tittle of the word shall not pass away. Believe it, sinner, as sure as the heavens are over your head, and the earth under your feet, they shall one day take hold of you, though we poor worms who plead them with you, die and perish, Zechariah 1:5, 6.
The Lord tells us it shall not fall to the ground which is a borrowed speech from a dart that is flung with a weak hand; it goes not home to the mark, but falls to the ground by the way. None of these words shall so fall to the ground.
It is a sin that defiles and destroys the body. 1 Corinthians 6:18, "He who commits adultery, sins against his own body." In most other sins the body is the instrument, here it is the object against which the sin is committed. That body of yours, which should be the temple of the Holy Spirit, is turned into a sty of filthiness; yes, it not only defiles, but destroys it. Job calls it a "fire that burns to destruction," Job 31:12. Or as the Septuagint reads it, a fire that burns in all the members.
It is a sin that God has plagued with strange and terrible diseases. There were judgments sent immediately by God's own hand, to correct the new sins and enormities of the world; for they are beyond the cure of the best physicians. Oh, how terrible is it to lie groaning under the sad effects of this sin! As Solomon tells us, Proverbs 5:11, "And you mourn at the last, when your flesh and your body are consumed."
To this sense some expound that terrible text, Hebrews 13:4, "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." That is, with some remarkable judgment inflicted on them in this world.
If it escapes the punishment of men, it shall not escape the vengeance of God. Ah, with what comfort may a man lie down upon a sick-bed, when the sickness can be looked upon as a fatherly visitation coming in mercy. But you who shortens your life, and brings sickness on yourself by such a sin, are the devil's martyr, and to whom can you turn in such a day for comfort?
Consider what an indelible blot it is to your nature, which can never be wiped away. Though you escape with your life, yet, as one says, you shall be burnt in the hand, yes, branded in the forehead. What a foul scar is that upon the face of David himself, which abides to this day? "He was upright in all things, except in the matter of Uriah." And how was he slighted by his own children and servants after he had committed this sin! Compare 1 Samuel 2:30 with 2 Samuel 11:10, 11.
"A wound and dishonor shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away." Proverbs 5:9. The shame and reproach attending it, should be a preservative from it.
Indeed the devil tempts to it by hopes of secrecy and concealment; but though many other sins lie hid, and possibly shall never come to light until that day of manifestation of all hidden things--yet this is a sin that is most usually discovered. Under the law, God appointed an extraordinary way for the discovery of it, Numbers 5:13. And to this day the providence of God does often very strangely bring it to light, though it be a deed of darkness. The Lord has many times brought such persons, either by terror of conscience, madness, or some other means, to be the publishers and proclaimers of their own shame.
Yes, observe this, said the reverend Mr. Hildersham on the fourth of John, "Even those that are most cunning to conceal and hide it from the eyes of the world, yet through the just judgment of God, every one suspects and condemns them for it. This dashes in pieces, at one stroke that vessel in which the precious ointment of a good name is carried. A fool in Israel shall be your title; and even children shall point at you."
It scatters your substance, and roots up the foundation of your estate, Job 31:12. It roots up all your increase. "Strangers shall be filled with your wealth, and your labors shall be in the house of a stranger," Proverbs 5:10. "For by means of a whorish woman, a man is brought to a morsel of bread," Proverbs 5:26. It gives rags for its livery, says one, and though it be furthered by the fullness, yet it is followed with a morsel of bread. This is one of those temporal judgments with which God punishes the immoral person in this life.
The word "Delilah," which is the name of a harlot, is conceived to come from a root that signifies to exhaust, drain, or draw dry. This sin will quickly exhaust the fullest estate, and, oh, what a dreadful thing will this be, when God shall require an account of your stewardship in the great day. How righteous is it, that that man should be fuel to the wrath of God, whose health and wealth have been so much fuel to maintain the flame of lust. Oh, how lavish of their estates are sinners to satisfy their lusts. If the members of Christ be sick or in prison, they may there perish and starve before they will relieve them, but to obtain their lusts, oh, how expensive.
"Ask me ever so much, and I will give it," says Shechem, Genesis 34:12. "Ask what you will, and it shall be given you," said Herod to the daughter of Herodias. Well, you are liberal in spending treasures upon your lusts. Believe it, God will spend treasures of wrath to punish you for your lusts. It had been a thousand times better for you had you never had an estate, that you had begged your bread from door to door, than to have such a sad reckoning as you shall shortly have for it.
Oh, stand off from this sin, because it is a pit, out of which very few have been recovered that have fallen therein. Few are the footsteps of returners from this den of iniquity. The longer a man lives in it, the less power he has to leave it. It is not only a damning sin, but an infatuating sin. The danger of falling this way must needs be great, and the fall very desperate because few that fall into it do ever rise again.
I shall lay two very terrible Scriptures before you to this purpose, either of them enough to drive you speedily to Christ, or to drive you out of your wits.
The one is Ecclesiastes 7:26, "And I find more bitter than death, the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands. Whoever pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be taken by her." The argument which the Spirit of God uses here to dissuade from this sin is taken from the subject. They that fall into it, for the most part, are persons in whom God has no delight, and so in judgment are delivered up to it, and never recovered by grace from it.
The other is that in Proverbs 22:14, "The mouth of a strange woman is a deep pit; he who is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein!" Oh, terrible word, able to daunt the heart of the securest sinner. Your whores embrace you--but God abhors you. You have their love--oh but you are under God's hatred.
What say you to these two Scriptures? If you are not atheists, methinks such a word from the mouth of God should strike like a dart through your soul! And upon this account it is, that they never are recovered because God has no delight in them. If this is not enough, view one Scripture more, Proverbs 2:18, 19, "For her house inclines unto death, and her paths unto the dead! None who go to her, return again, neither do they take hold of the paths of life."
Listener, if you be a person addicted to this sin, go your way, and think seriously what a case you are in. None return again--that is, a very few of many. The examples of such as have been recovered are very rare. Pliny tells us the mermaids are commonly seen in green meadows, and have enchanting voices, but there are always found heaps of dead men's bones lying by them. This may be but a fabulous story, but I am sure it is true of the harlot, whose siren songs have allured thousands to their inevitable destruction.
It is a captivating sin that leads away the sinner in defeat. They cannot deliver their souls, Proverbs 7:22, "He goes after her immediately, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks."
Foolishness befools men, takes away their understanding. I have read of one that having by this sin wasted his body, was told by physicians, that except he left it, he would quickly lose his eyes. He answered, "If it be so, then farewell sweet light." I remember Luther writes of a certain nobleman in his country, who was so besotted with the sin of whoredom, that he was not ashamed to say, that if he might live here forever, and be carried from one harlot to another, he would never desire any other Heaven. The greatest conquerors, that have subdued kingdoms, and scorned to be commanded by any, have been miserably enslaved and captivated by this lust.
Oh, think sadly upon this argument. God often gives them up to their lusts, and will not spend a rod upon them to reclaim them. See Hosea 4:14; Revelation 22:11.
Those few that have been recovered by repentance out of it, oh, how bitter has God made it to their souls. "I find it," says Solomon, "more bitter than death," Ecclesiastes 7:26. Death is a very bitter thing. Oh, what a struggling and reluctance is there in nature against it--but this is more bitter. Poor David found it so when he roared under those bloody lashes of conscience for it in Psalm 51. Ah, when the Lord shall open the poor sinner's eyes to see the horror and guilt he has hereby contracted upon his own poor soul, it will haunt him as a Spirit day and night, and terrify his soul with dreadful forms and representations.
Oh, dear-bought pleasure, if this were all it should cost. What is now become of the pleasure of sin? Oh, what gall and wormwood will you taste, when once the Lord shall bring you to a sight of it!
The Hebrew word for repentance and the Greek word, the one signifies an irking of the soul, and the other signifies after grief. Yes, it is called a renting of the heart, as if it were torn in pieces in a man's breast. Ask such a poor soul, what it thinks of such a course now. Oh, now it loathes, abhors itself for them. Ask him, if he dare sin in that kind again? You may as well ask him if he will thrust my hand into the fire. Oh, this sin breeds an indignation in him against himself.
The word in 2 Corinthians 7:11 signifies the rising of the stomach with very rage and being sick with anger. Religious wrath is the fiercest wrath. Oh, what a furnace is the breast of a poor penitent; what fumes, what heats do abound in it, while the sin is even before him, and the sense of the guilt upon him?
One night of carnal pleasure will keep you many days and nights upon the rack of horror, if ever God give you repentance unto life.
And if you never repent, as indeed but few do that fall into this sin, then consider how God will follow you with eternal vengeance. You shall have flaming fire, for burning lust! This is a sin that has the scent of fire and brimstone with it wherever you meet with it in Scripture. The harlot's guests are lodged in the depths of Hell, Proverbs 9:18. No more perfumed beds, they must now lie down in flames.
Whoremongers shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone which is the second death, Revelation 21:8. Such shall not inherit the kingdom of God and Christ, 1 Corinthians 6:9. No dog shall come into the New Jerusalem. There shall never enter in anything that defiles, or that works abomination. You have spent your strength upon sin--and now God sets himself a-work to show the glory of his power in punishing you. Romans 9:22.
The wrath of God is transacted upon them in Hell by his own immediate hand, Hebrews 10:30. Because no creature is strong enough to convey all his wrath, and it must all be poured out upon them, therefore he himself will torment them forever with his own immediate power. Now he will stir up all his wrath, and sinners shall know the price of their pleasures.
The punishment of Sodom is a little map of Hell, as I may say. Oh, how terrible a day was that upon those immoral wretches, but that fire was not of many days continuance. When it had consumed them, and their houses, it went out for lack of matter. But here the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, kindles it. The pleasure was quickly gone, but the sting and torment abide forever. Who knows the power of his anger? Even according to his fear, so is his wrath, Psalm 90:11.
Oh, consider, how will this almighty power rack and torment you! Think on this when sin comes with a smiling face towards you in the temptation. Oh, think! If the human nature of Christ recoiled when his cup of wrath was given him to drink and if he were greatly amazed at it--then how shall you, a poor worm, bear and grapple with it forever?
Consider further, however secret is your wickedness in this world, though it should never be discovered here--yet there is a day coming when all will come out, and that before angels and men. God will rip up your secret sins in the face of that great congregation at the day of judgment, then that which was done in secret shall be proclaimed as upon the housetop! Luke 12:3. Then God will judge the secrets of men, Romans 2:16. The hidden things of darkness will be brought into the open light.
Sinner, there will be no skulking for you in the grave, no declining this judgment bar; you refused, indeed, to come to the throne of grace when God invited you, but there will be no refusing to appear before the bar of justice when Christ shall summon you. And as you cannot decline appearing, so neither can you then palliate and hide your wickedness any longer, for then shall the books be opened, the book of God's omniscience and the book of your own conscience wherein all your secret villainy is recorded, for though it ceased to speak to you, yet it ceased not to write and record your actions.
If your shameful sins should be divulged now, it would make you tear off your hair with indignation, but then all your sins shall be revealed! Angels and men shall point at you, and say, "Lo, this is the man--this is he who hid his beastly sins in the world."
Oh, sirs, you think to sin in secret, you wait for the twilight that none may see you--but, alas, it will be to no end. This day of judgment will reveal it and then what confusion and everlasting shame will cover you.
Lastly, consider but one thing more, and I have done. By this sin you do not only damn your own soul, but draws another to Hell with you. This sin is not as a single bullet that kills but one, but it kills many, two at least, unless God gives repentance. And if he should give you repentance, yet the other party may never repent, and so perish forever through your wickedness. Oh, what a sad consideration will that be to you, to such a poor soul is in Hell, or likely to go thither by your means. You have made fast a snare upon a soul, which you can not untie. You have done that which may be matter of sorrow to you as long as you live, but though you can grieve for it, you cannot remedy it.
In other sins it is not so. If you had stolen another's goods, restitution might be made to the injured party, but here can be none. If you had murdered another, your sin was your own, not his who was murdered by you. But this is a complicated sin defiling both at once, and if neither repent, then, oh, what a sad greeting will these poor wretches have in Hell! How will they curse the day that ever they saw each other's face. Oh, what an aggravation of their misery will this be.
For look, as it will be matter of joy in Heaven, to behold such there as we have been instrumental to save--so must it needs be a stinging aggravation of the misery of the damned, to look upon those who have been the instruments and means of their damnation. Oh, methinks if there be any tenderness at all in your conscience, if this sin has not totally stupefied you, these arguments should pierce like a sword through your guilty soul.
Reader, I beseech you, by the mercies of God, if you have defiled your soul by this abominable sin, speedily to repent. Oh, get the blood of sprinkling upon you. There is yet mercy for such a wretch as you are, if you will accept the terms of it. Such were some of you, but you are washed, 1 Corinthians 6:11. Publicans and harlots may enter into the kingdom of God, Matthew 21:31. Though but few such are recovered, yet how do you know, but the hand of mercy may pull you as a brand out of the fire, if now you will return and seek it with tears.
Though it is a fire that consumes unto destruction, as Job calls it, Job 31:12--yet it is not an unquenchable fire, the blood of Christ can quench it. And for you, whom God has kept hitherto from the contagion of it, oh, bless the Lord, and use all God's means for the prevention of it.
The seeds of this sin are in your nature. No thanks to you but to restraining grace that you are not delivered up to it also, and that you may be kept out of this pit, consciously practice these few DIRECTIONS:
Beg of God a clean heart, renewed and sanctified by saving grace. All other endeavors do but palliate a cure. The root of this is deep in your nature. Oh, get that mortified, Matthew 15:19, Out of the heart proceed fornication, adulteries. 1 Peter 2:11, 12, Abstain from fleshly lusts having your conduct honest. The lust must first be subdued, before the conduct can be honest.
Walk in the fear of God all the day long, and in the sense of his omniscient eye that is ever upon you. This kept Joseph from this sin, Genesis 39:9, "How can I do this wickedness and sin against God?" Consider, the darkness hides not from him, but shines as the light. If you could find a place where the eye of God should not discover you, it might be some alleviation. You dare not to act this wickedness in the presence of a child, and will you adventure to commit it before the face of God?
See that argument, Proverbs 5:20, 21, "And why will you, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his goings."
Avoid lewd company, and the society of immoral persons. They are but panderers for lust. Evil company corrupts good manners. The tongues of sinners cast fireballs into the hearts of each other, which the corruption within is easily kindled and inflamed by.
Exercise yourself in your calling diligently. It will be an excellent means of preventing this sin. It is a good observation that one has that Israel was safer in the brick-kilns in Egypt, than in the plains of Moab. 2 Samuel 11:2, "And it came to pass in the eventide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked on the roof of the king's house," and this was the occasion of his fall.
Put a restraint upon your appetite. Feed not to excess. Gluttony and idleness were the sins of Sodom that occasioned such exuberance of lust. "They are like fed horses, every one neighing after his neighbor's wife. When I had fed them to the full, then they committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses," Jeremiah 5:7, 8.
This is a sad requital of the bounty of God, in giving us the enjoyment of the creatures--to make them fuel to lust!
Make choice of a fit wife and delight in her in whom you have chosen. This is a lawful remedy. See 1 Corinthians 7:9. God ordained marriage, Genesis 2:21. But herein appears the corruption of nature, that men delight to tread by-paths, and forsake the way which God has appointed.
Stolen waters are sweeter to them, than those waters they might lawfully drink at their own fountain; but withal know, it is not the having but the delighting in a lawful wife, as God requires you to do, that you must be a fence against this sin. So Solomon, Proverbs 5:19, "Let her be as the loving hind, and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy you at all times, and be you ravished always with her love."
Take heed of running on in a course of sin, especially superstition and idolatry in which cases, and as a punishment of which evils God often gives up men to these vile affections. Romans 1:25, "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. For this cause, God gave them up to vile affections," and so on. Those who defile their souls by idolatrous practices, God suffers, as a just recompense, their bodies also to be defiled with immorality, that so their ruin may be hastened. Let the admirers of traditions beware of such a judicial tradition as this is. Woe to him that is thus delivered up to immorality by the hand of an angry God. No punishment in the world like this, when God punishes sin with sin, when he shall suffer those common notices of conscience to be quenched, and all restraints to be moved out of the way of sin, it will not be long before that sinner comes to his own place in Hell.