“That everyone of you should know how to possess his vessel, etc.]”
By which may be meant, either a man’s wife, or his body, and it is not very easy to determine which, for the Jews call both by this name. Sometimes they call a woman μlwg, which the gloss says is a “vessel” unfinished. It is reported, that when R. Eleazar died, Rabbenu Hakkadosh would have married his widow, and she would not, because she was hçwdq lç ylk, “a vessel of holiness”, greater than he. Moreover, it is said, that “he that forces (a young woman) must drink wxyx[b, “in his own vessel” how drink in his own vessel? though she be lame, though she be blind, and though she is stricken with ulcers.”
The commentators on the passage add, “in the vessel which he has chosen; that is to say, whether he will or not, he must marry her;” (see Proverbs 5:15). And again, they sometimes call a man’s wife his tent: hence that saving, “wtça ala wlha ˆya “there is no tent but his wife”, as it is said, (Deuteronomy 5:30), go, say to them, get you into your tents again.”
And certain it is, that the woman is called the “weaker vessel” in (1 Peter 3:7), between which passage and this there seems to be some agreement. The same metaphor of a “vessel” is made use of in both; and as there, honour to be given to the weaker vessel, so here, a man’s vessel is to be possessed in honour; and as there, husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge so here, knowledge is required to a man’s possessing his vessel aright. Now for a man to possess his vessel in this sense, is to enjoy his wife, and to use that power he has over her in a becoming manner; (see 1 Corinthians 7:4), and which is here directed to “in sanctification and honour”; that is, in a chaste and honourable way; for marriage is honourable when the bed is kept undefiled; and which may be defiled, not only by taking another into it, and which is not possessing the wife in sanctification and honour, it is the reverse, for it is a breaking through the rules of chastity and honour; but it may even be defiled with a man’s own wife, by using her in an unnatural way, or by any unlawful copulation with her; for so to do is to use her in an unholy, unchaste, wicked, and dishonourable manner; whereas possessing of her according to the order and course of nature, is by the Jews, in agreement with the apostle, called, wmx[ çdqm, “a man’s sanctifying himself”, and is chaste, and honourable. And it may be observed, that the Jews use the same phrase concerning conjugal embraces as the apostle does here. One of their canons runs thus: “though a man’s wife is free for him at all times, it is fit and proper for a disciple of a wise man to use himself hçwdqb, “in”, or “to sanctification”.”
When these thing’s are observed, this sense of the words will not appear so despicable as it is thought by some. The body is indeed called a “vessel”; (see 2 Corinthians 4:7), because in it the soul is contained, and the soul makes use of it, and its members, as instruments, for the performance of various actions; and, with Jewish writers, we read of wpwg ylk, “the vessel of his body”; so then, for a man to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour, is to keep under his body and bring it into subjection, and preserve it in purity and chastity; as the eyes from unchaste looks, the tongue from unchaste words, and the other members from unchaste actions; and to use it in an honourable way, not in fornication, adultery, and sodomy; for, by fornication, a man sins against his own body; and by adultery he gets a wound, and a dishonour, and a reproach that will not be wiped away; and by sodomy, and such like unnatural lusts, men dishonour their own bodies between themselves: particularly by “his vessel”, as Gataker thinks, may be meant the “membrum virile”, or the genital parts, which, by an euphemism, may he so called; (see 1 Samuel 21:5)
John Gill (1697-1771) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher and theologian. He was appointed the Pastor of Goat Yard Chapel, Horsleydown, Southwark, serving this position for fifty-one years. He was the first Baptist to write an exhaustive systematic theology, setting forth High-Calvinistic views and a clear Baptist polity which became the backbone for the churches subscribing to them. John Hazelton wrote of him:
”[Augustus] Toplady held in high regard Dr. John Gill (1697-1771), and applied to him and to his controversial writings what was said of the first Duke of Marlborough—that he never besieged a town that he did not take, nor fought a battle that he did not win. Gill's book on the Canticles is a beautiful and experimental exposition of Solomon's Song; his "Cause of God and Truth" is most admirable and suggestive; and his "Body of Divinity" one of the best of its kind. His commentary upon the Old and New Testament is a wonderful monument of sanctified learning, though it has been so used as to rob many a ministry of living power. It is the fashion now to sneer at Gill, and this unworthy attitude is adopted mostly by those who have forsaken the truths he so powerfully defended, and who are destitute of a tithe of the massive scholarship of one of the noblest ministers of the Particular and Strict Baptist denomination. The late Dr. Doudney rendered inestimable service by his republication, in 1852, of Gill's Commentary, printed at Bonmahon, Waterford, Ireland, by Irish boys. Gill was born at Kettering, and passed away at his residence at Camberwell, his last words being: "O, my Father! my Father!" For fifty-one years, to the time of his death, he was pastor of the Baptist Church, Fair Street, Horselydown, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. His Hebrew learning was equal to that of any scholar of his day, and his Rabbinical knowledge has never been equalled outside Judaism. His "Dissertation Concerning the Eternal Sonship of Christ" is most valuable, and this foundation truth is shown by him to have been a part of the faith of all Trinitarians for about 1,700 years from the birth of our Lord. In His Divine nature our blessed Lord was the co-equal and co-eternal Son of God, and as such He became the Word of God. The Scriptures nowhere intimate that Christ is the Son of God by office, or that His Sonship is founded on His human nature. This is not a strife about words, but is for our life, our peace, our hope. Dr. Gill's pastoral labours were much blest; to the utmost fidelity he united real tenderness, and at the Lord's Supper he was always at his best.
"He set before their eyes their dying Lord—
How soft, how sweet, how solemn every word!
How were their hearts affected, and his own!
And how his sparkling eyes with glory shone!"