BUT I SAY TO YOU THAT EVERYONE WHO LOOKS AT A WOMAN WITH LUST FOR HER: ego de lego (1SPAI) humin hoti pas o blepon (PAPMSN) gunaika pros to epithumesai (AAN) auten (Mt 22,39; 7:28,29) (Genesis 34:2; Joseph's great example in Ge 39:7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23; Ex 20:17; 2Samuel 11:2, 3, 4, 5 = King David, probably in his early 50's! Writer of most of the Psalms!; Job 31:1,7, 9; Pr 6:25; James 1:13, 14,15; 2Peter 2:14; 1John 2:15, 16, 17)
But I say to you that everyone whose eyes are turned on a woman with desire has had connection with her in his heart. (BBE)
But I tell you that if you look at another woman and want her, you are already unfaithful in your thoughts. (CEV)
But I tell you that if anyone looks at a woman and wants to sin sexually with her, then he has already done that sin with the woman in his mind. (International Children's Bible)
Related Resource: See exposition of Solomon's treatise on sexual propriety Pr 5:1-14; Pr 5:15-23; Pr 6:20-35; Pr 7:1-27
There is a saying that when one takes a vote and the those who vote "yes" win -- "The aye's have it!" Well that is the problem with lust… the eyes have it! Look at the following passages (these are just a sampling of many similar passages) and notice the central role of the eyes…
And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, (Nu 15:39)
Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes, which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations (see note Ezekiel 6:9)
(A man's violent son who) oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols, and commits abomination (Ezekiel 18:12)
But they (Israel) rebelled against Me and were not willing to listen to Me; they did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them, to accomplish My anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. (Ezekiel 20:8)
So Achan (when his sin was exposed - see Nu 32:23!) answered Joshua and said, "Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it." (Joshua 7:20, 21)
Comment: Note progression - Saw with eyes, coveted in his heart, stole with with his hands, hid because he knew it was wrong - cp Pr 28:13, Pr 5:21, 22, 15:3 David in Ps 32:1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Job expresses his resolve to guard his eyes declaring…
I have made a covenant (the most solemn, binding agreement known in the ancient near east) with my eyes. How then could I gaze (Hebrew verb which does not refer to a casual glance but means to consider carefully, diligently consider, discern, get understanding, look carefully, pay close attention to; cp David 2Sa 11:2, 3, 4,5) at a virgin? (Job 31:1) (Comment: One version says to gaze is to "undress a girl with my eyes!)
Job then links his eyes (what we let in to our mind) with the heart (our thought life - our intellect, emotion, will) in Job 31 writing…
If my step has turned from the way, or my heart followed my eyes… (Job 31:1, 7) (Compare Solomon's uses of heart in his "treatise" on sexual purity in Proverbs 5-7 = Pr 5:12, 6:21, 25, 7:3, 7:10, 25)
Job goes on to add some "teeth" so to speak to his covenant, calling down on himself his own punishment if he were to break covenant…
If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or I have lurked at my neighbor's doorway, may my wife grind for another, and let others kneel down over her (most take this latter statement to refer to her lying with another man). For that would be a lustful crime; moreover, it would be an iniquity punishable by judges. (Job 31:9, 10, 11)
John MacArthur issues a strong warning to all would desire to live godly in Christ Jesus explaining that…
Although sexual temptations have been strong since man’s fall, our day of permissiveness and perversion has brought an increase in those destructive influences that no society in history has had before (see note 2 Timothy 3:13). Ours is a day of unbridled indulgence in sexual passion. People propagate, promote, and exploit it through the most powerful and pervasive media ever known to man. It seems to be the almost uninterrupted theme of our society’s entertainment. Even in academic and religious circles we see seminars, books, tapes, and programs of all sorts that promise to improve sexual knowledge, experience, freedom, and enjoyment. Mass media uses sex to sell its products and to glamorize its programs. Sex crimes are at all-time highs, while infidelity, divorce, and perversion are justified. Marriage, sexual fidelity, and moral purity are scorned, ridiculed, and laughed at. We are preoccupied with sex to a degree perhaps never before seen in a civilized culture. (MacArthur, J: Matthew 1-7 Chicago: Moody Press or Logos)
But - Literally this reads "but I -- I say to you" (ego de lego). Once again Jesus counters "popular opinion" and raises the bar on sexual sin, to not just external acts but internal thoughts. And there is no "secret" thought life before the all knowing God.
Everyone - No exception clauses. Priests, kings, ministers, etc are not given a pass on sexual infidelity with their eyes!
Looks (991) (blepo) means to look at or behold. Blepo generally denotes simply a voluntary observation or taking notice of something or someone. In some contexts blepo conveys the sense of directing one's attention to something so as to take notice of it or consider it (eg, 1Co 1:26). Jesus uses blepo 5 times in this Sermon (Mt 5:28; 6:4, 6, 18; 7:3)
Blepo is in the present tense which pictures one continually looking (a "lust filled" look at that). The idea is that what may have begun as a glance, becomes a gaze! Men, don't go there! Cut your losses quickly! Jesus is not describing a casual glance, but a veritable lust filled stare. This look characterizes the man whose glance is not checked by holy (Spirit) restraint (See the fruit of the Spirit, self control in notes on and Galatians 5:23)
Barclay - The man whom Jesus here condemns (in Mt 5:27, 28) is the man who deliberately uses his eyes to stimulate his desires; the man who finds a strange delight in things which waken the desire for the forbidden thing. To the pure all things are pure. But the man whose heart is defiled can look at any scene and find something in it titillate and excite the wrong desire. (Matthew 5 Commentary - Daily Study Bible online)
Moffatt's paraphrase conveys the idea…
anyone who looks at a woman and wants to possess her (or as another version says "to undress her"!)
Barclay has an interesting rendering we men would do well to ponder…
if anyone looks at a woman in such a way as deliberately to awaken within himself the forbidden desire for her.
Wiersbe explains that…
The “look” that Jesus mentioned was not a casual glance, but a constant stare with the purpose of lusting. It is possible for a man to glance at a beautiful woman and know that she is beautiful, but not lust (cp "gaze" in Job 31:1) after her. The man Jesus described looked at the woman for the purpose of feeding his inner sensual appetites as a substitute for the act (cp James 1:14, 15-notes). It was not accidental; it was planned (cp Ro 13:14-note). (Wiersbe, W: Bible Exposition Commentary. 1989. Victor)
Lust (1937) (epithumeo from epí = upon, used intensively + thumós = passion) (Click study of noun epithumia) means literally to fix the desire upon (object could be good [Mt 13:17, Lk 22:15 used of Jesus] or bad [1Co 10:6]). It means to have a strong desire to do or secure something. To desire greatly. To long for. Note that the preposition epi can express motion toward or upon and thus one lexicon defines it as to set one's heart upon. In sum, epithumeo describes a strong impulse toward something so that one's passions or affections directed toward some object, thing or person.
Jesus uses epithumeo with its evil connotation here in Mt 5:28, where epithumeo describes a husband's lustful passion directly toward a woman who is not his wife ("Those leering looks you think nobody notices" Msg). As an aside, for one of the best "defenses" against this seductive but dangerous sin of sexual immorality and adultery see Solomon's advice in Pr 5:15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and compare it with Paul's in 1Co 7:2, 5. In fact, Proverbs 5-7 should be required reading for every Christian man at least once a year!
Here are the 16 uses of epithumeo in the NT - Mt 5:28-note; Mt 13:17; Lk 15:16; 16:21; 17:22; 22:15; Acts 20:33; Ro 7:7-note; Ro 13:9-note; 1Co 10:6; Gal 5:17-note; 1Ti 3:1; Heb 6:11-note; James 4:2; 1Pe 1:12-note; Re 9:6-note. Epithumeo is translated in the NAS as covet(2), coveted(1), craved(1), desire(1), desired(2), desires(1), long to(3), longing to(2), lust(2), sets its desire(1).
There are 37 uses of epithumeo in the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX)- Ge 31:30; 49:14; Ex 20:17; 34:24; Nu 11:4; Dt 5:21; 7:25; 12:20; 14:26; 18:6; 1Sa 2:16; 20:4; 2Sa 3:21; 23:15; 1Ki 11:37; 1Chr. 11:17; 2Chr 8:6; Esther 4:17; Job 33:20; Ps 45:11; 106:14; 119:20, 40; Pr 21:26; 23:3, 6; 24:1; Eccl 6:2; Song 2:3; Is 1:29; 26:9; 43:24; 58:2, 11; Je 17:16; Amos 5:18; Mic 2:2
UBS Handbook makes the distinction that…
this verse does not just refer to noticing a woman as attractive, or even to a brief recognition that she is sexually appealing. It refers instead to actually contemplating having sex with her, that is, to having the intention of doing so. (The United Bible Societies' New Testament Handbook Series or Logos)
Lust is like rot in the bones.
Thomas Brooks wrote that…
A little will satisfy nature; less will satisfy grace; nothing will satisfy men's lusts.
The Ten Commandments clearly addressed the problem of looking and desiring…
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet (chamad = desire, take pleasure in; Lxx = epithumeo the same verb Jesus used in Mt 5:28 = to set one's heart upon and so to have a strong impulse in this context in a bad sense toward) your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17, cp Dt 5:21)
Oswald Chambers rightly warned us that…
We cannot think anything without the thought having its consequence. (Shade of His Hand)
Jesus explained the relationship between the heart (including our thought life, especially our "secret" thought life - not "secret" to God - Pr 5:21, 15:3, et al) and our actions, specifically those that are defiling…
(In the context of clarifying that food is not what defiles a man) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. (Mark 7:20-23, cp Mt 12:34)
Solomon explains that…
the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life, to keep you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart, (cp Job 31:7, 9) nor let her catch you with her eyelids. (See notes Proverbs 6:23-25)
James explains that we are each responsible and cannot blame God writing…
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:13-16-notes)
The godly King David failed to keep watch over his eye gate which were the door to his heart as recorded in 2 Samuel 11...
Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle (Spring was an advantageous time to wage war because of good weather and available provisions from the harvest), that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But (this is one of saddest conjunctions in the Bible and in the story of this man after God's own heart. So many subsequent events hinged on this one "but". How we all need to watch over our hearts with all diligence especially when the old nature begins to seduce with "but this… " or "but that… ") David stayed at Jerusalem. 2 Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king's house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing (Oriental homes had an enclosed courtyard that was considered part of the house. Bathsheba, bathing herself by lamplight, was not immodest for she was in her house. However, the interior of the courtyard could be seen from the roof of David's house, situated as it was on the higher elevation of Mt Zion); and the woman was very beautiful in appearance (Temptation is the enticement to satisfy God given desires in a God forbidden way. We all must remember that character is revealed by what you do in secret, when no one else is around to see. David's palace likely commanded the best view and there was no one who see into his courtyard except of course God! How practical are the lessons in David's life in our modern era where one click of a mouse in privacy of one's study, where no one else can see, can place a "bathing Bathsheba" before one's eyes in an instant. Maturity is revealed by what you do in your free time. A person of integrity uses their free time wisely.) (Click Spurgeon's devotional on 2Samuel 11:2)
3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. (David looked and he lusted in his heart) And one said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" (We are never out of the reach of temptation. Both at home and abroad we are liable to meet with allurements to evil; the morning opens with peril, and the shades of evening find us still in jeopardy. They are well kept whom God keeps, but woe unto those who go forth into the world, or even dare to walk their own house unarmed. Those who think themselves secure are more exposed to danger than any others. The armour-bearer of Sin is Self-confidence. It wasn’t sin for David accidentally to see Bathsheba bathing. Sin came when he allowed himself—no, chose —to fix his eyes and mind on her. Lust overshadowed moral conviction. David’s dam wasn’t strong enough to restrain the forces of sexual temptation he exposed himself to. Am I more righteous than David, whom God called “a man after his own heart”)
4 And David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.
5 And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said, "I am pregnant." (like a stone thrown in water, sin’s ripples led to a cover-up and murder for which David, his family, and his nation suffered dearly) 6 Then David sent to Joab, saying, "Send me Uriah the Hittite." So Joab sent Uriah to David.
7 When Uriah came to him, David asked concerning the welfare of Joab and the people and the state of the war. 8 Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house, and wash your feet." And Uriah went out of the king's house, and a present from the king was sent out after him.
HAS ALREADY COMMITTED ADULTERY WITH HER IN HIS HEART: ede emoicheusen (3SAAI) auten en te kardia autou (Psalms 119:96; Romans 7:7,8,14)
Spurgeon - So that the unholy desire, the lascivious glance, everything that approximates towards licentiousness, is here condemned; and Christ is proved to be not the Abrogator of the law, but the Confirmer of it. See how he shows that the commandment is exceedingly broad, wide as the canopy of heaven, all-embracing. How sternly it condemns us all, and how well it becomes us to fall down at the feet of the God of infinite mercy, and seek his forgiveness.
“’Tis mercy — mercy we implore,
We would thy pity move;
Thy grace is an exhaustless store,
And thou thyself art Love.”
Committed adultery (3431) (moicheuo from moichós = an adulterer - see Adultery) means to commit adultery and refers to sexual intercourse between a man and woman when one or both of them is married.
MacArthur adds that…
In both the Old and New Testaments the word relates to sexual intercourse with anyone other than one’s marriage partner. That Jesus here implies that the principle of sexual purity can be seen in a wider sense than adultery (though adultery is His point here) seems clear from the fact that both everyone and a woman are comprehensive terms that could also apply to the unmarried…
It is not lustful looking that causes the sin in the heart, but the sin in the heart that causes lustful looking. The lustful looking is but the expression of a heart that is already immoral and adulterous. The heart is the soil where the seeds of sin are imbedded and begin to grow. (MacArthur, J: Matthew 1-7 Chicago: Moody Press)
The central moral thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is that the basis of all sin is the inner thought, not the outward act. A person commits the sin when he wants to do it, whether or not he ever carries it out in action.
Do not misunderstand what Jesus is saying. He is not saying that a lustful thought is identical to a lustful deed, and so one might just as well commit adultery! That is not what He is saying! The desire and the deed are not identical, but, spiritually speaking, they are equivalent.
Dave Guzik agrees writing that…
Jesus is not saying that the act of adultery and adultery in the heart are the same thing. More than a few people have been deceived on this point, and say "I’ve already committed adultery in my heart, so I may as well do it in practice." The act of adultery is far worse than adultery in the heart. Jesus’ point is not to say they are the same things, but to say they are both sin, and both prohibited by the command against adultery. Some people only keep from adultery because they are afraid to get caught, and in their heart they commit adultery every day. It is good that they keep from the act of adultery, but it is bad that their heart is filled with adultery.. This principle applies to much more than men looking at women. It applies to just about anything we can covet with the eye or mind. (Commentary Notes)
Jesus declared that
"the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile (cause to become unclean, profane, polluted, unholy, cf the man or woman God uses 2 Timothy 2:21) the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man." (Mt 15:18-20)
The things that defile the man come from an unwashed heart, not from unwashed hands. The need is for God to cleanse men’s hearts, not for men to wash their hands.
It is interesting that many of the Jews considered the OT command not to commit adultery (Ex 20:14; Deut 5:18) not so much as a function of purity, as of theft or the stealing of another man's wife. "I see her. I want her. I will steal her."
Barton has a well worded comment noting that…
“Private sins” have a fatal attraction by appearing to be internal, hidden, secret. Jesus declared lustful looks to be sin. God is not bound by our privacy—our thoughts and emotions are as visible to him as our actions. From the divine perspective, they are actions. This, in part, explains their sinfulness. Lust also creates an offense before God by misusing one of his most powerful gifts—the capacity to reflect. That part of us most able to consider and appreciate our Creator, his Word, and his world, becomes increasingly toxic as we use it to consider sin. Unlike an offending eye or hand, a sinful mind cannot be removed. Don’t give in to lustful desires. (Barton, B. B., et al. Life Application Bible Commentary. Romans: Tyndale House Publishers)
Arthur Pink applies our Lord's teaching to temptresses as well as "temptees"…
If lustful looking is so grievous a sin, then those who dress and expose themselves with the desire to be looked at and lusted after … are not less but perhaps more guilty. In this matter it is not only too often the case that men sin but women tempt them to do so. How great then must be the guilt of the great majority of modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of young men. And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses.
Heart (2588) (kardia) does not refer to the physical organ in Scripture but is always used figuratively to refer to the seat and center of human life, the wellspring of man’s spiritual life. The heart is the center of the personality, and it controls the intellect, emotions, and will. No outward obedience is of the slightest value unless the heart turns to God.
Guzik makes a good point…
Since Jesus considers adultery in the heart a sin, we know what we think about and allow our heart to rest on is based on choice. Many believe they have no choice - and therefore no responsibility - for what they think about, but this contradicts the clear teaching of Jesus here. We may not be able to control passing thoughts or feelings, but we certainly do decide where our heart and mind will rest. (Ibid)
Robertson says the heart is…
Not just the centre of the blood circulation though it means that. Not just the emotional part of man’s nature, but here the inner man including the intellect, the affections, the will. This word is exceedingly common in the New Testament and repays careful study always. It is from a root that means to quiver or palpitate. Jesus locates adultery in the eye and heart before the outward act. Wunsche (Beitrage) quotes two pertinent rabbinical sayings as translated by Bruce:
“The eye and the heart are the two brokers of sin.” (Job 31:7)
“Passions lodge only in him who sees.”
Hence the peril of lewd pictures and plays to the pure. (Robertson, A. Word Pictures in the New Testament)
Kardia includes the thinking process (thoughts) and particularly the will. Jesus asked a group of scribes,
“Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4).
The heart is the control center of mind and will as well as emotion. Jesus is pinpointing the area we need to guard men…
WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT…
Our Thought Life!
Vine writes that kardia…
came to denote man’s entire mental and moral activities, and to stand figuratively for the hidden springs of the personal life, and so here signifies the seat of thought and feeling. (Vine, W. Collected writings of W. E. Vine. Nashville: Thomas Nelson)
The desire and the deed are not identical, but, spiritually speaking, they are equivalent. Mark it down, that a lustful look is the expression of a heart attitude that says in essence, “I would if I could.”
Constable rightly teaches that…
Fantasized immorality is just as sinful to God as physical immorality. The fact that fornication that takes place in the brain has fewer bad consequences than fornication that takes place on a bed does not mitigate this truth. (Expository Notes)
MacDonald writes that…
E. Stanley Jones caught the import of this verse when he wrote
If you think or act adultery, you do not satisfy the sex urge; you pour oil on a fire to quench it.
Sin begins in the mind, and if we nourish it, we eventually commit the act. (MacDonald, W & Farstad, A. Believer's Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson)
Paul gives one of the best antidotes instructing us to…
put on (aorist imperative - Do this now! It even conveys a sense of urgency.) the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision (present imperative - with a negative says either "Stop doing this" it forbids one from beginning to do this.) for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:14)
Comment: Provision is pronoia which literally is a thought beforehand. Most sinful behavior results from wrong ideas and lustful desires we allow to linger in our minds (Ja 1:14, 15-note). Don't fill your mind with plans for your sin. Instead, fill your mind with (Php 4:8-note) thoughts, thoughts of Christ in Whom are hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3-note) and in Whom we are complete (Col 2:8-note)… possessing all His precious and magnificent promises.) Don't be like the man who was delivered from his smoking habit and took all of his smoking paraphernalia (pipes, tobacco, etc) and buried it in his back yard and then put a stone over the spot so that he would know where to dig in case he couldn't hold out. He was making provision for his old flesh nature to gratify the desires of that nature! And I'll bet he didn't hold out. We fail to grasp the latent power inherent in our old nature (flesh). We may even think our old nature has been redeemed. Perish that thought. It is still the old nature. We have died to it's power (Ro 6:11, 12, 13, 14, see notes Ro 6:11; 12;13; 14) but it's power is still it's power and we give it an inch it will take a yard. Do not be deceived beloved brethren.
J Vernon McGee writes
Oh, how many believers are making every provision for the flesh but are making no provision to go into His presence. My friend, I beg you to put Christ first in your life and to get out the Word of God. This is all-important. (McGee, J V: Thru the Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson)
Ray Stedman gives this illustration of putting on Jesus…
When I get up in the morning I put on my clothes, intending them to be part of me all day, to go where I go and do what I do. They cover me and make me presentable to others. That is the purpose of clothes. In the same way, the apostle is saying to us, “Put on Jesus Christ when you get up in the morning. Make him a part of your life that day. Intend that he go with you everywhere you go, and that he act through you in everything you do. Call upon his resources. Live your life IN CHRIST.”
F B Meyer has the following thoughts entitled The Rule of the Eye…
WE have already seen that if a man permits his heart to be filled with anger that perpetually boils over or explodes in hard and contemptuous expressions he is excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven, and cast away as useless, the fire of Gehenna being a well-known expression for the rubbish-heap. We are now led a step further, and taught that impurity may have the same terrible effect, unless its earliest motions be sternly repressed. Indeed, Christ teaches that what is as natural as a right hand or eye, may, unless rigorously ruled, become the cause of the whole body being cast into Gehenna.
The outward and inward, the expression by the body and the passionate desire of the lower region of the soul (which we might call the animal soul), act and react on each other. The former influences the latter as the pouring of oil arouses a smothered flame. On the other hand, through the combination of desire and imagination, contriving together in the dark caverns of the soul, the body may become the instrument of deeds that make the pure stars blush.
The legislators of the old time laid it down that no member of the commonwealth should commit adultery, and enacted terrible penalties if their prohibition were trampled under foot (Deut. 22:24); but the Divine Man, who reads the heart of man, goes back behind the deed to its premonitory stages, legislates about the look that may inflame passion, and condemns the soul that does not instantly turn the eye from that which allures it, to the All-Holy, asking to be cleansed, not with tears only, but with blood, and pleading that the eye henceforth may be filmed with pity, melted into tenderness, and set on fire with the light of His eyes, that are described as being like a flame of fire.
The importance of the Regimen of the Eye is acknowledged in many places of Scripture: "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes"; … "Lot saw the plain of Sodom." It was to David's straying glances that his great sin was due (2 Sam. 11:2). The Psalmist asks that his eyes may be turned away from beholding vanity. Job made a covenant with his eyes, and the Wise Man tells us not to look upon the wine when it is red, and giveth its colour in the cup. Each passage enforces our Lord's words.
The first step in the religious life is to detect right and wrong, not in the act, but in the thought and intention. If sin is arrested there, it is arrested in its earliest stage. When the inward senses are exercised and trained to discern good and evil, and when the soul not only discerns, but resists, there is no fear of the life being mastered by the tempter. The snake is killed in the egg; the microbe is destroyed before it can breed; the enemy is defeated before he can become ensconced within the city walls.
It is a remarkable fact to how small an extent many professing Christians practise this discernment between things that differ. They will be quite willing to admit that the soul has senses, duplicated with those of the body; that it has eyes with which it may see God; ears by which it may hear the inner voice; the sense of touch, and even of smell, by which to distinguish between the wholesome and the corrupt, between the air of Paradise and the breath of the pit. But they have never learned to exercise them, to note and act upon their earliest suggestion (Heb. 5:14). This is the cause of infinite failure, and keeps such Christians in the stage of babyhood. They never become full grown, nor partake of the solid food of the Word (compare also 1 Cor. 3:1-2).
A curious illustration of this happened to me once. A Christian lady was very anxious that I should read a certain novel which had just come out and was attracting wide interest. She assured me that I should find much that I would approve of and enjoy. Acting on her advice, I took the book to beguile some leisure hours on the Atlantic, and sat down one afternoon on my deck-chair to enjoy it. When, however, I reached page 50, I flung it over into the ocean, as I thought its contents would injure the fishes less than myself. If I had continued to read that story I should have been playing with fire.
What made the difference between that Christian lady and myself? Was it not that my inner senses were more sensitive than hers, and able to discern the evil of the book, which she would have unwittingly permitted to poison and contaminate her entire nature?
Some of us have quicker natural senses than others, The coastguardsman, accustomed to survey the ocean, will detect a tiny boat which would escape the notice of the average landsman; the experienced eye of the scout will build up a whole volume of useful information from the examination of a footstep, or even a handful of ash, which would be of no service to the ordinary traveller. Similar differences hold in the realm of the soul; and many receive poison into their systems almost before they are aware.
It is therefore of the utmost importance to exercise the soul in the discriminations of the inner sense, and to accustom it to act on its findings; and this was probably in the mind of our Lord when He spoke so earnestly about the rule of the eye, too accustomed to move carelessly over faces and forms, on the spectacle of human and natural life, as it passes in ceaseless panorama before us. It would not have been easy to speak to all the world about the senses of the soul. Men would not for the most part have understood Him. But if He could only teach them that there might be sin in a look, and that the unregulated look might lead to sin, it would be one step at least towards awakening the soul to watchfulness against those first yieldings to temptation, which reveal themselves not only in the glance of the eye, but in the inner movement of the soul. Let a man begin to guard his looks, he will end by keeping his heart beyond all else that he keeps, since he has come to see that out of it are the issues of life.
We must learn, most of all, to conquer passionate desire. The appetites which God has implanted within us, for food, for sleep, for human love, and such-like things, are not in themselves wrong, but they are very liable to get wrong in two directions. Either we may desire a right thing too passionately and for the mere pleasure it affords, rather than for the service it will enable us to do to others; or we may desire satisfaction from an object which, for good reasons, is placed outside the circumference of our life.
The presence of such an object may excite the passionate desire of our nature; and, if it should, our Lord says we must not look on it. In this case, the old proverb, "Out of sight out of mind," is our only safeguard. What the eye does not see, the heart will be less likely to desire.
The Master goes further, and says that if we are brought into almost constant contact with an object that tempts us, and if we cannot conquer its inevitable fascination upon our temperament, it would be better for us to pluck it out and cast it away, though it were precious as an eye and useful as a foot. Of course, the best policy would be to acquire such an elevation and strength of soul that we should be superior to the temptation of any wrong or hurtful snare. When a child is well fed it will not fight with dogs for the garbage of the streets. When we come from standing on the Transfiguration Mount, with the light of its recent glory on our faces, we shall find no attractions in the vanities of Vanity Fair. But, failing that, and as the next best thing, it were wiser, like Joseph of old, to leave our garment and flee, refusing even to be in the same room with the temptress. At whatever cost, however, we must learn to master the desire of our senses, and not allow our feet to wander in the direction they solicit, unless it be one which God Himself has marked out for us. Even then we must tread in it with moderation, such as is imposed on the one side by the remembrance that every good and perfect gift is the Father's gift, and therefore to be used reverently; and, on the other, by the fear lest we should injure another, and forget that in every act we must consider the well-being of all around us as paramount to our own enjoyment.
It must be, of course, always borne in mind that sin is not to be imputed to the body. It is not the eye that sins, but the heart that uses it for its sin. It is not the body that yields itself to the entrance of evil things, but the soul that turns the key, unlocks the door, and permits them to enter. No doubt the body is a weight in the heavenly race, because in its subtle nervous mechanism it carries the record and impulse of many acts of unrestrained evil on the part of our ancestors. It is a chain whose links have been forged by many separate acts, which have grown into habits. But the ultimate power is always invested in the spirit, which must always utter its I will! or its I will not! before an act can be done which has any moral quality in it, of which we must give an account, and which is either a step upward to heaven or downward to the pit.
If you sin, it is not your body that sins, but you through your body; and you are transforming into a pigsty what God made for His palace and temple. Strong as heredity may be, you are stronger. Vehement as the steeds are which are yoked to the chariot of life, the beneficent Creator would never have given them to you except that He knew that you were well able, with His grace helping you, to rein them in, and compel them to keep the course, and run the race, and win the goal. If then you want to arrest acts of sin in the body, it is imperative that you should deal with the inward sense and with the desires of the mind.
HOW THEN CAN WE PURIFY THE DESIRES OF THE MIND?
(1) We must guard against the first tiny thought of evil. The microbes float in the air, and if at any time we are off our guard and allow them to alight, they will infallibly find a nest in which to breed. The Holy Spirit, if we entrust Him with the sacred task, will make us very sensitive when the tiniest speck of evil is floating toward us, and will remind us to shelter under the Blood. You may shrink from my using that mystic word, but, believe me, there is no other infallible talisman of victory. "They overcame by the Blood of the Lamb."
(2) We must avoid the occasions of temptations. It is useless to ask God not to lead us into temptation if we thrust ourselves thither. I had once to advise a young artist to give up painting figures because it was impossible for him to go through the training, which is held to be necessary, without being overmastered by temptations incident to that line of study. It was the right foot, but it always made him stumble, and it had to go. At another time I had no alternative but to advise a young girl to break away from an attachment dear to her as life, because she could not continue it without serious spiritual danger. It was the right eye, but it had to be plucked out. But are these losses without compensation? Nay, verily. It is impossible to give up such things for Christ without receiving a hundredfold in this present life. When Milton's eyes are closed on the scenes of earth they are opened on the Throne of God and the Lamb. We are completed in Him. We go maimed into Life!
(3) We must appropriate the opposite grace. It is good, but it is not enough to turn the eyes away from beholding vanity, nor to shut them as the ascetic might do from all that is right and natural and innocent. There is something better, supplied by the universal principle, which we are using throughout these chapters, Love.
When our hearts are filled with love, the eyes will not gaze on an object for selfish enjoyment. They will look on the interests of another; will see all the agony and pain that may ensue if that other is turned away, as poor Bathsheba was from the path of unsullied righteousness; will fill with tears at the very thought of bringing shame and dishonour into another's life; will become tender with a holy and selfless love; will be yielded as organs of Christ's own vision; and, out of all that, will come the transparency of a pure heart, which the Holy Spirit shall make His abiding-place.
"Who among us shall dwell in the everlasting burnings" of the Divine purity? He that "shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil, he shall dwell on high" (Isa. 33:14-16, R.V.). (The Directory of the Devout Life)