Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF DIVORCE; - The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 1
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THE DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF DIVORCE; - John Milton, The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 1 
The Prose Works of John Milton: With a Biographical Introduction by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. In Two Volumes (Philadelphia: John W. Moore, 1847). Vol. 1.
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THE DOCTRINE AND DISCIPLINE OF DIVORCE;
RESTORED TO THE GOOD OF BOTH SEXES, FROM THE BONDAGE OF CANON LAW, AND OTHER MISTAKES, TO THE TRUE MEANING OF SCRIPTURE IN THE LAW AND GOSPEL COMPARED. WHEREIN ALSO ARE SET DOWN THE BAD CONSEQUENCES OF ABOLISHING, OR CONDEMNING AS SIN, THAT WHICH THE LAW OF GOD ALLOWS, AND CHRIST ABOLISHED NOT.
NOW THE SECOND TIME REVISED, AND MUCH AUGMENTED, IN TWO BOOKS: TO THE PARLIAMENT OF ENGLAND, WITH THE ASSEMBLY.
Matth. xiii. 52. “Every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house, which bringeth out of his treasury things new and old.”
Prov. xviii. 13. “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
[FIRST PUBLISHED 1643, 1644.]
TO THE PARLIAMENT OF ENGLAND, WITH THE ASSEMBLY.
If it were seriously asked, (and it would be no untimely question,) renowned parliament, select assembly! who of all teachers and masters, that have ever taught, hath drawn the most disciples after him, both in religion and in manners? it might be not untruly answered, Custom. Though virtue be commended for the most persuasive in her theory, and conscience in the plain demonstration of the spirit finds most evincing; yet whether it be the secret of divine will, or the original blindness we are born in, so it happens for the most part, that custom still is silently received for the best instructor. Except it be, because her method is so glib and easy, in some manner like to that vision of Ezekiel rolling up her sudden book of implicit knowledge, for him that will to take and swallow down at pleasure; which proving but of bad nourishment in the concoction, as it was heedless in the devouring, puffs up unhealthily a certain big face of pretended learning, mistaken among credulous men for the wholesome habit of soundness and good constitution, but is indeed no other than that swoln visage of counterfeit knowledge and literature, which not only in private mars our education, but also in public is the common climber into every chair, where either religion is preached, or law reported: filling each estate of life and profession with abject and servile principles, depressing the high and heaven-born spirit of man, far beneath the condition wherein either God created him, or sin hath sunk him. To pursue the allegory, custom being but a mere face, as echo is a mere voice, rests not in her unaccomplishment, until by secret inclination she accorporate herself with error, who being a blind and serpentine body without a head, willingly accepts what he wants, and supplies what her incompleteness went seeking. Hence it is, that error supports custom, custom countenances error: and these two between them would persecute and chase away all truth and solid wisdom out of human life, were it not that God, rather than man, once in many ages calls together the prudent and religious counsels of men, deputed to repress the encroachments, and to work off the inveterate blots and obscurities wrought upon our minds by the subtle insinuating of error and custom; who, with the numerous and vulgar train of their followers, make it their chief design to envy and cry down the industry of free reasoning, under the terms of humour and innovation; as if the womb of teeming truth were to be closed up, if she presume to bring forth aught that sorts not with their unchewed notions and suppositions. Against which notorious injury and abuse of man’s free soul, to testify and oppose the utmost that study and true labour can attain, heretofore the incitement of men reputed grave hath led me among others; and now the duty and the right of an instructed Christian calls me through the chance of good or evil report, to be the sole advocate of a discountenanced truth: a high enterprise, lords and commons! a high enterprise and a hard, and such as every seventh son of a seventh son does not venture on. Nor have I amidst the clamour of so much envy and impertinence whither to appeal, but to the concourse of so much piety and wisdom here assembled. Bringing in my hands an ancient and most necessary, most charitable, and yet most injured statute of Moses; not repealed ever by him who only had the authority, but thrown aside with much inconsiderate neglect, under the rubbish of canonical ignorance; as once the whole law was by some such like conveyance in Josiah’s time. And he who shall endeavour the amendment of any old neglected grievance in church or state, or in the daily course of life, if he be gifted with abilities of mind, that may raise him to so high an undertaking, I grant he hath already much whereof not to repent him; yet let me aread him, not to be the foreman of any misjudged opinion, unless his resolutions be firmly seated in a square and constant mind, not conscious to itself of any deserved blame, and regardless of ungrounded suspicions. For this let him be sure, he shall be boarded presently by the ruder sort, but not by discreet and well-nurtured men, with a thousand idle descants and surmises. Who when they cannot confute the least joint or sinew of any passage in the book; yet God forbid that truth should be truth, because they have a boisterous conceit of some pretences in the writer.
But were they not more busy and inquisitive than the apostle commends, they would hear him at least, “rejoicing so the truth be preached, whether of envy or other pretence whatsoever:” for truth is as impossible to be soiled by any outward touch, as the sunbeam; though this ill hap wait on her nativity, that she never comes into the world, but like a bastard, to the ignominy of him that brought her forth; till time, the midwife rather than the mother of truth, have washed and salted the infant, declared her legitimate, and churched the father of his young Minerva, from the needless causes of his purgation. Yourselves can best witness this, worthy patriots! and better will, no doubt, hereafter: for who among ye of the foremost that have travailed in her behalf to the good of church or state, hath not been often traduced to be the agent of his own by-ends, under pretext of reformation? So much the more I shall not be unjust to hope, that however infamy or envy may work in other men to do her fretful will against this discourse, yet that the experience of your own uprightness misinterpreted will put ye in mind, to give it free audience and generous construction. What though the brood of Belial the draff of men, to whom no liberty is pleasing, but unbridled and vagabond lust without pale or partition, will laugh broad perhaps, to see so great a strength of Scripture mustering up in favour, as they suppose, of their debaucheries; they will know better when the shall hence learn, that honest liberty is the greatest foe to dishonest license. And what though others, out of a waterish and queasy conscience, because ever crazy and never yet sound, will rail and fancy to themselves that injury and license is the best of this book? Did not the distemper of their own stomachs affect them with a dizzy megrim, they would soon tie up their tongues and discern themselves like that Assyrian blasphemer, all this while reproaching not man, but the Almighty, the Holy One of Israel, whom they do not deny to have belawgiven his own sacred people with this very allowance, which they now call injury and license, and dare cry shame on, and will do yet a while, till they get a little cordial sobriety to settle their qualming zeal. But this question concerns not us perhaps: indeed man’s disposition, though prone to search after vain curiosities, yet when points of difficulty are to be discussed, appertaining to the removal of unreasonable wrong and burden from the perplexed life of our brother, it is incredible how cold, how dull, and far from all fellow-feeling we are, without the spur of self-concernment. Yet if the wisdom, the justice, the purity of God be to be cleared from foulest imputations, which are not yet avoided; if charity be not to be degraded and trodden down under a civil ordinance; if matrimony be not to be advanced like that exalted perdition written of to the Thessalonians, “above all that is called God,” or goodness, nay against them both; then I dare affirm, there will be found in the contents of this book that which may concern us all. You it concerns chiefly, worthies in parliament! on whom, as on our deliverers, all our grievances and cares, by the merit of your eminence and fortitude, are devolved. Me it concerns next, having with much labour and faithful diligence first found out, or at least with a fearless and communicative candour first published to the manifest good of Christendom, that which, calling to witness every thing mortal and immortal, I believe unfeignedly to be true. Let not other men think their conscience bound to search continually after truth, to pray for enlightening from above, to publish what they think they have so obtained, and debar me from conceiving myself tied by the same duties. Ye have now, doubtless, by the favour and appointment of God, ye have now in your hands a great and populous nation to reform; from what corruption, what blindness in religion, ye know well; in what a degenerate and fallen spirit from the apprehension of native liberty, and true manliness, I am sure ye find; with what unbounded license rushing to whoredoms and adulteries, needs not long inquiry: insomuch that the fears, which men have of too strict a discipline, perhaps exceed the hopes that can be in others, of ever introducing it with any great success. What if I should tell ye now of dispensations and indulgences, to give a little the reins, to let them play and nibble with the bait a while; a people as hard of heart as that Egyptian colony that went to Canaan. This is the common doctrine that adulterous and injurious divorces were not connived only, but with eye open allowed of old for hardness of heart. But that opinion, I trust, by then this following argument hath been well read, will be left for one of the mysteries of an indulgent Antichrist, to farm out incest by, and those his other tributary pollutions. What middle way can be taken then, may some interrupt, if we must neither turn to the right, nor to the left, and that the people hate to be reformed? Mark then, judges and lawgivers, and ye whose office it is to be our teachers, for I will utter now a doctrine, if ever any other, though neglected or not understood, yet of great and powerful importance to the governing of mankind. He who wisely would restrain the reasonable soul of man within due bounds, must first himself know perfectly, how far the territory and dominion extends of just and honest liberty. As little must he offer to bind that which God hath loosened, as to loosen that which he hath bound. The ignorance and mistake of this high point hath heaped up one huge half of all the misery that hath been since Adam. In the gospel we shall read a supercilious crew of masters, whose holiness, or rather whose evil eye, grieving that God should be so facile to man, was to set straiter limits to obedience, than God hath set, to enslave the dignity of man, to put a garrison upon his neck of empty and over-dignified precepts: and we shall read our Saviour never more grieved and troubled, than to meet with such a peevish madness among men against their own freedom. How can we expect him to be less offended with us, when much of the same folly shall be found yet remaining where it least ought, to the perishing of thousands? The greatest burden in the world is superstition, not only of ceremonies in the church, but of imaginary and scarecrow sins at home. What greater weakening, what more subtle stratagem against our Christian warfare, when besides the gross body of real transgressions to encounter, we shall be terrified by a vain and shadowy menacing of faults that are not? When things indifferent shall be set to overfront us under the banners of sin, what wonder if we be routed, and by this art of our adversary, fall into the subjection of worst and deadliest offences? The superstition of the papist is, “touch not, taste not,” when God bids both; and ours is, “part not, separate not,” when God and charity both permits and commands. “Let all your things be done with charity,” saith St. Paul; and his master saith, “She is the fulfilling of the law.” Yet now a civil, an indifferent, a sometime dissuaded law of marriage, must be forced upon us to fulfil, not only without charity but against her. No place in heaven or earth, except hell, where charity may not enter: yet marriage, the ordinance of our solace and contentment, the remedy of our loneliness, will not admit now either of charity or mercy, to come in and mediate, or pacify the fierceness of this gentle ordinance, the unremedied loneliness of this remedy. Advise ye well, supreme senate, if charity be thus excluded and expulsed, how ye will defend the untainted honour of your own actions and proceedings. He who marries, intends as little to conspire his own ruin, as he that swears allegiance: and as a whole people is in proportion to an ill government, so is one man to an ill marriage. If they, against any authority, covenant, or statute, may by the sovereign edict of charity, save not only their lives but honest liberties from unworthy bondage, as well may he against any private covenant, which he never entered to his mischief, redeem himself from unsupportable disturbances to honest peace, and just contentment. And much the rather, for that to resist the highest magistrate though tyrannizing, God never gave us express allowance, only he gave us reason, charity, nature, and good example to bear us out; but in this economical misfortune thus to demean ourselves, besides the warrant of those four great directors, which doth as justly belong hither, we have an express law of God, and such a law, as whereof our Saviour with a solemn threat forbid the abrogating. For no effect of tyranny can sit more heavy on the commonwealth, than this household unhappiness on the family. And farewell all hope of true reformation in the state, while such an evil as this lies undiscerned or unregarded in the house: on the redress whereof depends not only the spiritful and orderly life of our own grown men, but the willing and careful education of our children. Let this therefore be now examined, this tenure and freehold of mankind, this native and domestic charter given us by a greater lord than that Saxon king the confessor. Let the statutes of God be turned over, be scanned anew, and considered not altogether by the narrow intellectuals of quotationists and common places, but (as was the ancient right of councils) by men of what liberal profession soever, of eminent spirit and breeding, joined with a diffuse and various knowledge of divine and human things; able to balance and define good and evil, right and wrong, throughout every state of life; able to show us the ways of the Lord straight and faithful as they are, not full of cranks and contradictions, and pitfalling dispenses, but with divine insight and benignity measured out to the proportion of each mind and spirit, each temper and disposition created so different each from other, and yet by the skill of wise conducting, all to become uniform in virtue. To expedite these knots, were worthy a learned and memorable synod; while our enemies expect to see the expectation of the church tired out with dependencies, and independencies, how they will compound, and in what calends. Doubt not, worthy senators! to vindicate the sacred honour and judgment of Moses your predecessor, from the shallow commenting of scholastics and canonists. Doubt not after him to reach out your steady hands to the misinformed and wearied life of man; to restore this his lost heritage, into the household state; wherewith be sure that peace and love, the best subsistence of a Christian family, will return home from whence they are now banished; places of prostitution will be less haunted, the neighbour’s bed less attempted, the yoke of prudent and manly discipline will be generally submitted to; sober and well ordered living will soon spring up in the commonwealth. Yet have an author great beyond exception, Moses; and one yet greater, he who hedged in from abolishing every smallest jot and title of precious equity contained in that law, with a more accurate and lasting Masoreth, than either the synagogue of Ezra or the Galilæan school at Tiberias hath left us. Whatever else ye can enact, will scarce concern a third part of the British name: but the benefit and good of this your magnanimous example, will easily spread far beyond the banks of Tweed and the Norman isles. It would not be the first or second time, since our ancient druids, by whom this island was the cathedral of philosophy to France, left off their pagan rites, that England hath had this honour vouchsafed from heaven, to give out reformation to the world. Who was it but our English Constantine that baptized the Roman empire? Who but the Northumbrian Willibrode, and Winifride of Devon, with their followers, were the first apostles of Germany? Who but Alcuin and Wickliff our countrymen opened the eyes of Europe, the one in arts, the other in religion? Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live.
Know, worthies; and exercise the privilege of your honoured country. A greater title I here bring ye, than is either in the power or in the policy of Rome to give her monarchs; this glorious act will style ye the defenders of charity. Nor is this yet the highest inscription that will adorn so religious and so holy a defence as this: behold here the pure and sacred law of God, and his yet purer and more sacred name, offering themselves to you, first of all Christian reformers to be acquitted from the long-suffered ungodly attribute of patronizing adultery. Defer not to wipe off instantly these imputative blurs and stains cast by rude fancies upon the throne and beauty itself of inviolable holiness: lest some other people more devout and wise than we bereave us this offered immortal glory, our wonted prerogative, of being the first asserters in every great vindication. For me, as far as my part leads me, I have already my greatest gain, assurance and inward satisfaction to have done in this nothing unworthy of an honest life, and studies well employed. With what event, among the wise and right understanding handful of men, I am secure. But how among the drove of custom and prejudiced this will be relished by such whose capacity, since their youth run ahead into the easy creek of a system or a medulla, sails there at will under the blown physiognomy of their unlaboured rudiments; for them, what their taste will be, I have also surety sufficient, from the entire league that hath ever been between formal ignorance and grave obstinacy. Yet when I remember the little that our Saviour could prevail about this doctrine of charity against the crabbed textuists of his time, I make no wonder, but rest confident, that whoso prefers either matrimony or other ordinance before the good of man and the plain exigence of charity, let him profess papist, or protestant, or what he will, he is no better than a Pharisee, and understands not the gospel: whom as a misinterpreter of Christ I openly protest against; and provoke him to the trial of this truth before all the world: and let him bethink him withal how he will sodder up the shifting flaws of his ungirt permissions, his venial and unvenial dispenses, wherewith the law of God pardoning and unpardoning hath been shamefully branded for want of heed in glossing, to have eluded and baffled out all faith and chastity from the marriage-bed of that holy seed, with politic and judicial adulteries. I seek not to seduce the simple and illiterate: my errand is to find out the choicest and the learnedest, who have this high gift of wisdom to answer solidly, or to be convinced. I crave it from the piety, the learning, and the prudence which is housed in this place. It might perhaps more fitly have been written in another tongue: and I had done so, but that the esteem I have of my country’s judgment, and the love I bear to my native language to serve it first with what I endeavour, made me speak it thus, ere I assay the verdict of outlandish readers. And perhaps also here I might have ended nameless, but that the address of these lines chiefly to the parliament of England might have seemed ingrateful not to acknowledge by whose religious care, unwearied watchfulness, courageous and heroic resolutions, I enjoy the peace and studious leisure to remain,
The Honourer and Attendant of their noble Worth and Virtues,
That man is the occasion of his own miseries in most of those evils which he imputes to God’s inflicting. The absurdity of our canonists in their decrees about divorce. The Christian imperial laws framed with more equity. The opinion of Hugo Grotius and Paulus Fagius: And the purpose in general of this discourse.
Many men, whether it be their fate or fond opinion, easily persuade themselves, if God would but be pleased a while to withdraw his just punishments from us, and to restrain what power either the devil or any earthly enemy hath to work us wo, that then man’s nature would find immediate rest and releasement from all evils. But verily they who think so, if they be such as have a mind large enough to take into their thoughts a general survey of human things, would soon prove themselves in that opinion far deceived. For though it were granted us by divine indulgence to be exempt from all that can be harmful to us from without, yet the perverseness of our folly is so bent, that we should never lin hammering out of our own hearts, as it were out of a flint, the seeds and sparkles of new misery to ourselves, till all were in a blaze again. And no marvel if out of our own hearts, for they are evil; but even out of those things which God meant us, either for a principal good, or a pure contentment, we are still hatching and contriving upon ourselves matter of continual sorrow and perplexity. What greater good to man than that revealed rule, whereby God vouchsafes to show us how he would be worshipped? And yet that not rightly understood became the cause, that once a famous man in Israel could not but oblige his conscience to be the sacrificer; or if not, the jailer of his innocent and only daughter: and was the cause ofttimes that armies of valiant men have given up their throats to a heathenish enemy on the sabbath day; fondly thinking their defensive resistance to be as then a work unlawful. What thing more instituted to the solace and delight of man than marriage? And yet the misinterpreting of some scripture, directed mainly against the abusers of the law for divorce given by Moses, hath changed the blessing of matrimony not seldom into a familiar and coinhabiting mischief; at least into a drooping and disconsolate household captivity, without refuge or redemption. So ungoverned and so wild a race doth superstition run us, from one extreme of abused liberty into the other of unmerciful restraint. For although God in the first ordaining of marriage taught us to what end he did it, in words expressly implying the apt and cheerful conversation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evil of solitary life, not mentioning the purpose of generation till afterwards, as being but a secondary end in dignity, though not in necessity: yet now, if any two be but once handed in the church, and have tasted in any sort the nuptial bed, let them find themselves never so mistaken in their dispositions through any error, concealment, or misadventure, that through their different tempers, thoughts, and constitutions, they can neither be to one another a remedy against loneliness, nor live in any union or contentment all their days; yet they shall, so they be but found suitably weaponed to the least possibility of sensual enjoyment, be made, spite of antipathy, to fadge together, and combine as they may to their unspeakable wearisomeness, and despair of all sociable delight in the ordinance which God established to that very end. What a calamity is this, and as the wise man, if he were alive, would sigh out in his own phrase, what a “sore evil is this under the sun!” All which we can refer justly to no other author than the canon law and her adherents, not consulting with charity, the interpreter and guide of our faith, but resting in the mere element of the text; doubtless by the policy of the devil to make that gracious ordinance become unsupportable, that what with men not daring to venture upon wedlock, and what with men wearied out of it, all inordinate license might abound. It was for many ages that marriage lay in disgrace with most of the ancient doctors, as a work of the flesh, almost a defilement, wholly denied to priests, and the second time dissuaded to all, as he that reads Tertullian or Jerom may see at large. Afterwards it was thought so sacramental, that no adultery or desertion could dissolve it; and this is the sense of our canon courts in England to this day, but in no other reformed church else: yet there remains in them also a burden on it as heavy as the other two were disgraceful or superstitious, and of as much iniquity, crossing a law not only written by Moses, but charactered in us by nature, of more antiquity and deeper ground than marriage itself; which law is to force nothing against the faultless proprieties of nature, yet that this may be colourably done, our Saviour’s words touching divorce are as it were congealed into a stony rigour, inconsistent both with his doctrine and his office; and that which he preached only to the conscience is by canonical tyranny snatched into the compulsive censure of a judicial court; where laws are imposed even against the venerable and secret power of nature’s impression, to love, whatever cause be found to loath: which is a heinous barbarism both against the honour of marriage, the dignity of man and his soul, the goodness of Christianity, and all the human respects of civility. Notwithstanding that some the wisest and gravest among the Christian emperors, who had about them, to consult with, those of the fathers then living, who for their learning and holiness of life are still with us in great renown, have made their statutes and edicts concerning this debate far more easy and relenting in many necessary cases, wherein the canon is inflexible. And Hugo Grotius, a man of these times, one of the best learned, seems not obscurely to adhere in his persuasion to the equity of those imperial decrees, in his notes upon the Evangelist; much allaying the outward roughness of the text, which hath for the most part been too immoderately expounded; and excites the diligence of others to inquire further into this question, as containing many points that have not yet been explained. Which ever likely to remain intricate and hopeless upon the suppositions commonly stuck to, the authority of Paulus Fagius, one so learned and so eminent in England once, if it might persuade, would straight acquaint us with a solution of these differences no less prudent than compendious. He, in his comment on the Pentateuch, doubted not to maintain that divorces might be as lawfully permitted by the magistrate to Christians, as they were to the Jews. But because he is but brief, and these things of great consequence not to be kept obscure, I shall conceive it nothing above my duty, either for the difficulty or the censure that may pass thereon, to communicate such thoughts as I also have had, and do offer them now in this general labour of reformation to the candid view both of church and magistrate: especially because I see it the hope of good men, that those irregular and unspiritual courts have spun their utmost date in this land, and some better course must now be constituted. This therefore shall be the task and period of this discourse to prove, first, that other reasons of divorce, besides adultery, were by the law of Moses, and are yet to be allowed by the Christian magistrate as a piece of justice, and that the words of Christ are not hereby contraried. Next, that to prohibit absolutely any divorce whatsoever, except those which Moses excepted, is against the reason of law, as in due place I shall show out of Fagius with many additions. He therefore who by adventuring, shall be so happy as with success to light the way of such an expedient liberty and truth as this, shall restore the much-wronged and over-sorrowed state of matrimony, not only to those merciful and life-giving remedies of Moses, but as much as may be, to that serene and blissful condition it was in at the beginning, and shall deserve of all apprehensive men, (considering the troubles and distempers, which, for want of this insight have been so oft in kingdoms, in states, and families,) shall deserve to be reckoned among the public benefactors of civil and human life, above the inventors of wine and oil; for this is a far dearer, far nobler, and more desirable cherishing to man’s life, unworthily exposed to sadness and mistake, which he shall vindicate. Not that license, and levity, and unconsented breach of faith should herein be countenanced, but that some conscionable and tender pity might be had of those who have unwarily, in a thing they never practised before, made themselves the bondmen of a luckless and helpless matrimony. In which argument, he whose courage can serve him to give the first onset must look for two several oppositions; the one from those who having sworn themselves to long custom, and the letter of the text, will not out of the road; the other from those whose gross and vulgar apprehensions conceit but low of matrimonial purposes, and in the work of male and female think they have all. Nevertheless, it shall be here sought by due ways to be made appear, that those words of God in the institution, promising a meet help against loneliness, and those words of Christ, “that his yoke is easy, and his burden light,” were not spoken in vain: for if the knot of marriage may in no case be dissolved but for adultery, all the burdens and services of the law are not so intolerable. This only is desired of them who are minded to judge hardly of thus maintaining, that they would be still, and hear all out, nor think it equal to answer deliberate reason with sudden heat and noise; remembering this, that many truths now of reverend esteem and credit, had their birth and beginning once from singular and private thoughts, while the most of men were otherwise possessed; and had the fate at first to be generally exploded and exclaimed on by many violent opposers: yet I may err perhaps in soothing myself that this present truth revived will deserve on all hands to be not sinisterly received, in that it undertakes the cure of an inveterate disease crept into the best part of human society; and to do this with no smarting corrosive, but with a smooth and pleasing lesson, which received hath the virtue to soften and dispel rooted and knotty sorrows, and without enchantment, if that he feared, or spell used, hath regard at once both to serious pity and upright honesty; that tends to the redeeming and restoring of none but such as are the object of compassion, having in an ill hour hampered themselves, to the utter dispatch of all their most beloved comforts and repose for this life’s term. But if we shall obstinately dislike this new overture of unexpected ease and recovery, what remains but to deplore the frowardness of our hopeless condition, which neither can endure the estate we are in, nor admit of remedy either sharp or sweet. Sharp we ourselves distaste; and sweet, under whose hands we are, is scrupled and suspected as too luscious. In such a posture Christ found the Jews, who were neither won with the austerity of John the Baptist, and thought it too much license to follow freely the charming pipe of him who sounded and proclaimed liberty and relief to all distresses: yet truth in some age or other will find her witness, and shall be justified at last by her own children.
The position proved by the law of Moses. That law expounded and asserted to a moral and charitable use, first by Paulus Fagius, next with other additions.
To remove therefore, if it be possible, this great and sad oppression, which through the strictness of a literal interpreting hath invaded and disturbed the dearest and most peaceable estate of household society, to the overburdening, if not the overwhelming of many Christians better worth than to be so deserted of the church’s considerate care, this position shall be laid down, first proving, then answering what may be objected either from Scripture or light of reason.
“That indisposition, unfitness, or contrariety of mind, arising from a cause in nature unchangeable, hindering, and ever likely to hinder, the main benefits of conjugal society, which are solace and peace; is a greater reason of divorce than natural frigidity, especially if there be no children, and that there be mutual consent.”
This I gather from the law in Deut. xxiv. 1. “When a man hath taken a wife and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her, let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house,” &c. This law, if the words of Christ may be admitted into our belief, shall never while the world stands, for him be abrogated. First therefore I here set down what learned Fagius hath observed on this law; “the law of God,” saith he, “permitted divorce for the help of human weakness. For every one that of necessity separates, cannot live single. That Christ denied divorce to his own, hinders not; for what is that to the unregenerate, who hath not attained such perfection? Let not the remedy be despised, which was given to weakness. And when Christ saith, who marries the divorced commits adultery, it is to be understood if he had any plot in the divorce.” The rest I reserve until it be disputed, how the magistrate is to do herein. From hence we may plainly discern a twofold consideration in this law: first, the end of the lawgiver, and the proper act of the law, to command or to allow something just and honest, or indifferent. Secondly, his sufferance from some accidental result of evil by this allowance, which the law cannot remedy. For if this law have no other end or act but only the allowance of sin, though never to so good intention, that law is no law, but sin muffled in the robe of law, or law disguised in the loose garment of sin. Both which are too foul hypotheses, to save the phænomenon of our Saviour’s answer to the Pharisees about this matter. And I trust anon by the help of an infallible guide, to perfect such Prutenic tables, as shall mend the astronomy of our wide expositors.
The cause of divorce mentioned in the law is translated “some uncleanness,” but in the Hebrew it sounds “nakedness of aught, or any real nakedness:” which by all the learned interpreters is referred to the mind as well as to the body. And what greater nakedness or unfitness of mind than that which hinders ever the solace and peaceful society of the married couple; and what hinders that more than the unfitness and defectiveness of an unconjugal mind? The cause therefore of divorce expressed in the position cannot but agree with that described in the best and equallest sense of Moses’ law. Which being a matter of pure charity, is plainly moral, and more now in force than ever; therefore surely lawful. For if under the law such was God’s gracious indulgence, as not to suffer the ordinance of his goodness and favour through any error to be seared and stigmatised upon his servants to their misery and thraldom; much less will he suffer it now under the covenant of grace, by abrogating his former grant of remedy and relief. But the first institution will be objected to have ordained marriage inseparable. To that a little patience until this first part have amply discoursed the grave and pious reasons of this divorcive law; and then I doubt not but with one gentle stroking to wipe away ten thousand tears out of the life of man. Yet thus much I shall now insist on, that whatever the institution were, it could not be so enormous, nor so rebellious against both nature and reason, as to exalt itself above the end and person for whom it was instituted.
The first reason of this law grounded on the prime reason of matrimony. That no covenant whatsoever obliges against the main end both of itself, and of the parties covenanting.
For all sense and equity reclaims, that any law or covenant, how solemn or strait soever, either between God and man, or man and man, though of God’s joining, should bind against a prime and principal scope of its own institution, and of both or either party covenanting: neither can it be of force to engage a blameless creature to his own perpetual sorrow, mistaken for his expected solace, without suffering charity to step in and do a confessed good work of parting those, whom nothing holds together but this of God’s joining, falsely supposed against the express end of his own ordinance. And what his chief end was of creating woman to be joined with man, his own instituting words declare, and are infallible to inform us what is marriage, and what is no marriage; unless we can think them set there to no purpose; “it is not good,” saith he, “that man should be alone, I will make him a help meet for him.” From which words, so plain, less cannot be concluded, nor is by any learned interpreter, than that in God’s intention a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and the noblest end of marriage: for we find here no expression so necessarily implying carnal knowledge, as this prevention of loneliness to the mind and spirit of man. To this, Fagius, Calvin, Pareus, Rivetus, as willingly and largely assent as can be wished. And indeed it is a greater blessing from God, more worthy so excellent a creature as man is, and a higher end to honour and sanctify the league of marriage, whenas the solace and satisfaction of the mind is regarded and provided for before the sensitive pleasing of the body. And with all generous persons married thus it is, that where the mind and person pleases aptly, there some unaccomplishment of the body’s delight may be better borne with, than when the mind hangs off in an unclosing disproportion, though the body be as it ought; for there all corporal delight will soon become unsavoury and contemptible. And the solitariness of man, which God had namely and principally ordered to prevent by marriage, hath no remedy, but lies under a worse condition than the loneliest single life: for in single life the absence and remoteness of a helper might inure him to expect his own comforts out of himself, or to seek with hope; but here the continual sight of his deluded thoughts, without cure, must needs be to him, if especially his complexion incline him to melancholy, a daily trouble and pain of loss, in some degree like that which reprobates feel. Lest therefore so noble a creature as man should be shut up incurably under a worse evil by an easy mistake in that ordinance which God gave him to remedy a less evil, reaping to himself sorrow while he went to rid away solitariness, it cannot avoid to be concluded, that if the woman be naturally so of disposition, as will not help to remove, but help to increase that same God-for-bidden loneliness, which will in time draw on with it a general discomfort and dejection of mind, not beseeming either Christian profession or moral conversation, unprofitable and dangerous to the commonwealth, when the household estate, out of which must flourish forth the vigour and spirit of all public enterprises, is so illcontented and procured at home, and cannot be supported; such a marriage can be no marriage, whereto the most honest end is wanting: and the aggrieved person shall do more manly, to be extraordinary and singular in claiming the due right whereof he is frustrated, than to piece up his lost contentment by visiting the stews, or stepping to his neighbour’s bed; which is the common shift in this misfortune: or else by suffering his useful life to waste away, and be lost under a secret affliction of an unconscionable size to human strength. Against all which evils the mercy of this Mosaic law was graciously exhibited.
The ignorance and iniquity of canon law, providing for the right of the body in marriage, but nothing for the wrongs and grievances of the mind. An objection, that the mind should be better looked to before contract, answered.
How vain therefore is it, and how preposterous in the canon law, to have made such careful provision against the impediment of carnal performance, and to have had no care about the unconversing inability of mind so defective to the purest and most sacred end of matrimony; and that the vessel of voluptuous enjoyment must be made good to him that has taken it upon trust, without any caution; whenas the mind, from whence must flow the acts of peace and love, a far more precious mixture than the quintescence of an excrement, though it be found never so deficient and unable to perform the best duty of marriage in a cheerful and agreeable conversation, shall be thought good enough, however flat and melancholius it be, and must serve, though to the eternal disturbance and languishing of him that complains! Yet wisdom and charity, weighing God’s own institution, would think that the pining of a sad spirit wedded to loneliness should deserve to be freed, as well the impatience of a sensual desire so providently relieved. It is read to us in the liturgy, that “we must not marry to satisfy the fleshly appetite, like brute beasts, that have no understanding;” but the canon so runs, as if it dreamed of no other matter than such an appetite to be satisfied; for if it happen that nature hath stopped or extinguished the veins of sensuality, that marriage is annulled. But though all the faculties of the understanding and conversing part after trial appear to be so ill and so aversely met through nature’s unalterable working, as that neither peace, nor any sociable contentment can follow, it is as nothing; the contract shall stand as firm as ever, betide what will. What is this but secretly to instruct us, that however many grave reasons are pretended to the married life, yet that nothing indeed is thought worth regard therein, but the prescribed satisfaction of an irrational heat? Which cannot be but ignominious to the state of marriage, dishonourable to the undervalued soul of man, and even to Christian doctrine itself: while it seems more moved at the disappointing of an impetuous nerve, than at the ingenuous grievance of a mind unreasonably yoked; and to place more of marriage in the channel of concupiscence, than in the pure influence of peace and love, whereof the soul’s lawful contentment is the only fountain.
But some are ready to object, that the disposition ought seriously to be considered before. But let them know again, that for all the wariness can be used, it may yet befall a discreet man to be mistaken in his choice, and we have plenty of examples. The soberest and best governed men are least practised in these affairs; and who knows not that the bashful muteness of a virgin may ofttimes hide all the unliveliness and natural sloth which is really unfit for conversation; nor is there that freedom of access granted or presumed, as may suffice to a perfect discerning till too late; and where any indisposition is suspected, what more usual than the persuasion of friends, that acquaintance, as it increases, will amend all? And lastly, it is not strange though many, who have spent their youth chastely, are in some things not so quick-sighted, while they haste too eagerly to light the nuptial torch; nor is it therefore that for a modest error a man should forfeit so great a happiness, and no charitable means to release him: since they who have lived most loosely, by reason of their bold accustoming, prove most successful in their matches, because their wild affections unsettling at will, have been as so many divorces to teach them experience. Whenas the sober man honouring the appearance of modesty, and hoping well of every social virtue under that veil, may easily chance to meet, if not with a body impenetrable, yet often with a mind to all other due conversation inaccessible, and to all the more estimable and superior purposes of matrimony useless and almost lifeless: and what a solace, what a fit help such a consort would be through the whole life of man, is less pain to conjecture than to have experience.
The second reason of this law, because without it, marriage as it happens oft is not a remedy of that which it promises, as any rational creature would expect. That marriage, if we pattern from the beginning, as our Saviour bids, was not properly the remedy of lust, but the fulfilling of conjugal love and helpfulness.
And that we may further see what a violent cruel thing it is to force the continuing of those together, whom God and nature in the gentlest end of marriage never joined; divers evils and extremities, that follow upon such a compulsion, shall here be set in view. Of evils, the first and greatest is, that hereby a most absurd and rash imputation is fixed upon God and his holy laws, of conniving and dispensing with open and common adultery among his chosen people; a thing which the rankest politician would think it shame and disworship that his laws should countenance: how and in what manner that comes to pass I shall reserve till the course of method brings on the unfolding of many scriptures. Next, the law and gospel are hereby made liable to more than one contradiction, which I refer also thither. Lastly, the supreme dictate of charity is hereby many ways neglected and violated; which I shall forthwith address to prove. First, we know St. Paul saith, It is better to marry than to burn. Marriage therefore was given as a remedy of that trouble; but what might this burning mean? Certainly not the mere motion of carnal lust, not the mere goad of a sensitive desire: God does not principally take care for such cattle. What is it then but that desire which God put into Adam in Paradise, before he knew the sin of incontinence; that desire which God saw it was not good that man should be left alone to burn in, the desire and longing to put off an unkindly solitariness by uniting another body, but not without a fit soul to his, in the cheerful society of wedlock? Which if it were so needful before the fall, when man was much more perfect in himself, how much more is it needful now against all the sorrows and casualties of this life, to have an intimate and speaking help, a ready and reviving associate in marriage? Whereof who misses, by chancing on a mute and spiritless mate, remains more alone than before, and in a burning less to be contained than that which is fleshly, and more to be considered; as being more deeply rooted even in the faultless innocence of nature. As for that other burning which is but as it were the venom of a lusty and over-abounding concoction, strict life and labour, with the abatement of a full diet, may keep that low and obedient enough: but this pure and more inbred desire of joining to itself in conjugal fellowship a fit conversing soul (which desire is properly called love) “is stronger than death,” as the spouse of Christ thought; “many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it.” This is that rational burning that marriage is to remedy, not to be allayed with fasting, nor with any penance to be subdued: which how can he assuage who by mishap hath met the most unmeet and unsuitable mind? Who hath the power to struggle with an intelligible flame, not in Paradise to be resisted, become now more ardent by being failed of what in reason it looked for; and even then most unquenched, when the importunity of a provender burning is well enough appeased; and yet the soul hath obtained nothing of what it justly desires. Certainly such a one forbidden to divorce, is in effect forbidden to marry, and compelled to greater difficulties than in a single life: for if there be not a more humane burning which marriage must satisfy, or else may be dissolved, than that of copulation, marriage cannot be honourable for the meet reducing and terminating lust between two; seeing many beasts in voluntary and chosen couples live together as unadulterously, and are as truly married in that respect. But all ingenuous men will see that the dignity and blessing of marriage is placed rather in the mutual enjoyment of that which the wanting soul needfully seeks, than of that which the plenteous body would joyfully give away. Hence it is that Plato, in his festival discourse, brings in Socrates relating what he feigned to have learned from the prophetess Diotima, how Love was the son of Penury, begot of Plenty in the garden of Jupiter. Which divinely sorts with that which in effect Moses tells us, that Love was the son of Loneliness, begot in Paradise by that sociable and helpful aptitude which God implanted between man and woman toward each other. The same also is that burning mentioned by St. Paul, whereof marriage ought to be the remedy: the flesh hath other mutual and easy curbs which are in the power of any temperate man. When therefore this original and sinless penury or loneliness of the soul cannot lay itself down by the side of such a meet and acceptable union as God ordained in marriage, at least in some proportion, it cannot conceive and bring forth love, but remains utterly unmarried under a former wedlock, and still burns in the proper meaning of St. Paul. Then enters Hate, not that hate that sins, but that which only is natural dissatisfaction, and the turning aside from a mistaken object: if that mistake have done injury, it fails not to dismiss with recompense; for to retain still, and not be able to love, is to heap up more injury. Thence this wise and pious law of dismission now defended, took beginning: he therefore who lacking of his due in the most native and humane end of marriage, thinks it better to part than to live sadly and injuriously to that cheerful covenant, (for not to be beloved, and yet retained, is the greatest injury to a gentle spirit,) he, I say, who therefore seeks to part, is one who highly honours the married life and would not stain it: and the reasons which now move him to divorce, are equal to the best of those that could first warrant him to marry; for, as was plainly shown, both the hate which now diverts him, and the loneliness which leads him still powerfully to seek a fit help, hath not the least grain of a sin in it, if he be worthy to understand himself.
The third reason of this law, because without it, he who has happened where he finds nothing but remediless offences and discontents, is in more and greater temptations than ever before.
Thirdly, Yet it is next to be feared, if he must be still bound without reason by a deaf rigour, that when he perceives the just expectance of his mind defeated, he will begin even against law to cast about where he may find his satisfaction more complete, unless he be a thing heroically virtuous; and that are not the common lump of men, for whom chiefly the laws ought to be made; though not to their sins, yet to their unsinning weaknesses, it being above their strength to endure the lonely estate, which while they shunned they are fallen into. And yet there follows upon this a worse temptation: for if he be such as hath spent his youth unblameably, and laid up his chiefest earthly comforts in the enjoyments of a contented marriage, nor did neglect that furtherance which was to be obtained therein by constant prayers; when he shall find himself bound fast to an uncomplying discord of nature, or, as it oft happens, to an image of earth and phlegm, with whom he looked to be the copartner of a sweet and gladsome society, and sees withal that his bondage is now inevitable; though he be almost the strongest Christian, he will be ready to despair in virtue, and mutiny against Divine Providence: and this doubtless is the reason of those lapses, and that melancholy despair, which we see in many wedded persons, though they understand it not, or pretend other causes, because they know no remedy; and is of extreme danger: therefore when human frailty surcharged is at such a loss, charity ought to venture much, and use bold physic, lest an overtossed faith endanger to shipwreck.
The fourth reason of this law, that God regards love and peace in the family, more than a compulsive performance of marriage, which is more broke by a grievous continuance, than by a needful divorce.
Fourthly, Marriage is a covenant, the very being whereof consists not in a forced cohabitation, and counterfeit performance of duties, but in unfeigned love and peace: and of matrimonial love, no doubt but that was chiefly meant, which by the ancient sages was thus parabled; that Love, if he be not twin born, yet hath a brother wondrous like him, called Anteros; whom while he seeks all about, his chance is to meet with many false and feigning desires, that wander singly up and down in his likeness: by them in their borrowed garb, Love though not wholly blind, as poets wrong him, yet having but one eye, as being born an archer aiming and that eye not the quickest in this dark region here below, which is not love’s proper sphere, partly out of the simplicity and credulity which is native to him, often deceived, embraces and consorts him with these obvious and suborned striplings, as if they were his mother’s own sons; for so he thinks them, while they subtilly keep themselves most on his blind side. But after a while, as his manner is when soaring up into the high tower of his Apogæum, above the shadow of the earth, he darts out the direct rays of his then most piercing eyesight upon the impostures and trim disguises that were used with him, and discerns that this is not his genuine brother as he imagined; he has no longer the power to hold fellowship with such a personated mate: for straight his arrrows lose their golden heads, and shed their purple feathers, his silken braids untwine, and slip their knots, and that original and fiery virtue given him by fate all on a sudden goes out, and leaves him undeified and despoiled of all his force; till finding Anteros at last he kindles and repairs the almost faded ammunition of his deity by the reflection of a coequal and homogeneal fire. Thus mine author sung it to me: and by the leave of those who would be counted the only grave ones, this is no mere amatorious novel (though to be wise and skilful in these matters, men heretofore of greatest name in virtue have esteemed it one of the highest arcs, that human contemplation circling upwards can make from the globy sea whereon she stands): but this a deep and serious verity, showing us that love in marriage cannot live nor subsist unless it be mutual; and where love cannot be, there can be left of wedlock nothing but the empty husk of an outside matrimony, as undelightful and unpleasing to God as any other kind of hypocrisy. So far is his command from tying men to the observance of duties which there is no help for, but they must be dissembled. If Solomon’s advice be not over-frolic, “live joyfully,” saith he, “with the wife whom thou lovest, all thy days, for that is thy portion.” How then, where we find it impossible to rejoice or to love, can we obey this precept? How miserably do we defraud ourselves of that comfortable portion, which God gives us, by striving vainly to glue an error together, which God and nature will not join, adding but more vexation and violence to that blissful society by our importunate superstition, that will not hearken to St. Paul, 1 Cor. vii. who, speaking of marriage and divorce, determines plain enough in general, that God therein “hath called us to peace, and not to bondage.” Yea God himself commands in his law more than once, and by his prophet Malachi, as Calvin and the best translations read, that “he who hates, let him divorce,” that is, he who cannot love. Hence it is that the rabbins, and Maimonides, famous among the rest, in a book of his set forth by Buxtorfius, tells us, that “divorce was permitted by Moses to preserve peace in marriage, and quiet in the family.” Surely the Jews had their saving peace about them as well as we, yet care was taken that this wholesome provision for household peace should also be allowed them: and must this be denied to Christians? O perverseness! that the law should be made more provident of peace-making than the gospel! that the gospel should be put to beg a most necessary help of mercy from the law, but must not have it; and that to grind in the mill of an undelighted and servile copulation, must be the only forced work of a Christian marriage, ofttimes with such a yokefellow, from whom both love and peace, both nature and religion mourns to be separated. I cannot therefore be so diffident, as not securely to conclude, that he who can receive nothing of the most important helps in marriage, being thereby disenabled to return that duty which is his, with a clear and hearty countenance, and thus continues to grieve whom he would not, and is no less grieved; that man ought even for love’s sake and peace to move divorce upon good and liberal conditions to the divorced. And it is a less breach of wedlock to part with wise and quiet consent betimes, than still to foil and profane that mystery of joy and union with a polluting sadness and perpetual distemper: for it is not the outward continuing of marriage that keeps whole that covenant, but whatsoever does most according to peace and love, whether in marriage or in divorce, he it is that breaks marriage least; it being so often written, that “Love only is the fulfilling of every commandment.”
The fifth reason, that nothing more hinders and disturbs the whole life of a Christian, than a matrimony found to be incurably unfit, and doth the same in effect that doth an idolatrous match.
Fifthly, As those priests of old were not to be long in sorrow, or if they were, they could not rightly execute their function; so every true Christian in a higher order of priesthood, is a person dedicate to joy and peace, offering himself a lively sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and there is no Christian duty that is not to be seasoned and set off with cheerishness; which in a thousand outward and intermitting crosses may yet be done well, as in this vale of tears: but in such a bosom affiction as this, crushing the very foundation of his inmost nature, when he shall be forced to love against a possibility, and to use a dissimulation against his soul in the perpetual and ceaseless duties of a husband; doubtless his whole duty of serving God must needs be blurred and tainted with a sad unpreparedness and dejection of spirit wherein God has no delight. Who sees not therefore how much more Christianity it would be to break by divorce, that which is more broken by undue and forcible keeping, rather than “to cover the altar of the Lord with continual tears, so that he regardeth not the offering any more,” rather than that the whole worship of a Christian man’s life should languish and fade away beneath the weight of an immeasurable grief and discouragement? And because some think the children of a second matrimony succeeding a divorce would not be a holy seed, it hindered not the Jews from being so; and why should we not think them more holy than the offspring of a former ill-twisted wedlock, begotten only out of a bestial necessity, without any true love or contentment, or joy to their parents? So that in some sense we may call them the “children of wrath” and anguish, which will as little conduce to their sanctifying, as if they had been bastards: for nothing more than disturbance of mind suspends us from approaching to God; such a disturbance especially, as both assaults our faith and trust in God’s providence, and ends, if there be not a miracle of virtue on either side, not only in bitterness and wrath, the canker of devotion, but in a desperate and vicious carelessness, when he sees himself, without fault of his, trained by a deceitful bait into a snare of misery, betrayed by an alluring ordinance, and then made the thrall of heaviness and discomfort by an undivorcing law of God, as he erroneously thinks, but of man’s iniquity, as the truth is: for that God prefers the free and cheerful worship of a Christian, before the grievance and exacted observance of an unhappy marriage, besides that the general maxims of religion assure us, will be more manifest by drawing a parallel argument from the ground of divorcing an idolatress, which was, lest she should alienate his heart from the true worship of God: and what difference is there whether she pervert him to supersition by her enticing sorcery, or disenable him in the whole service of God through the disturbance of her unhelpful and unfit society; and so drive him at last, through murmuring and despair, to thoughts of atheism? Neither doth it lessen the cause of separating, in that the one willingly allures him from the faith, the other perhaps unwillingly drives him; for in the account of God it comes all to one, that the wife loses him a servant: and therefore by all the united force of the Decalogue she ought to be disbanded, unless we must set marriage above God and charity, which is the doctrine of devils, no less than forbidding to marry.
That an idolatrous heretic ought to be divorced, after a convenient space given to hope of conversion. That place of 1 Cor. vii. restored from a two-fold erroneous exposition; and that the common expositors flatly contradict the moral law.
And here by the way, to illustrate the whole question of divorce, ere this treatise end, I shall not be loth to spend a few lines in hope to give a full resolve of that which is yet so much controverted; whether an idolatrous heretic ought to be divorced. To the resolving whereof we must first know, that the Jews were commanded to divorce an unbelieving Gentile for two causes: First, because all other nations, especially the Canaanites, were to them unclean. Secondly, to avoid seducement. That other nations were to the Jews impure, even to the separating in marriage, will appear out of Exod. xxxiv. 16, Deut. vii. 3, 6, compared with Ezra ix. 2, also chap. x. 10, 11, Neh. xiii. 30. This was the ground of that doubt raised among the Corinthians by some of the circumcision; whether an unbeliever were not still to be counted an unclean thing, so as that they ought to divorce from such a person. This doubt of theirs St. Paul removes by an evangelical reason, having respect to that vision of St. Peter, wherein the distinction of clean and unclean being abolished, all living creatures were sanctified to a pure and Christian use, and mankind especially, now invited by a general call to the covenant of grace. Therefore saith St. Paul, “the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband;” that is made pure and lawful to his use, so that he need not put her away for fear lest her unbelief should defile him; but that if he found her love still towards him he might rather hope to win her. The second reason of that divorce was to avoid seducement, as is proved by comparing those two places of the law to that which Ezra and Nehemiah did by divine warrant in compelling the Jews to forego their wives. And this reason is moral and perpetual in the rule of Christian faith without evasion; therefore saith the apostle, 2 Cor. vi., “Misyoke not together with infidels,” which is interpreted of marriage in the first place. And although the former legal pollution be now done off, yet there is a spiritual contagion in idolatry as much to be shunned; and though seducement were not to be feared, yet where there is no hope of converting, there always ought to be a certain religious aversion and abhorring, which can no way sort with marriage: Therefore saith St. Paul, “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? What communion hath light with darkness? What concord hath Christ with Belial? What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” And in the next verse but one he moralizes, and makes us liable to that command of Isaiah; “Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, saith the Lord; touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive ye.” And this command thus gospelized to us, hath the same force with that whereon Ezra grounded the pious necessity of divorcing. Neither had he other commission for what he did, than such a general command in Deut. as this, nay not so direct; for he is bid there not to marry, but not bid to divorce, and yet we see with what a zeal and confidence he was the author of a general divorce between the faithful and the unfaithful seed. The gospel is more plainly on his side, according to three of the evangelists, than the words of the law; for where the case of divorce is handled with such severity, as was fittest to aggravate the fault of unbounded license; yet still in the same chapter, when it comes into question afterwards, whether any civil respect, or natural relation which is dearest, may be our plea to divide, or hinder, or but delay, our duty to religion, we hear it determined that father, and mother, and wife also, is not only to be hated, but forsaken, if we mean to inherit the great reward there promised. Nor will it suffice to be put off by saying we must forsake them only by not consenting or not complying with them, for that were to be done, and roundly too, though being of the same faith, they should but seek out of a fleshly tenderness to weaken our Christian fortitude with worldly persuasions, or but to unsettle our constancy with timorous and softening suggestions; as we may read with what a vehemence Job, the patientest of men, rejected the desperate counsels of his wife; and Moses, the meekest, being thoroughly offended with the profane speeches of Zippora, sent her back to her father. But if they shall perpetually, at our elbow, seduce us from the true worship of God, or defile and daily scandalize our conscience by their hopeless continuance in misbelief; than even in the due progress of reason, and that ever equal proportion which justice proceeds by, it cannot be imagined that his cited place commands less than a total and final separation from such an adherent; at least that no force should be used to keep them together; while we remember that God commanded Abraham to send away his irreligious wife and her son for the offences which they gave in a pious family. And it may be guessed that David, for the like cause, disposed of Michal in such a sort as little differed from a dismission. Therefore against reiterated scandals and seducements, which never cease, much more can no other remedy or retirement be found but absolute departure. For what kind of matrimony can that remain to be, what one duty between such can be performed as it should be from the heart, when their thoughts and spirits fly asunder as far as heaven and hell; especially if the time that hope should send forth her expected blossoms, be past in vain? It will easily be true, that a father or a brother may be hated zealously, and loved civilly, or naturally; for those duties may be performed at distance, and do admit of any long absence: but how the peace and perpetual cohabitation of marriage can be kept, how that benevolent and intimate communion of body can be held, with one that must be hated with a most operative hatred, must be forsaken and yet continually dwelt with and accompanied; he who can distinguish, hath the gift of an affection very oddly divided and contrived: while others both just and wise, and Solomon among the rest, if they may not hate and forsake as Moses enjoins, and the gospel imports, will find it impossible not to love otherwise than will sort with the love of God, whose jealousy brooks no co-rival. And whether is more likely, that Christ bidding to forsake wife for religion, meant it by divorce as Moses meant it, whose law, grounded on moral reason, was both his office and his essence to maintain; or that he should bring a new morality into religion, not only new, but contrary to an unchangeable command, and dangerously derogating from our love and worship of God? As if when Moses had bid divorce absolutely, and Christ had said, hate and forsake, and his apostle had said no communication with Christ and Belial; yet that Christ after all this could be understood to say, divorce not, no not for religion, seduce or seduce not. What mighty and invisible remora is this in matrimony able to demur and to contemn all the divorcive engines in heaven or earth! both which may now pass away, if this be true, for more than many jots or tittles, a whole moral law is abolished. But if we dare believe it is not, then in the method of religion, and to save the honour and dignity of our faith, we are to retreat and gather up ourselves from the observance of an inferior and civil ordinance, to the strict maintaining of a general and religious command, which is written, “Thou shalt make no covenant with them,” Deut. vii. 2. 3: and that covenant which cannot be lawfully made, we have directions and examples lawfully to dissolve. Also 2 Chron. ii. 19, “Shouldest thou love them that hate the Lord?” No doubtless; for there is a certain scale of duties, there is a certain hierarchy of upper and lower commands, which for want of studying in right order, all the world is in confusion.
Upon these principles I answer, that a right believer ought to divorce an idolatrous heretic, unless upon better hopes: however, that it is in the believer’s choice to divorce or not.
The former part will be manifest thus first, that an apostate idolater, whether husband or wife seducing, was to die by the decree of God, Deut. xiii. 6, 9; that marriage therefore God himself disjoins: for others born idolaters, the moral reason of their dangerous keeping, and the incommunicable antagony that is between Christ and Belial will be sufficient to enforce the commandment of those two inspired reformers Ezra and Nehemiah, to put an idolater away as well under the gospel.
The latter part, that although there be no seducement feared, yet if there be no hope given, the divorce is lawful, will appear by this; that idolatrous marriage is still hateful to God, therefore still it may be divorced by the pattern of that warrant that Ezra had, and by the same everlasting reason: neither can any man give an account wherefore, if those whom God joins no man can separate, it should not follow, that whom he joins not, but hates to join, those men ought to separate. But saith the lawyer, “That which ought not to have been done, once done, avails.” I answer, “this is but a crotchet of the law; but that brought against it is plain Scripture.” As for what Christ spake concerning divorce, it is confessed by all knowing men, he meant only between them of the same faith. But what shall we say then to St. Paul, who seems to bid us not divorce an infidel willing to stay? We may safely say thus, that wrong collections have been hitherto made out of those words by modern divines. His drift, as was heard before, is plain; not to command our stay in marriage with an infidel, that had been a flat renouncing of the religious and moral law; but to inform the Corinthians, that the body of an unbeliever was not defiling, if his desire to live in Christian wedlock showed any likelihood that his heart was opening to the faith; and therefore advises to forbear departure so long till nothing have been neglected to set forward a conversion: this I say he advises, and that with certain cautions, not commands, if we can take up so much credit for him, as to get him believed upon his own word: for what is this else but his counsel in a thing indifferent, “to the rest speak I, not the Lord?” for though it be true, that the Lord never spake it, yet from St. Paul’s mouth we should have took it as a command, had not himself forewarned us, and disclaimed; which notwithstanding if we shall still avouch to be a command, he palpably denying it, this is not to expound St. Paul, but to outface him. Neither doth it follow, that the apostle may interpose his judgment in a case of Christian liberty, without the guilt of adding to God’s word. How do we know marriage or single life to be of choice, but by such like words as these, “I speak this by permission, not of commandment; I have no command of the Lord, yet I give my judgment.” Why shall not the like words have leave to signify a freedom in this our present question, though Beza deny? Neither is the Scripture hereby less inspired, because St. Paul confesses to have written therein what he had not of command: for we grant that the Spirit of God led him thus to express himself to Christian prudence, in a matter which God thought best to leave uncommanded. Beza therefore must be warily read, when he taxes St. Austin of blasphemy, for holding that St. Paul spake here as of a thing indifferent. But if it must be a command, I shall yet the more evince it to be a command that we should herein be left free; and that out of the Greek word used in the 12th ver., which instructs us plainly, there must be a joint assent and good liking on both sides: he that will not deprave the text must thus render it; “If a brother have an unbelieving wife, and she join in consent to dwell with him,” (which cannot utter less to us than a mutual agreement,) let him not put her away from the mere surmise of judaical uncleanness: and the reason follows, for the body of an infidel is not polluted, neither to benevolence, nor to procreation. Moreover, this note of mutual complacency forbids all offer of seducement, which to a person of zeal cannot be attempted without great offence: if therefore seducement be feared, this place hinders not divorce. Another caution was put in this supposed command, of not oringing the believer into “bondage” hereby, which doubtless might prove extreme, if Christian liberty and conscience were left to the humour of a pagan staying at pleasure to play with, and to vex and wound with a thousand scandals and burdens, above strength to bear. If therefore the conceived hope of gaining a soul come to nothing, then charity commands that the believer be not wearied out with endless waiting under many grievances sore to his spirit; but that respect be had rather to the present suffering of a true Christian, than the uncertain winning of an obdurate heretic. The counsel we have from St. Paul to hope, cannot countermand, the moral and evangelic charge we have from God to fear seducement, to separate from the misbeliever, the unclean, the obdurate. The apostle wisheth us to hope; but does not send us a wool-gathering after vain hope; he saith, “How knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” that is, till he try all due means, and set some reasonable time to himself, after which he may give over washing an Ethiop, if he will hear the advice of the gospel; “Cast not pearls before swine,” saith Christ himself. “Let him be to thee as a heathen. Shake the dust off thy feet.” If this be not enough, “hate and forsake” what relation soever. And this also that follows must appertain to the precept, “Let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God,” v. 24, that is, so walking in his inferior calling of marriage, as not by dangerous subjection to that ordinance, to hinder and disturb the higher calling of his Christianity. Last, and never too oft remembered, whether this be a command, or an advice, we must look that it be so understood as not to contradict the least point of moral religion that God hath formerly commanded; otherwise what do we but set the moral law and the gospel at civil war together? and who then shall be able to serve these two masters?
That adultery is not the greatest breach of matrimony: that there may be other violations as great.
Now whether idolatry or adultery be the greatest violation of marriage, if any demand let him thus consider; that among Christian writers touching matrimony, there be three chief ends thereof agreed on: godly society, next civil, and thirdly, that of the marriage-bed. Of these the first in name to be the highest and most excellent, no baptized man can deny, nor that idolatry smites directly against this prime end; nor that such as the violated end is, such is the violation: but he who affirms adultery to be the highest breach, affirms the bed to be the highest of marriage, which is in truth a gross and boorish opinion, how common soever: as far from the countenance of Scripture, as from the light of all clean philosophy or civil nature. And out of the question the cheerful help that may be in marriage towards sanctity of life, is the purest, and so the noblest end of that contract: but if the particular of each person be considered, then of those three ends which God appointed, that to him is greatest which is most necessary; and marriage is then most broken to him when he utterly wants the fruition of that which he most sought therein, whether it were religious, civil, or corporal society. Of which wants to do him right by divorce only for the last and meanest is a perverse injury, and the pretended reason of it as frigid as frigidity itself, which the code and canon are only sensible of. Thus much of this controversy. I now return to the former argument. And having shown that disproportion, contrariety, or numbness of mind may justly be divorced, by proving already the prohibition thereof opposes the express end of God’s institution, suffers not marriage to satisfy that intellectual and innocent desire which God himself kindled in man to be the bond of wedlock, but only to remedy a sublunary and bestial burning, which frugal diet, without marriage, would easily chasten. Next, that it drives many to transgress the conjugal bed, while the soul wanders after that satisfaction which it had hope to find at home, but hath missed; or else it sits repining, even to atheism, finding itself hardly dealt with, but misdeeming the cause to be in God’s law, which is in man’s unrighteous ignorance. I have shown also how it unties the inward knot of marriage, which is peace and love, (if that can be untied which was never knit,) while it aims to keep fast the outward formality: how it lets perish the Christian man, to compel impossibly the married man.
The sixth reason of this law; that to prohibit divorce sought for natural cases is against nature.
The sixth place declares this prohibition to be as respectless of human nature, as it is of religion, and therefore is not of God. He teaches, that an unlawful marriage may be lawfully divorced: and that those who have thoroughly discerned each other’s disposition, which ofttimes cannot be till after matrimony, shall then find a powerful reluctance and recoil of nature on either side, blasting all the content of their mutual society, that such persons are not lawfully married, (to use the apostle’s words,) “Say I these things as a man or saith not the law also the same? For it is written, [Deut. xxii.] Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with different seeds, lest thou defile both. Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together;” and the like. I follow the pattern of St. Paul’s reasoning; “Doth God care for asses and oxen,” how ill they yoke together, “or is it not said altogether for our sakes? for our sakes no doubt this is written.” Yea the apostle himself, in the forecited 2 Cor. vi. 14, alludes from that place of Deut. to forbid misyoking marriage, as by the Greek word is evident; though he instance but in one example of mismatching with an infidel, yet next to that, what can be a fouler incongruity, a greater violence to the reverend secret of nature, than to force a mixture of minds that cannot unite, and to sow the sorrow of man’s nativity with seed of two incoherent and incombining dispositions? which act being kindly and voluntary, as it ought, the apostle in the language he wrote called eunoia, and the Latins, benevolence, intimating the original thereof to be in the understanding, and the will; if not, surely there is nothing which might more properly be called a male-volence rather; and is the most injurious and unnatural tribute that can be extorted from a person endued with reason, to be made pay out the best substance of his body, and of his soul too, as some think, when either for just and powerful causes he cannot like, or from unequal causes finds not recompense. And that there is a hidden efficacy of love and hatred in man as well as in other kinds, not moral but natural, which though not always in the choice, yet in the success of marriage will ever be most predominant, besides daily experience, the author of Ecclesiasticus, whose wisdom hath set him next the Bible, acknowledges, xiii. 16, “A man, saith he, will cleave to his like.” But what might be the cause, whether each one’s allotted Genius or proper star, or whether the supernal* influence of schemes and angular aspects, or this elemental crasis here below; whether all these jointly or singly meeting friendly, or unfriendly in either party, I dare not, with the men I am like to clash, appear so much a philosopher as to conjecture. The ancient proverb in Homer less abstruse, entitles this work of leading each like person to his like, peculiarly to God himself: which is plain enough also by his naming of a meet or like help in the first espousal instituted; and that every woman is meet for every man, none so absurd as to affirm. Seeing then there is a twofold seminary, or stock in nature, from whence are derived the issues of love and hatred, distinctly flowing through the whole mass of created things, and that God’s doing ever is to to bring the due likenesses and harmonies of his works together, except when out of two contraries met to their own destruction, he moulds a third existence; and that it is error, or some evil angel which either blindly or maliciously hath drawn together, in two persons ill embarked in wedlock, the sleeping discords and enmities of nature, lulled on purpose with some false bait, that they may wake to agony and strife, later than prevention could have wished, if from the bent of just and honest intentions beginning what was begun and so continuing, all that is equal, all that is fair and possible hath been tried, and no accommodation likely to succeed; what folly is it still to stand combating and battering against invincible causes and effects, with evil upon evil, till either the best of our days be lingered out, or ended with some speeding sorrow! The wise Ecclesiasticus advises rather, xxxvii. 27, “My son, prove thy soul in thy life, see what is evil for it, and give not that unto it.” Reason he had to say so; for if the noisomeness or disfigurement of body can soon destroy the sympathy of mind to wedlock duties, much more will the annoyance and trouble of mind infuse itself into all the faculties and acts of the body, to render them invalid, unkindly, and even unholy against the fundamental law book of nature, which Moses never thwarts, but reverences: therefore he commands us to force nothing against sympathy or natural order, no not upon the most abject creatures; to show that such an indignity cannot be offered to man without an impious crime. And certainly those divine meditating words of finding out a meet and like help to man, have in them a consideration of more than the indefinite likeness of womanhood; nor are they to be made waste paper on, for the dulness of canon divinity: no, nor those other allegoric precepts of beneficence fetched out of the closet of nature, to teach us goodness and compassion in not compelling together unmatchable societies; or if they meet through mischance, by all consequence to disjoin them, as God and nature signifies, and lectures to us not only by those recited decrees, but even by the first and last of all his visible works; when by his divorcing command the world first rose out of chaos, nor can be renewed again out of confusion, but by the separating of unmeet consorts.
The seventh reason, that sometimes continuance in marriage may be evidently the shortening or endangering of life to either party; both law and divinity concluding, that life is to be preferred before marriage, the intended solace of life.
Seventhly, The canon law and divines consent, that if either party be found contriving against another’s life, they may be served by divorce: for a sin against the life of marriage is greater than a sin against the bed; the one destroys, the other but defiles. The same may be said touching those persons who being of a pensive nature and course of life, have summed up all their solace in that free and lightsome conversation which God and man intends in marriage; whereof when they see themselves deprived by meeting an unsociable consort, they ofttimes resent one another’s mistake so deeply, that long it is not ere grief end one of them. When therefore this danger is foreseen, that the life is in peril by living together, what matter is it whether helpless grief or wilful practice be the cause? This is certain, that the preservation of life is more worth than the compulsory keeping of marriage; and it is no less than cruelty to force a man to remain in that state as the solace of his life, which he and his friends know will be either the undoing or the disheartening of his life. And what is life without the vigour and spiritual exercise of life? How can it be useful either to private or public employment? Shall it therefore be quite dejected, though never so valuable, and left to moulder away in heaviness, for the superstitious and impossible performance of an ill-driven bargain? Nothing more inviolable than vows made to God; yet we read in Numbers, that if a wife had made such a vow, the mere will and authority of her husband might break it: how much more then may he break the error of his own bonds with an unfit and mistaken wife, to the saving of his welfare, his life, yea his faith and virtue, from the hazard of overstrong temptations? For if man be lord of the sabbath, to the curing of a fever, can he be less than lord of marriage in such important causes as these?
The eighth reason, It is probable, or rather certain, that every one who happens to marry, hath not the calling; and therefore upon unfitness found and considered, force ought not to be used.
Eighthly, It is most sure that some even of those who are not plainly defective in body, yet are destitute of all other marriageable gifts, and consequently have not the calling to marry, unless nothing be requisite thereto but a mere instrumental body; which to affirm, is to that unanimous covenant a reproach: yet it is as sure that many such, not of their own desire, but by the persuasion of friends, or not knowing themselves, do often enter into wedlock; where finding the difference at length between the duties of a married life, and the gifts of a single life, what unfitness of mind, what wearisomeness, scruples, and doubts, to an incredible offence and displeasure, are like to follow between, may be soon imagined; whom thus to shut up, and immure, and shut up together, the one with a mischosen mate, the other in a mistaken calling, is not a course that Christian wisdom and tenderness ought to use. As for the custom that some parents and guardians have of forcing marriages, it will be better to say nothing of such a savage inhumanity, but only thus; that the law which gives not all freedom of divorce to any creature endued with reason so assassinated, is next in cruelty.
The ninth reason; because marriage is not a mere carnal coition, but a human society: where that cannot reasonably be had, there can be no true matrimony. Marriage compared with all other covenants and vows warrantably broken for the good of man. Marriage the Papists’ sacrament, and unfit marriage the Protestants’ idol.
Ninthly, I suppose it will be allowed us that marriage is a human society, and that all human society must proceed from the mind rather than the body, else it would be but a kind of animal or beastish meeting: if the mind therefore cannot have that due company by marriage that it may reasonably and humanly desire, that marriage can be no human society, but a certain formality; or gilding over of little better than a brutish congress, and so in very wisdom and pureness to be dissolved.
But marriage is more than human, “the covenant of God,” Prov. ii. 17, therefore man cannot dissolve it. I answer, if it be more than human, so much the more it argues the chief society thereof to be in the soul rather than in the body, and the greatest breach thereof to be unfitness of mind rather than defect of body: for the body can have least affinity in a covenant more than human, so that the reason of dissolving holds good the rather. Again, I answer, that the sabbath is a higher institution, a command of the first table, for the breach whereof God hath far more and oftener testified his anger than for divorces, which from Moses to Malachi he never took displeasure at, nor then neither if we mark the text; and yet as oft as the good of man is concerned, he not only permits, but commands to break the sabbath. What covenant more contracted with God and less in man’s power, than the vow which hath once passed his lips? yet if it be found rash, if offensive, if unfruitful either to God’s glory or the good of man, our doctrine forces not error and unwillingness irksomely to keep it, but counsels wisdom and better thoughts boldly to break it; therefore to enjoin the indissoluble keeping of a marriage found unfit against the good of man both soul and body, as hath been evidenced, is to make an idol of marriage, to advance it above the worship of God and the good of man, to make it a transcendent command, above both the second and first table; which is a most prodigious doctrine.
Next, whereas they cite out of the Proverbs, that it is the covenant of God, and therefore more than human, that consequence is manifestly false: for so the covenant which Zedekiah made with the infidel king of Babel, is called the Covenant of God, Ezek. xvii. 19, which would be strange to hear counted more than a human covenant. So every covenant between man and man, bound by oath, may be called the covenant of God, because God therein is attested. So of marriage he is the author and the witness; yet hence will not follow any divine astriction more than what is subordinate to the glory of God, and the main good of either party: for as the glory of God and their esteemed fitness one for the other, was the motive which led them both at first to think without other revelation that God had joined them together; so when it shall be found by their apparent unfitness, that their continuing to be man and wife is against the glory of God and their mutual happiness, it may assure them that God never joined them; who hath revealed his gracious will not to set the ordinance above the man for whom it was ordained; not to canonize marriage either as a tyranness or a goddess over the enfranchised life and soul of man; for wherein can God delight, wherein be worshipped, wherein be glorified by the forcible continuing of an improper and ill-yoking couple? He that loved not to see the disparity of several cattle at the plough, cannot be pleased with vast unmeetness in marriage. Where can be the peace and love which must invite God to such a house? May it not be feared that the not divorcing of such a helpless disagreement will be the divorcing of God finally from such a place? But it is a trial of our patience, say they: I grant it; but which of Job’s afflictions were sent him with that law, that he might not use means to remove any of them if he could? And what if it subvert our patience and our faith too? Who shall answer for the perishing of all those souls, perishing by stubborn expositions of particular and inferior precepts against the general and supreme rule of charity? They dare not affirm that marriage is either a sacrament or a mystery, though all those sacred things give place to man; and yet they invest it with such an awful sanctity, and give it such adamantine chains to bind with, as if it were to be worshipped like some Indian deity, when it can confer no blessing upon us, but works more and more to our misery. To such teachers the saying of St. Peter at the council of Jerusalem will do well to be applied: “Why tempt ye God to put a yoke upon the necks of” Christian men, which neither the Jews, God’s ancient people, “nor we are able to bear;” and nothing but unwary expounding hath brought upon us?
Considerations concerning Familism, Antinomianism; and why it may be thought that such opinions may proceed from the undue restraint of some just liberty, than which no greater cause to contemn discipline.
To these considerations this also may be added as no improbable conjecture, seeing that sort of men who follow Anabaptism, Familism, Anti-nomianism, and other fanatic dreams, (if we understand them not amiss,) be such most commonly as are by nature addicted to religion, of life also not debauched, and that their opinions having full swing, do end in satisfaction of the flesh; it may be come with reason into the thoughts of a wise man, whether all this proceed not partly, if not chiefly, from the restraint of some lawful liberty, which ought to be given men, and is denied them? As by physic we learn in menstruous bodies, where nature’s current hath been stopped, that the suffocation and upward forcing of some lower part affects the head and inward sense with dotage and idle fancies. And on the other hand, whether the rest of vulgar men not so religiously professing, do not give themselves much the more to whoredom and adulteries, loving the corrupt and venial discipline of clergy-courts, but hating to hear of perfect reformation; whenas they foresee that then fornication shall be austerely censured, adultery punished, and marriage, the appointed refuge of nature though it hap to be never so incongruous and displeasing, must yet of force be worn out, when it can be to no other purpose but of strife and hatred, a thing odious to God? This may be worth the study of skilful men in theology, and the reason of things. And lastly, to examine whether some undue and ill-grounded strictness upon the blameless nature of man, be not the cause in those places where already reformation is, that the discipline of the church, so often, and so unavoidably broken, is brought into contempt and derision? And if it be thus, let those who are still bent to hold this obstinate literality, so prepare themselves, as to share in the account for all these transgressions, when it shall be demanded at the last day, by one who will scan and sift things with more than a literal wisdom of equity: for if these reasons be duly pondered, and that the gospel is more jealous of laying on excessive burdens than ever the law was, lest the soul of a Christian, which is inestimable, should be over-tempted and cast away; considering also that many properties of nature, which the power of regeneration itself never alters, may cause dislike of conversing, even between the most sanctified; which continually grating in harsh tune together, may breed some jar and discord, and that end in rancour and strife, a thing so opposite both to marriage and to Christianity, it would perhaps be less scandal to divorce a natural disparity, than to link violently together, an unchristian dissension, committing two insnared souls inevitably to kindle one another, not with the fire of love, but with a hatred irreconcileable; who, were they dissevered, would be straight friends in any other relation. But if an alphabetical servility must be still urged, it may so fall out, that the true church may unwittingly use as much cruelty in forbidding to divorce, as the church of Antichrist doth wilfully in forbidding to marry.
The ordinance of sabbath and marriage compared. Hyperbole no unfrequent figure in the gospel. Excess cured by contrary excess. Christ neither did nor could abrogate the law of divorce, but only reprieve the abuse thereof.
Hitherto the position undertaken has been declared, and proved by a law of God, that law proved to be moral, and unabolishable, for many reasons equal, honest, charitable, just, annexed thereto. It follows now, that those places of Scripture, which have a seeming to revoke the prudence of Moses, or rather that merciful decree of God, be forthwith explained and reconciled. For what are all these reasonings worth, will some reply, whenas the words of Christ are plainly against all divorce, “except in case of fornication?” to whom he whose mind were to answer no more but this, “except also in case of charity,” might safely appeal to the more plain words of Christ in defence of so excepting. “Thou shalt do no manner of work,” saith the commandment of the sabbath. Yes, saith Christ, works of charity. And shall we be more severe in paraphrasing the considerate and tender gospel, than he was in expounding the rigid and peremptory law? What was ever in all appearance less made for man, and more for God alone, than the sabbath? yet when the good of man comes into the scales, we hear that voice of infinite goodness and benignity, that “sabbath was made for man, and not man for sabbath.” What thing ever was more made for man alone, and less for God, than marriage? And shall we load it with a cruel and senseless bondage utterly against both the good of man, and the glory of God? Let whoso will now listen; I want neither pall nor mitre, I stay neither for ordination nor induction; but in the firm faith of a knowing Christian, which is the best and truest endowment of the keys, I pronounce the man, who shall bind so cruelly a good and gracious ordinance of God, hath not in that the spirit of Christ. Yet that every text of Scripture seeming opposite may be attended with a due exposition, this other part ensues, and makes account to find no slender arguments for this assertion, out of those very scriptures, which are commonly urged against it.
First, therefore, let us remember, as a thing not to be denied, that all places of Scripture, wherein just reason of doubt arises from the letter, are to be expounded by considering upon what occasion every thing is set down, and by comparing other texts. The occasion which induced our Saviour to speak of divorce, was either to convince the extravagance of the Pharisees in that point, or to give a sharp and vehement answer to a tempting question. And in such cases, that we are not to repose all upon the literal terms of so many words, many instances will teach us: wherein we may plainly discover how Christ meant not to be taken word for word, but like a wise physician, administering one excess against another, to reduce us to a permiss; where they were too remiss, he saw it needful to seem most severe: in one place he censures an unchaste look to be adultery already committed; another time he passes over actual adultery with less reproof than for an unchaste look; not so heavily condemning secret weakness, as open malice: so here he may be justly thought to have given this rigid sentence against divorce not to cut off all remedy from a good man, who finds himself consuming away in a disconsolate and unenjoined matrimony, but to lay a bridle upon the bold abuses of those overweening rabbies; which he could not more effectually do, than by a countersway of restraint curbing their wild exorbitance almost in the other extreme; as when we bow things the contrary way, to make them come to their natural straightness. And that this was the only intention of Christ is most evident, if we attend but to his own words and protestation made in the same sermon, not many verses before he treats of divorcing, that he came not to abrogate from the law “one jot or tittle,” and denounces against them that shall so teach.
But St. Luke, the verse immediately foregoing that of divorce, inserts the same caveat, as if the latter could not be understood without the former; and as a witness to produce against this our wilful mistake of abrogating, which must needs confirm us, that whatever else in the political law of more special relation to the Jews might cease to us; yet that of those precepts concerning divorce, not one of them was repealed by the doctrine of Christ, unless we have vowed not to believe his own cautious and immediate profession; for if these our Saviour’s words inveigh against all divorce, and condemn it as adultery, except it be for adultery, and be not rather understood against the abuse of those divorces permitted in the law, then is that law of Moses, Deut. xxiv. 1, not only repealed and wholly annulled against the promise of Christ, and his known profession not to meddle in matters judicial; but that which is more strange, the very substance and purpose of that law is contradicted, and convinced both of injustice and impurity, as having authorized and maintained legal adultery by statute. Moses also cannot scape to be guilty of unequal and unwise decrees punishing one act of secret adultery by death, and permitting a whole life of open adultery by law. And albeit lawyers write, that some political edicts, though not approved, are yet allowed to the scum of the people, and the necessity of the times; these excuses have but a weak pulse: for first, we read, not that the scoundrel people, but the choicest, the wisest, the holiest of that nation have frequently used these laws, or such as these, in the best and holiest times. Secondly, be it yielded, that in matters not very bad or impure, a human lawgiver may slacken something of that which is exactly good, to the disposition of the people and the times: but if the perfect, the pure, the righteous law of God, (for so are all his statutes and his judgments,) be found to have allowed smoothly, without any certain reprehension, that which Christ afterward declares to be adultery, how can we free this law from the horrible indictment of being both impure, unjust, and fallacious?
How divorce was permitted for hardness of heart, cannot be understood by the common exposition. That the law cannot permit, much less enact a permission of sin.
Neither, will it serve to say this was permitted for the hardness of their hearts, in that sense as it is usually explained: for the law were then but a corrupt and erroneous schoolmaster, teaching us to dash against a vital maxim of religion, by doing foul evil in hope of some certain good.
This only text is not to be matched again throughout the whole Scripture, whereby God in his perfect law should seem to have granted to the hard hearts of his holy people, under his own hand, a civil immunity and free charter to live and die in a long successive adultery, under a covenant of works, till the Messiah, and then that indulgent permission to be strictly denied by a covenant of grace; besides, the incoherence of such a doctrine cannot, must not be thus interpreted, to the raising of a paradox never known till then, only hanging by the twined thread of one doubtful scripture, against so many other rules and leading principles of religion, of justice, and purity of life. For what could be granted more either to the fear, or to the lust of any tyrant or politician, than this authority of Moses thus expounded; which opens him a way at will to dam up justice, and not only to admit of any Romish or Austrian dispenses, but to enact a statute of that which he dares not seem to approve, even to legitimate vice, to make sin itself, the ever alien and vassal sin, a free citizen of the commonwealth, pretending only these or these plausible reasons? And well he might, all the while that Moses shall be alleged to have done as much without showing any reason at all. Yet this could not enter into the heart of David, Psal. xciv. 20, how any such authority, as endeavours to “fashion wickedness by a law,” should derive itself from God. And Isaiah says, “Woe upon them that decree unrighteous decrees,” chap. x. 1. Now which of these two is the better lawgiver, and which deserves most a woe, he that gives out an edict singly unjust, or he that confirms to generations a fixed and unmolested impunity of that which is not only held to be unjust, but also unclean, and both in a high degree; not only as they themselves affirm, an injurious expulsion of one wife, but also an unclean freedom by more than a patent to wed another adulterously? How can we therefore with safety thus dangerously confine the free simplicity of our Saviour’s meaning to that which merely amounts from so many letters, whenas it can consist neither with its former and cautionary words, nor with other more pure and holy principles, nor finally with a scope of charity, commanding by his express commission in a higher strain? But all rather of necessity must be understood as only against the abuse of that wise and ingenuous liberty, which Moses gave, and to terrify a roving conscience from sinning under that pretext.
That to allow sin by law is against the nature of law, the end of the lawgiver, and the good of the people. Impossible therefore in the law of God. That it makes God the author of sin more than any thing objected by the Jesuits or Arminians against predestination.
But let us yet further examine upon what consideration a law of license could be thus given to a holy people for their hardness of heart. I suppose all will answer, that for some good end or other. But here the contrary shall be proved. First, that many ill effects, but no good end of such a sufferance can be shown; next, that a thing unlawful can, for no good end whatever, be either done or allowed by a positive law. If there were any good end aimed at, that end was then good either to the law or to the lawgiver licensing; or as to the person licensed. That it could not be the end of the law, whether moral or judicial, to license a sin, I prove easily out of Rom. v. 20, “The law entered, that the offence might abound,” that is, that sin might be made abundantly manifest to be heinous and displeasing to God, that so his offered grace might be the more esteemed. Now if the law, instead of aggravating and terrifying sin, shall give out license, it foils itself and turns recreant from its own end: it forestalls the pure grace of Christ, which is through righteousness, with impure indulgences, which are through sin. And instead of discovering sin, for “by the law is the knowledge thereof,” saith St. Paul; and that by certain and true light for men to walk in safety, it holds out false and dazzling fires to stumble men; or, like those miserable flies, to run into with delight and be burnt: for how many souls might easily think that to be lawful which the law and magistrate allowed them? Again, we read, 1 Tim. i. 5, “The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” But never could that be charity, to allow a people what they could not use with a pure heart, but with conscience and faith both deceived, or else despised. The more particular end of the judicial law is set forth to us clearly, Rom. xiii. That God hath given to that “law a sword not in vain, but to be a terror to evil works, a revenge to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.” If this terrible commission should but forbear to punish wickedness, were it other to be accounted than partial and unjust? but if it begin to write indulgence to vulgar uncleanness, can it do more to corrupt and shame the end of its own being? Lastly, if the law allow sin, it enters into a kind of covenant with sin; and if it do, there is not a greater sinner in the world than the law itself. The law, to use an allegory something different from that in Philo-Judæus concerning Amalek, though haply more significant, the law is the Israelite, and hath this absolute charge given it, Deut. xxv. “To blot out the memory of sin, the Amalekite, from under heaven, not to forget it.” Again, the law is the Israelite, and hath this express repeated command, “to make no covenant with sin, the Canaanite,” but to expel him lest he prove a snare. And to say truth, it were too rigid and reasonless to proclaim such an enmity between man and man, were it not the type of a greater enmity between law and sin. I speak even now, as if sin were condemned in a perpetual villanage never to be free by law, never to be manumitted: but sure sin can have no tenure by law at all, but is rather an eternal outlaw, and in hostility with law past all atonement: both diagonal contraries, as much allowing one another, as day and night together in one hemisphere. Or if it be possible, that sin with his darkness may come to composition, it cannot be without a foul eclipse and twilight to the law, whose brightness ought to surpass the noon. Thus we see how this unclean permittance defeats the sacred and glorious end both of the moral and judicial law.
As little good can the lawgiver propose to equity by such a lavish remissness as this: if to remedy hardness of heart, Paræus and other divines confess it more increases by this liberty, than is lessened: and how is it probable, that their hearts were more hard in this, that it should be yielded to, than in any other crime? Their hearts were set upon usury, and are to this day, no nation more; yet that which was the endamaging only of their estates was narrowly forbid; this which is thought the extreme injury and dishonour of their wives and daughters, with the defilement also of themselves, is bounteously allowed. Their hearts were as hard under their best kings to offer in high places, though to the true God: yet that, but a small thing, it strictly forewarned; this, accounted a high offence against one of the greatest moral duties, is calmly permitted and established. How can it be evaded, but that the heavy censure of Christ should fall worse upon this lawgiver of theirs, than upon all the scribes and Pharisees? For they did but omit judgment and mercy to trifle in mint and cummin, yet all according to law; but this their lawgiver, altogether as punctual in such niceties, goes marching on to adulteries, through the violence of divorce by law against law. If it were such a cursed act of Pilate a subordinate judge to Cæsar, overswayed by those hard hearts, with much ado to suffer one transgression of law but once, what is it then with less ado to publish a law of transgression for many ages? Did God for this come down and cover the mount of Sinai with his glory, uttering in thunder those his sacred ordinances out of the bottomless treasures of his wisdom and infinite pureness, to patch up an ulcerous and rotten commonwealth with strict and stern injunctions, to wash the skin and garments for every unclean touch; and such easy permission given to pollute the soul with adulteries by public authority, without disgrace or question? No, it had been better that man had never known law or matrimony, than that such foul iniquity should be fastened upon the Holy One of Israel, the Judge of all the earth; and such a piece of folly as Belzebub would not commit, to divide against himself, and prevent his own ends: or if he, to compass more certain mischief, might yield perhaps to feign some good deed, yet that God should enact a license of certain evil for uncertain good against his own glory and pureness, is abominable to conceive. And as it is destructive to the end of law, and blasphemous to the honour of the lawgiver licensing, so is it as pernicious to the person licensed. If a private friend admonish not, the Scripture saith, “he hates his brother, and lets him perish;” but if he soothe him and allow his faults, the Proverbs teach us “he spreads a net for his neighbour’s feet, and worketh ruin.” If the magistrate or prince forget to administer due justice, and restrain not sin, Eli himself could say, “it made the Lord’s people to transgress.” But if he countenance them against law by his own example, what havoc it makes both in religion and virtue among the people may be guessed, by the anger it brought upon Hophni and Phineas not to be appeased “with sacrifice nor offering for ever.” If the law be silent to declare sin, the people must needs generally go astray, for the apostle himself saith, “he had not known lust but by the law:” and surely such a nation seems not to be under the illuminating guidance of God’s law, but under the horrible doom rather of such as despise the gospel; “he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” But where the law itself gives a warrant for sin, I know not what condition of misery to imagine miserable enough for such a people, unless that portion of the wicked, or rather of the damned, on whom God threatens, in Psal. xi. “to rain snares;” but that questionless cannot be by any law, which the apostle saith is “a ministry ordained of God for our good,” and not so many ways and in so high a degree to our destruction, as we have now been graduating. And this is all the good can come to the person licensed in his hardness of heart.
I am next to mention that, which because it is a ground in divinity, Rom. iii. will save the labour of demonstrating, unless her given axioms be more doubted than in other hearts, (although it be no less firm in precepts of philosophy,) that a thing unlawful can for no good whatsoever be done, much less allowed by a positive law. And this is the matter why interpreters upon that passage in Hosea will not consent it to be a true story, that the prophet took a harlot to wife: because God, being a pure spirit, could not command a thing repugnant to his own nature, no not for so good an end as to exhibit more to the life a wholesome and perhaps a converting parable to many an Israelite. Yet that he commanded the allowance of adulterous and injurious divorces for hardness of heart, a reason obscure and in a wrong sense, they can very favourably persuade themselves; so tenacious is the leaven of an old conceit. But they shift it; he permitted only. Yet silence in the law is consent, and consent is accessory: why then is not the law being silent, or not active against a crime, accessory to its own conviction, itself judging? For though we should grant, that it approves not, yet it wills: and the lawyers’ maxim is, that “the will compelled is yet the will.” And though Aristotle in his ethics calls this “mixed action,” yet he concludes it to be voluntary and inexcusable, if it be evil. How justly then might human law and philosophy rise up against the righteousness of Moses, if this be true which our vulgar divinity fathers upon him, yea upon God himself, not silently, and only negatively to permit, but in his law to divulge a written and general privilege to commit and persist in unlawful divorces with a high hand, with security and no ill fame? for this is more than permitting and contriving, this is maintaining: this is warranting, this is protecting, yea this is doing evil, and such an evil as that reprobate lawgiver did, whose lasting infamy is engraven upon him like a surname, “he who made Israel to sin.” This is the lowest pitch contrary to God that public fraud and injustice can descend.
If it be affirmed, that God, as being Lord, may do what he will, ye we must know, that God hath not two wills, but one will, much less two contrary. If he once willed adultery should be sinful, and to be punished with death, all his omnipotence will not allow him, to will the allowance that his holiest people might as it were by his own antinomy, or counter-statute, live unreproved in the same fact as he himself esteemed it, according to our common explainers. The hidden ways of his providence we adore and search not, but the law is his revealed will, his complete, his evident and certain will: herein he appears to us as it were in human shape, enters into covenant with us, swears to keep it, binds himself like a just lawgiver to his own prescriptions, gives himself to be understood by men, judges and is judged, measures and is commensurate to right reason; cannot require less of us in one cantle of his law than in another, his legal justice cannot be so fickle and so variable, sometimes like a devouring fire, and by and by connivent in the embers, or, if I may so say, oscitant and supine. The vigour of his law could no more remit, than the hallowed fire upon his altar could be let go out. The lamps that burned before him might need snuffing, but the light of his law never. Of this also more beneath, in discussing a solution of Rivetus.
The Jesuits, and that sect among us which is named of Arminius, are wont to charge us of making God the author of sin, in two degrees especially, not to speak of his permission: 1. Because we hold, that he hath decreed some to damnation, and consequently to sin, say they: next, because those means, which are of saving knowledge to others, he makes to them an occasion of greater sin. Yet considering the perfection wherein man was created and might have stood, no degree necessitating his freewill, but subsequent, though not in time, yet in order to causes which were in his own power; they might methinks be persuaded to absolve both God and us. Whenas the doctrine of Plato and Chrysippus, with their followers, the Academics and the Stoics, who knew not what a consummate and most adorned Pandora was bestowed upon Adam, to be the nurse and guide of his arbitrary happiness and perseverance, I mean his native innocence and perfection, which might have kept him from being our true Epimetheus; and though they taught of virtue and vice to be both the gift of divine destiny, they could yet give reasons not invalid, to justify the councils of God and fate from the insulsity of mortal tongues: that man’s own freewill self-corrupted, is the adequate and sufficient cause of his disobedience besides fate; as Homer also wanted not to express, both in his Iliad and Odyssee. And Manilius the poet, although in his fourth book he tells of some “created both to sin and punishment;” yet without murmuring, and with an industrious cheerfulness, he acquits the Deity. They were not ignorant in their heathen lore, that it is most godlike to punish those who of his creatures became his enemies with the greatest punishment; and they could attain also to think, that the greatest, when God himself throws a man furthest from him; which then they held he did, when he blinded, hardened, and stirred up his offenders, to finish and pile up their desperate work since they had undertaken it. To banish for ever into a local hell, whether in the air, or in the centre, or in that uttermost and bottomless gulf of chaos, deeper from holy bliss than the world’s diameter multiplied; they thought not a punishing so proper and proportionate for God to inflict, as to punish sin with sin. Thus were the common sort of Gentiles wont to think, without any wry thoughts cast upon divine governance. And therefore Cicero, not in his Tusculan or Campanian retirements among the learned wits of that age, but even in the senate to a mixed auditory, (though he were sparing otherwise to broach his philosophy among statists and lawyers,) yet as to this point, both in his oration against Piso, and in that which is about the answers of the soothsayers against Clodius, he declares it publicly as no paradox to common ears, that God cannot punish man more, nor make him more miserable, than still by making him more sinful. Thus we see how in this controversy the justice of God stood upright even among heathen disputers. But if any one be truly, and not pretendedly zealous for God’s honour, here I call him forth before men and angels, to use his best and most advised skill, lest God more unavoidably than ever yet, and in the guiltiest manner, be made the author of sin: if he shall not only deliver over and incite his enemies by rebuke to sin as a punishment, but shall by patent under his own broad seal allow his friends whom he would sanctify and save, whom he would unite to himself and not disjoin, whom he would correct by wholesome chastening, and not punish as he doth the damned by lewd sinning; if he shall allow these in his law, the perfect rule of his own purest will, and our most edified conscience, the perpetrating of an odious and manifold sin without the least contesting. It is wondered how there can be in God a secret and revealed will; and yet what wonder, if there be in man two answerable causes. But here there must be two revealed wills grappling in a fraternal war with one another without any reasonable cause apprehended. This cannot be less, than to ingraft sin into the substance of the law, which law is to provoke sin by crossing and forbidding, not by complying with it. Nay this is, which I tremble in uttering, to incarnate sin into the unpunishing and well-pleased will of God. To avoid these dreadful consequences, that tread upon the heels of those allowances to sin, will be a task of far more difficulty, than to appease those minds, which perhaps out of a vigilant and wary conscience except against predestination. Thus finally we may conclude, that a law wholly giving license cannot upon any good consideration be given to a holy people, for hardness of heart in the vulgar sense.
That if divorce be no command, no more is marriage. That divorce could be no dispensation, if it were sinful. The solution of Rivetus, that Goa dispensed by some unknown way, ought not to satisfy a Christian mind.
Others think to evade the matter by not granting any law of divorce, but only a dispensation, which is contrary to the words of Christ, who himself calls it a “Law,” Mark x. 5: or if we speak of a command in the strictest definition, then marriage itself is no more a command than divorce, but only a free permission to him who cannot contain. But as to dispensation, I affirm, the same as before of the law, that it can never be given to the allowance of sin: God cannot give it, neither in respect of himself, nor in respect of man; not in respect of himself, being a most pure essence, the just avenger of sin; neither can he make that cease to be a sin, which is in itself unjust and impure, as all divorces they say were, which were not for adultery. Not in respect of man, for then it must be either to his good, or to his evil. Not to his good; for how can that be imagined any good to a sinner, whom nothing but rebuke and due correction can save, to hear the determinate oracle of divine law louder than any reproof dispensing and providing for the impunity and convenience of sin; to make that doubtful, or rather lawful, which the end of the law was to make most evidently hateful? Nor to the evil of man can a dispense be given; for if “the law were ordained unto life,” Rom. vii. 10, how can the same God publish dispenses against that law, which must needs be unto death? Absurd and monstrous would that dispense be, if any judge or law should give it a man to cut his own throat, or to damn himself. Dispense therefore presupposes full pardon, or else it is not a dispense, but a most baneful and bloody snare. And why should God enter covenant with a people to be holy, as “the command is holy, and just, and good,” Rom. vii. 12, and yet suffer an impure and treacherous dispense, to mislead and betray them under the vizard of law to a legitimate practice of uncleanness? God is no covenant-breaker; he cannot do this.
Rivetus, a diligent and learned writer, having well weighed what hath been written by those founders of dispense, and finding the small agreement among them, would fain work himself aloof these rocks and quicksands, and thinks it best to conclude, that God certainly did dispense, but by some way to us unknown, and so to leave it. But to this I oppose, that a Christian by no means ought to rest himself in such an ignorance; whereby so many absurdities will straight reflect both against the purity, justice, and wisdom of God, the end also both of law and gospel, and the comparison of them both together. God indeed in some ways of his providence is high and secret, past finding out: but in the delivery and execution of his law, especially in the managing of a duty so daily and so familiar as this is whereof we reason, hath plain enough revealed himself, and requires the observance thereof not otherwise, than to the law of nature and equity imprinted in us seems correspondent. And he hath taught us to love and extol his laws, not only as they are his, but as they are just and good to every wise and sober understanding. Therefore Abraham, even to the face of God himself, seemed to doubt of divine justice, if it should swerve from the irradiation wherewith it had enlightened the mind of man, and bound itself to observe its own rule; “wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked? that be far from thee; shall not the judge of the earth do right?” Thereby declaring, that God hath created a righteousness in right itself, against which he cannot do. So David, Psalm cxix., “the testimonies which thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful; thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it.” Not only then for the author’s sake, but for its own purity. “He is faithful,” saith St. Paul, “he cannot deny himself;” that is, cannot deny his own promises, cannot but be true to his own rules. He often pleads with men the uprightness of his ways by their own principles. How should we imitate him else, to “be perfect as he is perfect?” If at pleasure he can dispense with golden poetic ages of such pleasing license, as in the fabled reign of old Saturn, and this perhaps before the law might have some covert; but under such an undispensing covenant as Moses made with them, and not to tell us why and wherefore, indulgence cannot give quiet to the breast of an intelligent man? We must be resolved how the law can be pure and perspicuous, and yet throw a polluted skirt over these Eleusinian mysteries, that no man can utter what they mean: worse in this than the worst obscenities of heathen superstition; for their filthiness was hid, but the mystic reason thereof known to their sages. But this Jewish imputed filthiness was daily and open, but the reason of it is not known to our divines. We know of no design the gospel can have to impose new righteousness upon works, but to remit the old by faith without works, if we mean justifying works: we know no mystery our Saviour could have to lay new bonds upon marriage in the covenant of grace which himself had loosened to the severity of law. So that Rivetus may pardon us, if we cannot be contented with his nonsolution, to remain in such a peck of uncertainties and doubts, so dangerous and ghastly to the fundamentals of our faith.
What a Dispensation is.
Therefore to get some better satisfaction, we must proceed to inquire as diligently as we can what a dispensation is, which I find to be either properly so called, or improperly. Improperly so called, is rather a particular and exceptive law, absolving and disobliging from a more general command for some just and reasonable cause. As Numb. ix. they who were unclean, or in a journey, had leave to keep the passover in the second month, but otherwise ever in the first. As for that in Leviticus of marrying the brother’s wife, it was a penal statute rather than a dispense; and commands nothing injurious or in itself unclean, only prefers a special reason of charity before an institutive decency, and perhaps is meant for lifetime only, as is expressed beneath in the prohibition of taking two sisters. What other edict of Moses, carrying but the semblance of a law in any other kind, may bear the name of a dispense, I have not readily to instance. But a dispensation most properly is some particular accident rarely happening, and therefore not specified in the law, but left to the decision of charity, even under the bondage of Jewish rites, much more under the liberty of the gospel. Thus did “David enter into the house of God and did eat the shewbread, he and his followers, which was” ceremonially “unlawful.” Of such dispenses as these it was that Verdune the French divine so gravely disputed in the council of Trent against friar Adrian, who held that the pope might dispense with any thing. “It is a fond persuasion,” saith Verdune, “that dispensing is a favour; nay, it is as good distributive justice as what is most, and the priest sins if he gives it not, for it is nothing else but a right interpretation of law.” Thus far that I can learn touching this matter wholesomely decreed. But that God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, Jam. i., should give out a rule and directory to sin by, should enact a dispensation as long-lived as a law, whereby to live in privileged adultery for hardness of heart, (and this obdurate disease cannot be conceived how it was the more amended by this unclean remedy,) is the most deadly and scorpion-like gift, that the enemy of mankind could have given to any miserable sinner, and is rather such a dispense as that was, which the serpent gave to our first parents. God gave quails in his wrath, and kings in his wrath, yet neither of these things evil in themselves: but that he whose eyes cannot behold impurity, should in the book of his holy covenant, his most unpassionate law, give license and statute for uncontrolled adultery, although it go for the received opinion, I shall ever dissuade my soul from such a creed, such an indulgence as the shop of Antichrist never forged a baser.
That the Jew had no more right to this supposed dispense than the Christian hath, and rather not so much.
But if we must needs dispense, let us for a while so far dispense with truth, as to grant that sin may be dispensed; yet there will be copious reason found to prove, that the Jew had no more right to such a supposed indulgence than the Christian; whether we look at the clear knowledge wherein he lived, or the strict performance of works whereto he was bound. Besides visions and prophecies, they had the law of God, which in the Psalms and Proverbs is chiefly praised for sureness and certainty, both easy and perfect to the enlightening of the simple. How could it be so obscure then, or they so sottishly blind in this plain, moral, and household duty? They had the same precepts about marriage; Christ added nothing to their clearness, for that had argued them imperfect; he opens not the law, but removes the pharisaic mists raised between the law and the people’s eyes: the only sentence which he adds, “What God hath joined, let no man put asunder,” is as obscure as any clause fetched out of Genesis, and hath increased a yet undecided controversy of clandestine marriages. If we examine over all his sayings, we shall find him not so much interpreting the law with his words, as referring his own words to be interpreted by the law, and oftener obscures his mind in short, and vehement, and compact sentences, to blind and puzzle them the more, who would not understand the law. The Jews therefore, were as little to be dispensed with for lack of moral knowledge as we.
Next, none I think will deny, but that they were as much bound to perform the law as any Christian. That severe and rigorous knife not sparing the tender foreskin of any male infant, to carve upon his flesh the mark of that strict and pure covenant whereinto he entered, might give us to understand enough against the fancy of dispensing. St. Paul testifies, that every “circumcised man is a debtor to the whole law,” Gal. v., or else “circumcision is in vain,” Rom. ii. 25. How vain then, and how preposterous must it needs be to exact a circumcision of the flesh from an infant into an outward sign of purity, and to dispense an uncircumcision in the soul of a grown man to an inward and real impurity! How vain again was that law, to impose tedious expiations for every slight sin of ignorance and error, and to privilege without penance or disturbance an odious crime whether of ignorance or obstinacy! How unjust also inflicting death and extirpation for the mark of circumstantial pureness omitted, and proclaiming all honest and liberal indemnity to the act of a substantial impureness committed, making void the covenant that was made against it! Thus if we consider the tenor of the law, to be circumcised and to perform all, not pardoning so much as the scapes of error and ignorance, and compare this with the condition of the gospel, “believe and be baptized,” I suppose it cannot be long ere we grant, that the Jew was bound as strictly to the performance of every duty, as was possible; and therefore could not be dispensed with more than the Christian, perhaps not so much.
That the Gospel is apter to dispense than the Law.—Parœus answered.
If then the law will afford no reason why the Jew should be more gently dealt with than the Christian, then surely the gospel can afford as little why the Christian should be less gently dealt with than the Jew. The gospel indeed exhorts to highest perfection, but bears with weakest infirmity more than the law. Hence those indulgences, “all cannot receive this saying, every man hath his proper gift,” with express charges not “to lay on yokes, which our fathers could not bear.” The nature of man still is as weak, and yet as hard; and that weakness and hardness as unfit and as unteachable to be harshly used as ever. Ay but, saith Paræus, there is a greater portion of spirit poured upon the gospel, which requires from us perfecter obedience. I answer, this does not prove, that the law might give allowance to sin more than the gospel; and if it were no sin, we know it were the work of the spirit to “mortify our corrupt desires and evil concupiscence;” but not to root up our natural affections and disaffections, moving to and fro even in wisest men upon just and necessary reasons, which were the true ground of that Mosaic dispense, and is the utmost extent of our pleading. What is more or less perfect we dispute not, but what is sin or no sin. And in that I still affirm the law required as perfect obedience as the gospel: besides that the prime end of the gospel is not so much to exact our obedience, as to reveal grace, and the satisfaction of our disobedience. What is now exacted from us, it is the accusing law that does it, even yet under the gospel; but cannot be more extreme to us now than to the Jews of old; for the law ever was of works, and the gospel ever was of grace.
Either then the law by harmless and needful dispenses, which the gospel is now made to deny, must have anticipated and exceeded the grace of the gospel, or else must be found to have given politic and superficial graces without real pardon, saying in general, “do this and live,” and yet deceiving and damning underhand with unsound and hollow permissions; which is utterly abhorring from the end of all law, as hath been showed. But if those indulgences were safe and sinless, out of tenderness and compassion, as indeed they were, and yet shall be abrogated by the gospel; then the law, whose end is by rigour to magnify grace, shall itself give grace, and pluck a fair plume from the gospel; instead of hastening us thither, alluring us from it. And whereas the terror of the law was a servant to amplify and illustrate the mildness of grace; now the unmildness of evangelic grace shall turn servant to declare the grace and mildness of the rigorous law. The law was harsh to extol the grace of the gospel, and now the gospel by a new affected strictness of her own shall extenuate the grace which herself offers. For by exacting a duty which the law dispensed, if we perform it, then is grace diminished, by how much performance advance, unless the apostle argue wrong: if we perform it not, and perish for not performing, then are the conditions of grace harder than those of rigour. If through faith and repentance we perish not, yet grace still remains the less, by requiring that which rigour did not require, or at least not so strictly. Thus much therefore to Paræus; that if the gospel require perfecter obedience than the law as a duty, it exalts the law and debases itself, which is dishonourable to the work of our redemption. Seeing therefore that all the causes of any allowance, that the Jews might have, remain as well to the Christians; this is a certain rule, that so long as the causes remain, the allowance ought. And having thus at length inquired the truth concerning law and dispense, their ends, their uses, their limits, and in what manner both Jew and Christian stand liable to the one or capable of the other; we may safely conclude, that to affirm the giving of any law or law-like dispense to sin for hardness of heart, is a doctrine of that extravagance from the sage principles of piety, that whoso considers thoroughly cannot but admire how this hath been digested all this while.
The true sense how Moses suffered divorce for hardness of heart.
What may we do then to salve this seeming inconsistence? I must not dissemble, that I am confident it can be done no other way than this:
Moses, Deut. xxiv. 1, established a grave and prudent law, full of moral equity, full of due consideration towards nature, that cannot be resisted, a law consenting with the wisest men and civilest nations; that when a man hath married a wife, if it come to pass, that he cannot love her by reason of some displeasing natural quality or unfitness in her, let him write her a bill of divorce. The intent of which law undoubtedly was this, that if any good and peaceable man should discover some helpless disagreement or dislike either of mind or body, whereby he could not cheerfully perform the duty of a husband without the perpetual dissembling of offence and disturbance to his spirit; rather than to live uncomfortably and unhappily both to himself and to his wife; rather than to continue undertaking a duty, which he could not possibly discharge, he might dismiss her whom he could not tolerably and so not conscionably retain. And this law the Spirit of God by the mouth of Solomon, Prov. xxx. 21, 23, testifies to be a good and a necessary law, by granting it that “a hated woman,” (for so the Hebrew word signifies, rather than “odious,” though it come all to one,) that “a hated woman, when she is married, is a thing that the earth cannot bear.” What follows then, but that the charitable law must remedy what nature cannot undergo? Now that many licentious and hardhearted men took hold of this law to cloak their bad purposes, is nothing strange to believe. And these were they, not for whom Moses made the law, (God forbid!) but whose hardness of heart taking ill-advantage by this law he held it better to suffer as by accident, where it could not be detected, rather than good men should lose their just and lawful privilege of remedy: Christ therefore having to answer these tempting Pharisees, according as his custom was, not meaning to inform their proud ignorance what Moses did in the true intent of the law, which they had ill cited, suppressing the true cause for which Moses gave it, and extending it to every slight matter, tells them their own, what Moses was forced to suffer by their abuse of his law. Which is yet more plain, if we mark that out Saviour, in Matt. v. cites not the law of Moses, but the pharisaical tradition falsely grounded upon that law. And in those other places, chap. xix. and Mark x. the Pharisees cite the law, but conceal the wise and humane reason there expressed; which our Saviour corrects not in them, whose pride deserved not his instruction, only returns them what is proper to them: “Moses for the hardness of your heart suffered you,” that is, such as you, “to put away your wives; and to you he wrote this precept for that cause,” which (“to you”) must be read with an impression, and understood limitedly of such as covered ill purposes under that law; for it was seasonable, that they should hear their own unbounded license rebuked, but not seasonable for them to hear a good man’s requisite liberty explained. But us he hath taught better, if we have ears to hear. He himself acknowledged it to be a law, Mark x., and being a law of God, it must have an undoubted “end of charity, which may be used with a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned,” as was heard: it cannot allow sin, but is purposely to resist sin, as by the same chapter to Timothy appears. There we learn also, “that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” Out of doubt then there must be a certain good in this law, which Moses willingly allowed, and there might be an unlawful use made thereof by hypocrites; and that was it which was unwillingly suffered, foreseeing it in general, but not able to discern it in particulars. Christ therefore mentions not here what Moses and the law intended; for good men might know that by many other rules; and the scornful Pharisees were not fit to be told, until they could employ that knowledge they had less abusively. Only he acquaints them with what Moses by them was put to suffer.
The Words of the institution how to be understood; and of our Saviour’s Answer to his Disciples.
And to entertain a little their overweening arrogance as best befitted, and to amaze them yet further, because they thought it no hard matter to fulfil the law, he draws them up to that unseparable institution, which God ordained in the beginning before the fall, when man and woman were both perfect, and could have no cause to separate: just as in the same chapter he stands not to contend with the arrogant young man, who boasted his observance of the whole law, whether he had indeed kept it or not, but screws him up higher to a task of that perfection, which no man is bound to imitate. And in like manner, that pattern of the first institution he set before the opinionative Pharisees, to dazzle them, and not to bind us. For this is a solid rule, that every command, given with a reason, binds our obedience no otherwise than that reason holds. Of this sort was that command in Eden; “therefore shall a man cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh;” which we see is no absolute command, but with an inference “therefore:” the reason then must be first considered, that our obedience be not misobedience. The first is, for it is not single, because the wife is to the husband, “flesh of his flesh,” as in the verse going before. But this reason cannot be sufficient of itself: for why then should he for his wife leave his father and mother, with whom he is far more “flesh of flesh, and bone of bone,” as being made of their substance? and besides, it can be but a sorry and ignoble society of life, whose inseparable injunction depends merely upon flesh and bones. Therefore we must look higher, since Christ himself recalls us to the beginning, and we shall find, that the primitive reason of never divorcing was that sacred and not vain promise of God to remedy man’s loneliness by “making him a meet help for him,” though not now in perfection, as at first; yet still in proportion as things now are. And this is repeated, verse 20, when all other creatures were fitly associated and brought to Adam, as if the Divine Power had been in some care and deep thought, because “there was not yet found any help meet for man.” And can we so slightly depress the all-wise purpose of a deliberating God, as if his consultation had produced no other good for man, but to join him with an accidental companion of propagation, which his sudden word had already made for every beast? nay a far less good to man it will be fouud, if she must at all adventures be fastened upon him individually. And therefore even plain sense and equity, and, which is above them both, the all-interpreting voice of charity herself cries aloud, that this primitive reason, this consulted promise of God, “to make a meet help,” is the only cause that gives authority to this command of not divorcing, to be a command. And it might be further added, that if the true definition of a wife were asked at good earnest, this clause of being “a meet help” would show itself so necessary and so essential, in that demonstrative argument, that it might be logically concluded: therefore she who naturally and perpetually is no “meet help,” can be no wife; which clearly takes away the difficulty of dismissing such a one. If this be not thought enough, I answer yet further, that marriage, unless it mean a fit and tolerable marriage, is not inseparable neither by nature nor institution. Not by nature, for then Mosaic divorces had been against nature, if separable and inseparable be contraries, as who doubts they be? and what is against nature is against law, if soundest philosophy abuse us not: by this reckoning Moses should be most unmosaic, that is, most illegal, not to say most unnatural. Nor is it inseparable by the first institution; for then no second institution of the same law for so many causes could dissolve it; it being most unworthy a human, (as Plato’s judgment is in the fourth book of his laws,) much more a divine lawgiver, to write two several decrees upon the same thing. But what would Plato have deemed, if one of these were good, and the other evil to be done? Lastly, suppose it to be inseparable by institution, yet in competition with higher things, as religion and charity in mainest matters, and when the chief end is frustrate for which it was ordained, as hath been shown; if still it must remain inseparable, it holds a strange and lawless propriety from all other works of God under heaven. From these many considerations, we may safely gather, that so much of the first institution as our Saviour mentions, for he mentions not all, was but to quell and put to nonplus the tempting Pharisees, and to lay open their ignorance and shallow understanding of the Scriptures. For, saith he, “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 cleave to his wife?” which these blind usurpers of Moses’s chair could not gainsay: as if this single respect of male and female were sufficient against a thousand inconveniences and mischiefs, to clog a rational creature to his endless sorrow unrelinquishably, under the guileful superscription of his intended solace and comfort. What if they had thus answered? Master, if thou mean to make wedlock as inseparable as it was from the beginning, let it be made also a fit society, as God meant it, which we shall soon understand it ought to be, if thou recite the whole reason of the law. Doubtless our Saviour had applauded their just answer. For then they had expounded his command of Paradise, even as Moses himself expounds it by the laws of divorce, that is, with due and wise regard to the premises and reasons of the first command; according to which, without unclean and temporizing permissions, he instructs us in this imperfect state what we may lawfully do about divorce.
But if it be thought, that the disciples, offended at the rigour of Christ’s answer, could yet obtain no mitigation of the former sentence pronounced to the Pharisees, it may be fully answered, that our Saviour continues the same reply to his disciples, as men leavened with the same customary license which the Pharisees maintained, and displeased at the removing of a traditional abuse, whereto they had so long not unwillingly been used: it was no time then to contend with their slow and prejudicial belief, in a thing wherein an ordinary measure of light in Scripture, with some attention, might afterwards inform them well enough. And yet ere Christ had finished this argument, they might have picked out of his own concluding words an answer more to their minds, and in effect the same with that which hath been all this while intreating audience: “All men,” saith he, “cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given; he that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” What saying is this which is left to a man’s choice to receive, or not receive? what but the married life? Was our Saviour so mild and so favourable to the weakness of a single man, and is he turned on the sudden so rigorous and inexorable, to the distresses and extremities of an ill-wedded man? Did he so graciously give leave to change the better single life for the worse married life? Did he open so to us this hazardous and accidental door of marriage, to shut upon us like the gate of death, without retracting or returning, without permitting to change the worst, most insupportable, most unchristian mischance of marriage, for all the mischiefs and sorrows that can ensue, being an ordinance which was especially given as a cordial and exhilarating cup of solace, the better to bear our other crosses and afflictions? Questionless this was a hard-heartedness of divorcing, worse than that in the Jews, which they say extorted the allowance from Moses, and is utterly dissonant from all the doctrine of our Saviour. After these considerations therefore, to take a law out of Paradise given in time of original perfection, and to take it barely without those just and equal inferences and reasons which mainly establish it, nor so much as admitting those needful and safe allowances, wherewith Moses himself interprets it to the fallen condition of man; argues nothing in us but rashness and contempt of those means that God left us in his pure and chaste law, without which it will not be possible for us to perform the strict imposition of this command: or if we strive beyond our strength, we shall strive to obey it otherwise than God commands it. And lamented experience daily teaches the bitter and vain fruits of this our presumption, forcing men in a thing wherein we are not able to judge either of their strength or their sufferance. Whom neither one voice nor other by natural addiction but only marriage ruins, which doubtless is not the fault of that ordinance, for God gave it as a blessing, nor always of man’s mischoosing, it being an error above wisdom to prevent, as examples of wisest men so mistaken manifest: it is the fault, therefore, of a perverse opinion, that will have it continued in despite of nature and reason, when indeed it was never so truly joined. All those expositors upon the fifth Matthew confess the law of Moses to be the law of the Lord, wherein no addition or diminution hath place; yet coming to the point of divorce, as if they feared not to be called least in the kingdom of heaven, any slight evasion will content them, to reconcile those contradictions, which they make between Christ and Moses, between Christ and Christ.
The vain shift of those who make the law of divorce to be only the premises of a succeeding law.
Some will have it no law, but the granted premises of another law following, contrary to the words of Christ, Mark x. 5, and all other translations of gravest authority, who render it in form of a law, agreeably to Mal. ii. 16, as it is most anciently and modernly expounded. Besides, the bill of divorce, and the particular occasion therein mentioned, declares it to be orderly and legal. And what avails this to make the matter more righteous, if such an adulterous condition shall be mentioned to build a law upon without either punishment or so much as forbidding? They pretend it is implicitly reproved in these words, Deut. xxiv. 4, “after she is defiled;” but who sees not that this defilement is only in respect of returning to her former husband after an intermixed marriage? else why was not the defiling condition first forbidden, which would have saved the labour of this after-law? Nor is it seemly or piously attributed to the justice of God and his known hatred of sin, that such a heinous fault as this through all the law should be only wiped with an implicit and oblique touch, (which yet is falsely supposed,) and that his peculiar people should be let wallow in adulterous marriages almost two thousand years, for want of a direct law to prohibit them: it is rather to be confidently assumed, that this was granted to apparent necessities, as being of unquestionable right and reason in the law of nature, in that it still passes without inhibition, even when the greatest cause is given to us to expect it should be directly forbidden.
The other shift of saying divorce was permitted by law, but not approved. More of the institution.
But it was not approved. So much the worse that it was allowed; as if sin had over-mastered the word of God, to conform her steady and straight rule to sin’s crookedness, which is impossible. Besides, what needed a positive grant of that which was not approved? It restrained no liberty to him that could but use a little fraud; it had been better silenced, unless it were approved in some case or other. But still it was not approved. Miserable excusers! he who doth evil, that good may come thereby, approves not what he doth; and yet the grand rule forbids him, and counts his damnation just if he do it. The sorceress Medea did not approve her own evil doings, yet looked not to be excused for that: and it is the constant opinion of Plato in Protagoras, and other of his dialogues, agreeing with that proverbial sentence among the Greeks, that “no man is wicked willingly.” Which also the Peripatetics do rather distinguish than deny. What great thank then, if any man, reputed wise and constant, will neither do, nor permit others under his charge to do, that which he approves not, especially in matter of sin? but for a judge, but for a magistrate the shepherd of his people, to surrender up his approbation against law, and his own judgment, to the obstinacy of his herd; what more unjudgelike, unmagistratelike, and in war more uncommanderlike? Twice in a short time it was the undoing of the Roman state, first when Pompey, next when Marcus Brutus, had not magnanimity enough but to make so poor a resignation of what they approved, to what the boisterous tribunes and soldiers bawled for. Twice it was the saving of two of the greatest commonwealths in the world, of Athens by Themistocles at the sea-fight of Salamis, of Rome by Fabius Maximus in the Punic war; for that these two matchless generals had the fortitude at home against the rashness and the clamours of their own captains and confederates, to withstand the doing or permitting of what they could not approve in their duty of their great command. Thus far of civil prudence. But when we speak of sin, let us look again upon the old reverend Eli; who in his heavy punishment found no difference between the doing and permitting of what he did not approve. If hardness of heart in the people may be an excuse, why then is Pilate branded through all memory? He approved not what he did, he openly protested, he washed his hands, and laboured not a little ere he would yield to the hard hearts of a whole people, both princes and plebeians, importuning and tumulting even to the fear of a revolt. Yet is there any will undertake his cause? If therefore Pilate for suffering but one act of cruelty against law, though with much unwillingness testified, at the violent demand of a whole nation, shall stand so black upon record to all posterity; alas for Moses! what shall we say for him, while we are taught believe he suffered not one act only both of cruelty and uncleanliness in one divorce, but made it a plain and lasting law against law, whereby ten thousand acts accounted both cruel and unclean might be daily committed, and this without the least suit or petition of the people, that we can read of?
And can we conceive without vile thoughts, that the majesty and holiness of God could endure so many ages to gratify a stubborn people in the practice of a foul polluting sin? and could he expect they should abstain, he not signifying his mind in a plain command, at such time especially when he was framing their laws and them to all possible perfection? But they were to look back to the first institution; nay rather why was not that individual institution brought out of Paradise, as was that of the sabbath, and repeated in the body of the law, that men might have understood it to be a command? For that any sentence that bears the resemblance of a precept, set there so out of place in another world, at such a distance from the whole law, and not once mentioned there, should be an obliging command to us, is very disputable; and perhaps it might be denied to be a command without further dispute: however, it commands not absolutely, as hath been cleared, but only with reference to that precedent promise of God, which is the very ground of his institution: if that appear not in some tolerable sort, how can we affirm such a matrimony to be the same which God instituted? in such an accident it will best behoove our soberness to follow rather what moral Sinai prescribes equal to our strength, than fondly to think within our strength all that lost Paradise relates.
The third shift of them who esteem it a mere judicial law. Proved again to be a law of moral equity.
Another while it shall suffice them, that it was not a moral but a judicial law, and so was abrogated: nay rather not abrogated because judicial; which law the ministry of Christ came not to deal with. And who put it in man’s power to exempt, where Christ speaks in general of not abrogating “the least jot or tittle,” and in special not that of divorce, because it follows among those laws which he promised expressly not to abrogate, but to vindicate from abusive traditions? which is most evidently to be seen in the 16th of Luke, where this caution of not abrogating is inserted immediately, and not otherwise than purposely, when no other point of the law is touched but that of divorce. And if we mark the 31st verse of Matt. v. he there cites not the law of Moses, but the licentious gloss which traduced the law; that therefore which he cited, that he abrogated, and not only abrogated, but disallowed and flatly condemned; which could not be the law of Moses, for that had been foully to the rebuke of his great servant. To abrogate a law made with God’s allowance, had been to tell us only that such a law was now to cease: but to refute it with an ignominious note of civilizing adultery, casts the reproof, which was meant only to the Pharisees, even upon him that made the law. But yet if that be judicial, which belongs to a civil court, this law is less judicial than nine of the ten commandments: for antiquaries affirm, that divorces proceeded among the Jews without knowledge of the magistrate, only with hands and seals under the testimony of some rabbies to be then present. Perkins, in a “Treatise of Conscience,” grants, that what in the judicial law is of common equity binds also the Christian: and how to judge of this, prescribes two ways: if wise nations have enacted the like decree; or if it maintain the good of a family, church, or commonwealth. This therefore is a pure moral œconomical law, too hastily imputed of tolerating sin; being rather so clear in nature and reason, that it was left to a man’s own arbitrement to be determined between God and his own conscience; not only among the Jews, but in every wise nation: the restraint whereof, who is not too thick-sighted, may see how hurtful and distractive it is to the house, the church, and commonwealth. And that power which Christ never took from the master of a family, but rectified only to a right and wary use at home; that power the undiscerning canonist hath improperly usurped in his court-leet, and bescribbled with a thousand trifling impertinences, which yet have filled the life of man with serious trouble and calamity. Yet grant it were of old a judicial law, it need not be the less moral for that, being conversant as it is about virtue or vice. And our Saviour disputes not here the judicature, for that was not his office, but the morality of divorce, whether it be adultery or no; if therefore he touch the law of Moses at all, he touches the moral part thereof, which is absurd to imagine, that the covenant of grace should reform the exact and perfect law of works eternal and immutable; or if he touch not the law at all, then is not the allowance thereof disallowed to us.
The ridiculous opinion, that divorce was permitted from the custom in Egypt. That Moses gave not this law unwillingly. Perkins confesses this law was not abrogated.
Others are so ridiculous as to allege, that this license of divorcing was given them because they were so accustomed in Egypt. As if an ill custom were to be kept to all posterity; for the dispensation is both universal and of time unlimited, and so indeed no dispensation at all: for the overdated dispensation of a thing unlawful, serves for nothing but to increase hardness of heart, and makes men but wax more incorrigible; which were a great reproach to be said of any law or allowance that God should give us. In these opinions it would be more religion to advise well, lest we make ourselves juster than God, by censuring rashly that for sin, which his unspotted law without rebuke allows, and his people without being conscious of displeasing him have used: and if we can think so of Moses, as that the Jewish obstinacy could compel him to write such impure permissions against the word of God and his own judgment; doubtless it was his part to have protested publicly what straits he was driven to, and to have declared his conscience, when he gave any law against his mind: for the law is the touchstone of sin and of conscience, and must not be intermixed with corrupt indulgences: for then it loses the greatest praise it has of being certain, and infallible, not leading into error as the Jews were led by this connivance of Moses, if it were a connivance. But still they fly back to the primitive institution, and would have us re-enter Paradise against the sword that guards it. Whom I again thus reply to, that the place in Genesis contains the description of a fit and perfect marriage, with an interdict of ever divorcing such a union: but where nature is discovered to have never joined indeed, but vehemently seeks to part, it cannot be there conceived that God forbids it; nay, he commands it both in the law and in the prophet Malachi, which is to be our rule. And Perkins upon this chapter of Matthew deals plainly, that our Saviour here confutes not Moses’ law, but the false glosses that depraved the law; which being true, Perkins must needs grant, that something then is left to that law which Christ found no fault with; and what can that be but the conscionable use of such liberty, as the plain words import? so that by his own inference, Christ did not absolutely intend to restrain all divorces to the only cause of adultery. This therefore is the true scope of our Saviour’s will, that he who looks upon the law concerning divorce, should also look back upon the institution, that he may endeavour what is perfectest: and he that looks upon the institution shall not refuse as sinful and unlawful those allowances, which God affords him in his following law, lest he make himself purer than his Maker, and presuming above strength, slip into temptations irrecoverably. For this is wonderful, that in all those decrees concerning marriage, God should never once mention the prime institution to dissuade them from divorcing, and that he should forbid smaller sins as opposite to the hardness of their hearts, and let this adulterous matter of divorce pass ever unreproved.
This is also to be marvelled, that seeing Christ did not condemn whatever it was that Moses suffered, and that thereupon the Christian magistrate permits usury and open stews, and here with us adultery to be so slightly punished, which was punished by death to these hard-hearted Jews; why we should strain thus at the matter of divorce, which may stand so much with charity to permit, and make no scruple to allow usury esteemed to be so much against charity? But this it is to embroil ourselves against the righteous and all-wise judgments and statutes of God; which are not variable and contrarious as we would make them, one while permitting, and another while forbidding, but are most constant and most harmonious each to other. For how can the uncorrupt and majestic law of God, bearing in her hand the wages of life and death, harbour such a repugnance within herself, as to require an unexempted and impartial obedience to all her decrees, either from us or from our Mediator, and yet debase herself to faulter so many ages with circumcised adulteries by unclean and slubbering permissions?
That Beza’s opinion of regulating sin by apostolic law cannot be found.
Yet Beza’s opinion is, that a politic law (but what politic law I know not, unless one of Machiavel’s) may regulate sin; may bear indeed, I grant, with imperfection for a time, as those canons of the apostles did in ceremonial things: but as for sin, the essence of it cannot consist with rule; and if the law fail to regulate sin, and not to take it utterly away, it necessarily confirms and establishes sin. To make a regularity of sin by law, either the law must straighten sin into no sin, or sin must crook the law into no law. The judicial law can serve to no other end than to be the protector and champion of religion and honest civility, as is set down plainly, Rom. xiii., and is but the arm of moral law, which can no more be separate from justice, than justice from virtue. Their office also, in a different manner, steers the same course; the one teaches what is good by precept, the other unteaches what is bad by punishment. But if we give way to politic dispensations of lewd uncleanness, the first good consequence of such a relax will be the justifying of papal stews, joined with a toleration of epidemic whoredom. Justice must revolt from the end of her authority, and become the patron of that whereof she was created the punisher. The example of usury, which is commonly alleged, makes against the allegation which it brings, as I touched before. Besides that usury, so much as is permitted by the magistrate, and demanded with common equity, is neither against the word of God, nor the rule of charity; as hath been often discussed by men of eminent learning and judgment. There must be therefore some other example found out to show us wherein civil policy may with warrant from God settle wickedness by law, and make that lawful which is lawless. Although I doubt not but, upon deeper consideration, that which is true in physic will be found as true in policy, that as of bad pulses those that beat most in order, are much worse than those that keep the most inordinate circuit; so of popular vices those that may be committed legally will be more pernicious, than those that are left to their own course at peril, not under a stinted privilege to sin orderly and regularly, which is an implicit contradiction, but under due and fearless execution of punishment.
The political law, since it cannot regulate vice, is to restrain it by using all means to root it out. But if it suffer the weed to grow up to any pleasurable or contented height upon what pretext soever it fastens the root, it prunes and dresses vice, as if it were a good plant. Let no man doubt therefore to affirm, that it is not so hurtful or dishonourable to a commonwealth, nor so much to the hardening of hearts, when those worse faults pretended to be feared are committed, by who so dares under strict and executed penalty, as when those less faults tolerated for fear of greater, harden their faces, not their hearts only, under the protection of public authority. For what less indignity were this, than as if justice herself, the queen of virtues, (descending from her sceptred royalty,) instead of conquering, should compound and treat with sin, her eternal adversary and rebel, upon ignoble terms? or as if the judicial law were like that untrusty steward in the gospel, and instead of calling in the debts of his moral master, should give out subtile and sly acquittances to keep himself from begging? or let us person him like some wretched itinerary judge, who to gratify his delinquents before him, would let them basely break his head, lest they should pull him from the bench, and throw him over the bar. Unless we had rather think both moral and judicial, full of malice and deadly purpose, conspired to let the debtor Israelite, the seed of Abraham, run on upon a bankrupt score, flattered with insufficient and ensnaring discharges, that so he might be haled to a more cruel forfeit for all the indulgent arrears which those judicial acquittances had engaged him in. No, no, this cannot be, that the law whose integrity and faithfulness is next to God, should be either the shameless broker of our impunities, or the intended instrument of our destruction. The method of holy correction, such as became the commonwealth of Israel, is not to bribe sin with sin, to capitulate and hire out one crime with another; but with more noble and graceful severity than Popilius the Roman legate used with Antiochus, to limit and level out the direct way from vice to virtue, with straightest and exactest lines on either side, not winding or indenting so much as to the right hand of fair pretences. Violence indeed and insurrection may force the law to suffer what it cannot mend; but to write a decree in allowance of sin, as soon can the hand of justice rot off. Let this be ever concluded as a truth that will outlive the faith of those that seek to bear it down.
That divorce was not given for wives only, as Beza and Paræus write. More of the institution.
Lastly, if divorce were granted, as Beza and others say, not for men, but to release afflicted wives; certainly, it is not only a dispensation, but a most merciful law; and why it should not yet be in force, being wholly as needful, I know not what can be in cause but senseless cruelty. But yet to say, divorce was granted for relief of wives rather than of husbands, is but weakly conjectured, and is manifestly the extreme shift of a huddled exposition. Whenas it could not be found how hardness of heart should be lessened by liberty of divorce, a fancy was devised to hide the flaw, by commenting that divorce was permitted only for the help of wives. Palpably uxurious! who can be ignorant, that woman was created for man, and not man for woman, and that a husband may be injured as insufferably in marriage as a wife? What an injury is it after wedlock not to be beloved! what to be slighted! what to be contended with in point of house-rule who shall be the head; not for any parity of wisdom, for that were something reasonable, but out of a female pride! “I suffer not,” saith St. Paul, “the woman to usurp authority over the man.” If the apostle could not suffer it, into what mould is he mortified that can? Solomon saith, “that a bad wife is to her husband as rottenness to his bones, a continual dropping. Better dwell in the corner of a house-top, or in the wilderness,” than with such a one. “Whoso hideth her, hideth the wind, and one of the four mischiefs which the earth cannot bear.” If the Spirit of God wrote such aggravations as these, and (as may be guessed by these similitudes) counsels the man rather to divorce than to live with such a colleague; and yet on the other side expresses nothing of the wife’s suffering with a bad husband: is it not most likely that God in his law had more pity towards man thus wedlocked, than towards the woman that was created for another? The same Spirit relates to us the course, which the Medes and Persians took by occasion of Vashti, whose mere denial to come at her husband’s sending, lost her the being queen any longer, and set up a wholesome law, “that every man should bear rule in his own house.” And the divine relater shows us not the least sign of disliking what was done; how should he, if Moses long before was nothing less mindful of the honour and pre-eminence due to man? So that to say divorce was granted for woman rather than man, was but fondly invented. Esteeming therefore to have asserted thus an injured law of Moses, from the unwarranted and guilty name of a dispensation, to be again a most equal and requisite law, we have the word of Christ himself, that he came not to alter the least title of it; and signifies no small displeasure against him that shall teach to do so. On which relying, I shall not much waver to affirm, that those words, which are made to intimate as if they forbad all divorce, but for adultery, (though Moses have constituted otherwise,) those words taken circumscriptly, without regard to any precedent law of Moses or attestation of Christ himself, or without care to preserve those his fundamental and superior laws of nature and charity, to which all other ordinances give up their seal, are as much against plain equity and the mercy of religion, as those words of “Take, eat, this is my body,” elementally understood, are against nature and sense.
And surely the restoring of this degraded law hath well recompensed the diligence was used by enlightening us further to find out wherefore Christ took off the Pharisees from alleging the law, and referred them to the first institution; not condemning, altering, or abolishing this precept of divorce, which is plainly moral, for that were against his truth, his promise, and his prophetic office; but knowing how fallaciously they had cited and concealed the particular and natural reason of the law, that they might justify any froward reason of their own, he lets go that sophistry unconvinced; for that had been to teach them else, which his purpose was not. And since they had taken a liberty which the law gave not, he amuses and repels their tempting pride with a perfection of Paradise, which the law required not; not thereby to oblige our performance to that whereto the law never enjoined the fallen estate of man: for if the first institution must make wedlock, whatever happen, inseparable to us, it must make it also as perfect, as meetly helpful, and as comfortable as God promised it should be, at least in some degree; otherwise it is not equal or proportionable to the strength of man, that he should be reduced into such indissoluble bonds to his assured misery, if all the other conditions of that covenant be manifestly altered.
How to be understood, that they must be one flesh; and how that those whom God hath joined, man should not sunder.
Next he saith, “they must be one flesh;” which when all conjecturing is done, will be found to import no more but to make legitimate and good the carnal act, which else might seem to have something of pollution in it; and infers thus much over, that the fit union of their souls be such as may even incorporate them to love and amity: but that can never be where no correspondence is of the mind; nay, instead of being one flesh, they will be rather two carcasses chained unnaturally together; or, as it may happen, a living soul bound to a dead corpse; a punishment too like that inflicted by the tyrant Mezentius, so little worthy to be received as that remedy of loneliness, which God meant us. Since we know it is not the joining of another body will remove loneliness, but the uniting of another compliable mind; and that it is no blessing but a torment, nay a base and brutish condition to be one flesh, unless where nature can in some measure fix a unity of disposition. The meaning therefore of these words, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife,” was first to show us the dear affection which naturally grows in every not unnatural marriage, even to the leaving of parents, or other familiarity whatsoever. Next, it justifies a man in so doing, that nothing is done undutifully to father or mother. But he that should be here sternly commanded to cleave to his error, a disposition which to his he finds will never cement, a quotidian of sorrow and discontent in his house; let us be excused to pause a little, and bethink us every way round ere we lay such a flat solecism upon the gracious, and certainly not inexorable, not ruthless and flinty ordinance of marriage. For if the meaning of these words must be thus blocked up within their own letters from all equity and fair deduction, they will serve then well indeed their turn, who affirm divorce to have been granted only for wives; whenas we see no word of this text binds women, but men only, what it binds. No marvel then if Salomith (sister to Herod) sent a writ of ease to Costobarus her husband, which (as Josephus there attests) was lawful only to men. No marvel though Placidia, the sister of Honorius, threatened the like to earl Constantius for a trivial cause, as Photius relates from Olympiodorus. No marvel any thing, if letters must be turned into palisadoes, to stake out all requisite sense from entering to their due enlargement.
Lastly, Christ himself tells who should not be put asunder, namely, those whom God hath joined. A plain solution of this great controversy, if men would but use their eyes; for when is it that God may be said to join? when the parties and their friends consent? No surely, for that may concur to lewdest ends. Or is it when church rites are finished? Neither; for the efficacy of those depends upon the presupposed fitness of either party. Perhaps after carnal knowledge: least of all; for that may join persons whom neither law nor nature dares join. It is left, that only then when the minds are fitly disposed and enabled to maintain a cheerful conversation, to the solace and love of each other, according as God intended and promised in the very first foundation of matrimony, “I will make him a help meet for him;” for surely what God intended and promised, that only can be thought to be his joining, and not the contrary. So likewise the apostle witnesseth, 1 Cor. vii. 15, that in marriage “God hath called us to peace.” And doubtless in what respect he hath called us to marriage, in that also he hath joined us. The rest, whom either disproportion or deadness of spirit, or something distasteful and averse in the immutable bent of nature renders conjugal, error may have joined, but God never joined against the meaning of his own ordinance. And if he joined them not, then is there no power above their own consent to hinder them from unjoining, when they cannot reap the soberest ends of being together in any tolerable sort. Neither can it be said properly that such twain were ever divorced, but only parted from each other, as two persons unconjunctive are unmarriable together. But if, whom God hath made a fit help, frowardness or private injuries hath made unfit, that being the secret of marriage, God can better judge than man, neither is man indeed fit or able to decide this matter: however it be, undoubtedly a peaceful divorce is a less evil, and less in scandal than hateful, hard-hearted, and destructive continuance of marriage in the judgment of Moses and of Christ, that justifies him in choosing the less evil; which if it were an honest and civil prudence in the law, what is there in the gospel forbidding such a kind of legal wisdom, though we should admit the common expositors?
The sentence of Christ concerning divorce how to be expounded. What Grotius hath observed. Other additions.
Having thus unfolded those ambiguous reasons, wherewith Christ (as his wont was) gave to the Pharisees that came to sound him, such an answer as they deserved, it will not be uneasy to explain the sentence itself that now follows; “Whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.” First therefore I will set down what is observed by Grotius upon this point, a man of general learning. Next, I produce what mine own thoughts gave me before I had seen his annotations. Origen, saith he, notes that Christ named adultery rather as one example of other like cases, than as one only exception; and that is frequent not only in human but in divine laws, to express one kind of fact, whereby other causes of like nature may have the like plea, as Exod. xxi. 18, 19, 20, 26; Deut. xix. 5. And from the maxims of civil law he shows, that even in sharpest penal laws the same reason hath the same right; and in gentler laws, that from like causes to like the law interprets rightly. But it may be objected, saith he, that nothing destroys the end of wedlock so much as adultery. To which he answers, that marriage was not ordained only for copulation, but for mutual help and comfort of life: and if we mark diligently the nature of our Saviour’s commands, we shall find that both their beginning and their end consists in charity; whose will is, that we should so be good to others, as that we be not cruel to ourselves: and hence it appears why Mark, and Luke, and St. Paul to the Corinthians, mentioning this precept of Christ, add no exception, because exceptions that arise from natural equity are included silently under general terms: it would be considered therefore, whether the same equity may not have place in other cases less frequent. Thus far he.
From hence is what I add: First, that this saying of Christ, as it is usually expounded, can be no law at all, that a man for no cause should separate but for adultery, except it be a supernatural law, not binding us as we now are: had it been the law of nature, either the Jews, or some other wise and civil nation, would have pressed it: or let it be so, yet that law, Deut. xxiv. 1, whereby a man hath leave to part, whenas for just and natural cause discovered he cannot live, is a law ancienter and deeper engraven in blameless nature than the other: therefore the inspired lawgiver Moses took care, that this should be specified and allowed; the other he let vanish in silence, not once repeated in the volume of his law, even as the reason of it vanished with Paradise. Secondly, this can be no new command, for the gospel enjoins no new morality, save only the infinite enlargement of charity, which in this respect is called the new commandment by St. John, as being the accomplishment of every command. Thirdly, it is no command of perfection further than it partakes of charity, which is “the bond of perfection.” Those commands therefore, which compel us to self-cruelty above our strength, so hardly will help forward to perfection, that they hinder and set backward in all the common rudiments of Christianity, as was proved. It being thus clear, that the words of Christ can be no kind of command as they are vulgarly taken, we shall now see in what sense they may be a command, and that an excellent one, the same with that of Moses, and no other. Moses had granted, that only for a natural annoyance, defect, or dislike, whether in body or mind, (for so the Hebrew word plainly notes,) which a man could not force himself to live with, he might give a bill of divorce, thereby forbidding any other cause, wherein amendment or reconciliation might have place. This law the Pharisees depraving extended to any slight contentious cause whatsoever. Christ therefore seeing where they halted, urges the negative part of the law, which is necessarily understood, (for the determinate permission of Moses binds them from further license,) and checking their supercilious drift, declares that no accidental, temporary, or reconcileable offence (except fornication) can justify a divorce. He touches not here those natural and perpetual hinderances of society, whether in body or mind, which are not to be removed; for such as they are aptest to cause an unchangeable offence, so are they not capable of reconcilement, because not of amendment, they do not break indeed, but they annihilate the bands of marriage more than adultery. For that fault committed argues not always a hatred either natural or incidental against whom it is committed; neither does it infer a disability of all future helpfulness, or loyalty, or loving agreement, being once past and pardoned, where it can be pardoned: but that which naturally distastes, and “finds no favour in the eyes” of matrimony, can never be concealed, never appeased, never intermitted, but proves a perpetual nullity of love and contentment, a solitude and dead vacation of all acceptable conversing. Moses therefore permits divorce, but in cases only that have no hands to join, and more need of separating than adultery. Christ forbids it, but in matters only that may accord, and those less than fornication. Thus is Moses’ law here plainly confirmed, and those causes which he permitted not a jot gainsaid. And that this is the true meaning of this place, I prove by no less an author than St. Paul himself, 1 Cor. vii. 10, 11; upon which text interpreters agree, that the apostle only repeats the precept of Christ: where while he speaks of the “wife’s reconcilement to her husband,” he puts it out of controversy, that our Saviour meant chiefly matters of strife and reconcilement; of which sort he would not that any difference should be the occasion of divorce, except fornication. And that we may learn better how to value a grave and prudent law of Moses, and how unadvisedly we smatter with our lips, when we talk of Christ’s abolishing any judicial law of his great Father, except in some circumstances which are judaical rather than judicial, and need no abolishing, but cease of themselves; I say again, that this recited law of Moses contains a cause of divorce greater beyond compare than that for adultery: and whoso cannot so conceive it, errs and wrongs exceedingly a law of deep wisdom for want of well fathoming. For let him mark, no man urges the just divorcing of adultery as it is a sin, but as it is an injury to marriage; and though it be but once committed, and that without malice, whether through importunity or opportunity, the gospel does not therefore dissuade him who would therefore divorce; but that natural hatred whenever it arises, is a greater evil in marriage than the accident of adultery, a greater defrauding, a greater injustice, and yet not blameable, he who understands not after all this representing, I doubt his will like a hard spleen draws faster than his understanding can well sanguify: nor did that man ever know or feel what it is to love truly, nor ever yet comprehend in his thoughts what the true intent of marriage is. And this also will be somewhat above his reach, but yet no less a truth for lack of his perspective, that as no man apprehends what vice is so well as he who is truly virtuous, no man knows hell like him who converses most in heaven; so there is none that can estimate the evil and the affliction of a natural hatred in matrimony, unless he have a soul gentle enough and spacious enough to contemplate what is true love.
And the reason why men so disesteem this wise-judging law of God, and count hate, or “the not finding of favour,” as it is there termed, a humourous, a dishonest, and slight cause of divorce, is because themselves apprehend so little of what true concord means: for if they did, they would be juster in their balancing between natural hatred and casual adultery; this being but a transient injury, and soon amended, I mean as to the party against whom the trespass is: but that other being an unspeakable and unremitting sorrow and offence, whereof no amends can be made, no cure, no ceasing but by divorce, which like a divine touch in one moment heals all, and (like the word of God) in one instant hushes outrageous tempests into a sudden stillness and peaceful calm. Yet all this so great a good of God’s own enlarging to us is, by the hard reins of them that fit us, wholly diverted and embezzled from us. Maligners of mankind! But who hath taught you to mangle thus, and make more gashes in the miseries of a blameless creature, with the leaden daggers of your literal decrees, to whose ease you cannot add the tithe of one small atom, but by letting alone your unhelpful surgery. As for such as think wandering concupiscence to be here newly and more precisely forbidden than it was before; if the apostle can convince them, we know that we are to “know lust by the law,” and not by any new discovery of the gospel. The law of Moses knew what it permitted, and the gospel knew what it forbid; he that under a peevish conceit of debarring concupiscence, shall go about to make a novice of Moses, (not to say a worse thing, for reverence sake,) and such a one of God himself, as is a horror to think, to bind our Saviour in the default of a downright promise-breaking; and to bind the disunions of complaining nature in chains together, and curb them with a canon bit; it is he that commits all the whoredom and adultery which himself adjudges, besides the former guilt so manifold that lies upon him. And if none of these considerations, with all their weight and gravity, can avail to the dispossessing him of his precious literalism, let some one or other entreat him but to read on in the same 19th of Matth. till he comes to that place that says, “Some make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” And if then he please to make use of Origen’s knife, he may do well to be his own carver.
Whether the words of our Saviour be rightly expounded only af actual fornication to be the cause of divorce. The opinion of Grotius, with other reasons.
But because we know that Christ never gave a judicial law, and that the word fornication is variously significant in Scripture, it will be much right done to our Saviour’s words, to consider diligently whether it be meant here, that nothing but actual fornication proved by witness can warrant a divorce; for so our canon law judges. Nevertheless, as I find that Grotius on this place hath observed the Christian emperors, Theodosius the IId and Justinian, men of high wisdom and reputed piety, decreed it to be a divorcive fornication, if the wife attempted either against the knowledge, or obstinately against the will of her husband, such things as gave open suspicion of adulterizing; as the wilful haunting of feasts, and invitations with men not of near kindred; the lying forth of her house, without probable cause; the frequenting of theatres against her husband’s mind; her endeavour to prevent or destroy conception. Hence that of Jerom, “where fornication is suspected, the wife may lawfully be divorced:” not that every motion of a jealous mind should be regarded, but that it should not be exacted to prove all things by the visibility of law witnessing, or else to hoodwink the mind: for the law is not able to judge of these things but by the rule of equity, and by permitting a wise man to walk the middle way of prudent circumspection, neither wretchedly jealous, nor stupidly and tamely patient. To this purpose hath Grotius in his notes. He shows also, that fornication is taken in Scripture for such a continual headstrong behaviour, as tends to plain contempt of the husband, and proves it out of Judges xix. 2, where the Levite’s wife is said to have played the whore against him; which Josephus and the Septuagint, with the Chaldean, interpret only of stubborness and rebellion against her husband: and to this I add, that Kimchi, and the two other rabbies who gloss the text, are in the same opinion. Ben Gersom reasons, that had it been whoredom, a Jew and a Levite would have disdained to fetch her again. And this I shall contribute, that had it been whoredom, she would have chosen any other place to run to than to her father’s house, it being so infamous for a Hebrew woman to play the harlot, and so opprobrious to the parents. Fornication then in this place of the judges is understood for stubborn disobedience against the husband, and not for adultery. A sin of that sudden activity, as to be already committed when no more is done, but only looked unchastely: which yet I should be loth to judge worthy a divorce, though in our Saviour’s language it be called adultery. Nevertheless, when palpable and frequent signs are given, the law of God, Numb. v., so far gave way to the jealousy of a man, as that the woman, set before the sanctuary with her head uncovered, was adjured by the priest to swear whether she were false or no, and constrained to drink that “bitter water,” with an undoubted “curse of rottenness and tympany” to follow, unless she were innocent. And the jealous man had not been guiltless before God, as seems by the last verse, if having such a suspicion in his head, he should neglect his trial; which if to this day it be not to be used, or be thought as uncertain of effect as our antiquated law of Ordalium, yet all equity will judge, that many adulterous demeanours, which are of lewd suspicion and example, may be held sufficient to incur a divorce, though the act itself hath not been proved. And seeing the generosity of our nation is so, as to account no reproach more abominable than to be nicknamed the husband of an adulteress; that our law should not be as ample as the law of God, to vindicate a man from that ignoble sufferance, is our barbarous unskilfulness, not considering that the law should be exasperated according to our estimation of the injury. And if it must be suffered till the act be visibly proved, Solomon himself, whose judgment will be granted to surpass the acuteness of any canonist, confesses, Prov. xxx. 19, 20, that for the act of adultery it is as difficult to be found as the “track of an eagle in the air, or the way of a ship in the sea;” so that a man may be put to unmanly indignities ere it be found out. This therefore may be enough to inform us, that divorcive adultery is not limited by our Saviour to the utmost act, and that to be attested always by eyewitness, but may be extended also to divers obvious actions, which either plainly lead to adultery, or give such presumption whereby sensible men may suspect the deed to be already done. And this the rather may be thought, in that our Saviour chose to use the word Fornication, which word is found to signify other matrimonial transgressions of main breach to that covenant besides actual adultery. For that sin needed not the riddance of divorce, but of death by the law, which was active even till then by the example of the woman taken in adultery; or if the law had been dormant, our Saviour was more likely to have told them of their neglect, than to have let a capital crime silently scape into a divorce: or if it be said, his business was not to tell them what was criminal in the civil courts, but what was sinful at the bar of conscience, how dare they then, having no other ground than these our Saviour’s words, draw that into the trial of law, which both by Moses and our Saviour was left to the jurisdiction of conscience? But we take from our Saviour, say they, only that it was adultery, and our law of itself applies the punishment. But by their leave that so argue, the great Lawgiver of all the world, who knew best what was adultery, both to the Jew and to the Gentile, appointed no such applying, and never likes when mortal men will be vainly presuming to outstrip his justice.
Christ’s manner of teaching. St. Paul adds to this matter of divorce without command, to show the matter to be of equity, not of rigour. That the bondage of a Christian may be as much, and his peace as little, in some other marriages besides idolatrous. If those arguments therefore be good in that one case, why not in those other? Therefore the apostle himself adds, ἐν το[Editor: illegible character]ς τοιούτοις.
Thus at length we see both by this and other places, that there is scarce any one saying in the gospel but must be read with limitations and distinctions to be rightly understood; for Christ gives no full comments or continued discourses, but (as Demetrius the rhetorician phrases it) speaks oft in monosyllables, like a master scattering the heavenly grain of his doctrine like pearls here and there, which requires a skilful and laborious gatherer, who must compare the words he finds with other precepts, with the end of every ordinance, and with the general analogy of evangelic doctrine: otherwise many particular sayings would be but strange repugnant riddles, and the church would offend in granting divorce for frigidity, which is not here excepted with adultery, but by them added. And this was it undoubtedly, which gave reason to St. Paul of his own authority, as he professes, and without command from the Lord, to enlarge the seeming construction of those places in the gospel, by adding a case wherein a person deserted (which is something less than divorced) may lawfully marry again. And having declared his opinion in one case, he leaves a further liberty for Christian prudence to determine in cases of like importance, using words so plain as not to be shifted off, “that a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases;” adding also, that “God hath called us to peace” in marriage.
Now if it be plain, that a Christian may be brought into unworthy bondage, and his religious peace not only interrupted now and then, but perpetually and finally hindered in wedlock, by misyoking with a diversity of nature as well as of religion, the reasons of St. Paul cannot be made special to that one case of infidelity but are of equal moment to a divorce, wherever Christian liberty and peace are without fault equally obstructed: that the ordinance which God gave to our comfort may not be pinned upon us to our undeserved thraldom, to be cooped up, as it were in mockery of wedlock, to a perpetual betrothed loneliness and discontent, if nothing worse ensue. There being nought else of marriage left between such, but a displeasing and forced remedy against the sting of a brute desire: which fleshly accustoming without the soul’s union and commixture of intellectual delight, as it is rather a soiling than a fulfilling of marriage rites, so is it enough to abase the mettle of a generous spirit, and sinks him to a low and vulgar pitch of endeavour in all his actions; or, (which is worse,) leaves him in a despairing plight of abject and hardened thoughts: which condition rather than a good man should fall into, a man useful in the service of God and mankind, Christ himself hath taught us to dispense with the most sacred ordinance of his worship, even for a bodily healing to dispense with that holy and speculative rest of sabbath, much more then with the erroneous observance of an ill-knotted marriage, for the sustaining of an overcharged faith and perseverance.
The meaning of St. Paul, that “charity believeth all things.” What is to be said to the license which is vainly feared will grow hereby. What to those who never have done prescribing patience in this case. The papist most severe against divorce, yet most easy to all license. Of all the miseries in marriage God is to be cleared, and the faults to be laid on man’s unjust laws.
And though bad causes would take license by this pretext, if that cannot be remedied, upon their conscience be it who shall so do. This was that hardness of heart, and abuse of a good law, which Moses was content to suffer, rather than good men should not have it at all to use needfully. And he who to run after one lost sheep left ninety-nine of his own flock at random in the wilderness, would little perplex his thoughts for the obduring of nine hundred and ninety such as will daily take worse liberties, whether they have permission or not. To conclude, as without charity God hath given no commandment to men, so without it neither can men rightly believe any commandment given. For every act of true faith, as well that whereby we believe the law, as that whereby we endeavour the law, is wrought in us by charity, according to that in the divine hymn of St. Paul, 1 Cor. xiii. “Charity believeth all things;” not as if she were so credulous, which is the exposition hitherto current, for that were a trivial praise, but to teach us that charity is the high governess of our belief, and that we cannot safely assent to any precept written in the Bible, but as charity commends it to us. Which agrees with that of the same apostle to the Eph. iv. 14, 15; where he tells us, that the way to get a sure undoubted knowledge of things, is to hold that for truth which accords most with charity. Whose unerring guidance and conduct having followed as a loadstar, with all diligence and fidelity, in this question; I trust (through the help of that illuminating spirit which hath favoured me) to have done no every day’s work, in asserting after many the words of Christ, with other scriptures of great concernment, from burdensome and remorseless obscurity, tangled with manifold repugnances, to their native lustre and consent between each other; hereby also dissolving tedious and Gordian difficulties, which have hitherto molested the church of God, and are now decided not with the sword of Alexander, but with the immaculate hands of charity, to the unspeakable good of Christendom. And let the extreme literalist sit down now, and revolve whether this in all necessity be not the due result of our Saviour’s words, or if he persist to be otherwise opinioned, let him well advise, lest thinking to gripe fast the gospel, he be found instead with the canon law in his fist: whose boisterous edicts tyrannizing the blessed ordinance of marriage into the quality of a most unnatural and unchristianly yoke hath given the flesh this advantage to hate it, and turn aside, ofttimes unwillingly, to all dissolute uncleanness, even till punishment itself is weary of and overcome by the incredible frequency of trading lust and uncontrolled adulteries. Yet men whose creed is custom, I doubt not will be still endeavouring to hide the sloth of their timorous capacities with this pretext, that for all this it is better to endure with patience and silence this affliction which God hath sent. And I agree it is true, if this be exhorted and not enjoined; but withal it will be wisely done to be as sure as may be, that what man’s iniquity hath laid on be not imputed to God’s sending, lest under the colour of an affected patience we detain ourselves at the gulf’s mouth of many hideous temptations, not to be withstood without proper gifts, which (as Perkins well notes) God gives not ordinarily, no not to most earnest prayers. Therefore we pray, “Lead us not into temptation;” a vain prayer, if, having led ourselves thither, we love to stay in that perilous condition. God sends remedies as well as evils, under which he who lies and groans that may lawfully acquit himself, is accessory to his own ruin; nor will it excuse him though he suffer through a sluggish fearfulness to search thoroughly what is lawful, for fear of disquieting the secure falsity of an old opinion. Who doubts not but that it may be piously said, to him who would dismiss his frigidity, Bear your trial: take it as if God would have you live this life of continence? if he exhort this, I hear him as an angel, though he speak without warrant; but if he would compel me, I know him for Satan. To him who divorces an adulteress, piety might say, pardon her; you may show much mercy, you may win a soul: yet the law both of God and man leaves it freely to him: for God loves not to plough out the heart of our endeavours with overhard and sad tasks. God delights not to make a drudge of virtue, whose actions must be all elective and unconstrained. Forced virtue is as a bolt overshot: it goes neither forward nor backward, and does no good as it stands. Seeing therefore that neither Scripture nor reason hath laid this unjust austerity upon divorce, we may resolve that nothing else hath wrought it but that letter-bound servility of the canon doctors, supposing marriage to be a sacrament, and out of the art they have to lay unnecessary burdens upon all men, to make a fair show in the fleshly observance of matrimony, though peace and love with all other conjugal respects fare never so ill. And indeed the papists, who are the strictest forbidders of divorce, are the easiest libertines to admit of grossest uncleanness; as if they had a design by making wedlock a supportless yoke, to violate it most, under colour of preserving it most inviolable; and withal delighting (as their mystery is) to make men the day labourers of their own afflictions, as if there were such a scarcity of miseries from abroad, that we should be made to melt our choicest home blessings, and coin them into crosses, for want whereby to hold commerce with patience. If any therefore who shall hap to read this discourse, hath been through misadventure ill engaged in this contracted evil here complained of, and finds the fits and workings of a high impatience frequently upon him; of all those wild words which men in misery think to ease themselves by uttering, let him not open his lips against the providence of Heaven, or tax the ways of God and his divine truth: for they are equal, easy, and not burdensome: nor do they ever cross the just and reasonable desires of men, nor involve this our portion of mortal life into a necessity of sadness and malecontent, by laws commanding over the unreducible antipathies of nature, sooner or later found, but allow us to remedy and shake off those evils into which human error hath led us through the midst of our best intentions, and to support our incident extremities by that authentic precept of sovereign charity, whose grand commission is to do and to dispose over all the ordinances of God to man, that love and truth may advance each other to everlasting. While we, literally superstitious, through customary faintness of heart, not venturing to pierce with our free thoughts into the full latitude of nature and religion, abandon ourselves to serve under the tyranny of usurped opinions; suffering those ordinances which were allotted to our solace and reviving, to trample over us, and hale us into a multitude of sorrows, which God never meant us. And where he sets us in a fair allowance of way, with honest liberty and prudence to our guard, we never leave subtilizing and casuisting till we have straightened and pared that liberal path into a razor’s edge to walk on; between a precipice of unnecessary mischief on either side, and starting at every false alarm, we do not know which way to set a foot forward with manly confidence and Christian resolution, through the confused ringing in our ears of panic scruples and amazements.
That the matter of divorce is not to be tried by law, but by conscience, as many other sins are. The magistrate can only see that the condition of the divorce be just and equal. The opinion of Fagius, and the reasons of this assertion.
Another act of papal encroachment it was, to pluck the power and arbitrement of divorce from the master of the family, into whose hands God and the law of all nations had put it, and Christ so left it, preaching only to the conscience, and not authorizing a judicial court to toss about and divulge the unaccountable and secret reason of disaffection between man and wife, as a thing most improperly answerable to any such kind of trial. But the popes of Rome, perceiving the great revenue and high authority it would give them even over princes, to have the judging and deciding of such a main consequence in the life of man as was divorce; wrought so upon the superstition of those ages, as to divest them of that right, which God from the beginning had entrusted to the husband: by which means they subjected that ancient and naturally domestic prerogative to an external and unbefitting judicature. For although differences in divorce about dowries, jointures, and the like, besides the punishing of adultery, ought not to pass without referring, if need be, to the magistrate; yet that the absolute and final hindering of divorce cannot belong to any civil or earthly power, against the will and consent of both parties, or of the husband alone, some reasons will be here urged as shall not need to decline the touch. But first I shall recite what hath been already yielded by others in favour of this opinion. Grotius and many more agree, that notwithstanding what Christ spake therein to the conscience, the magistrate is not thereby enjoined aught against the preservation of civil peace, of equity, and of convenience. And among these Fagius is most remarkable, and gives the same liberty of pronouncing divorce to the Christian magistrate as the Mosaic had. “For whatever,” saith he, “Christ spake to the regenerate, the judge hath to deal with the vulgar: if therefore any through hardness of heart will not be a tolerable wife to her husband, it will be lawful as well now as of old to pass the bill of divorce, not by private but by public authority. Nor doth man separate them then, but God by his law of divorce given by Moses. What can hinder the magistrate from so doing, to whose government all outward things are subject, to separate and remove from perpetual vexation, and no small danger, those bodies whose minds are already separate; it being his office to procure peaceable and convenient living in the commonwealth; and being as certain also, that they so necessarily separated cannot all receive a single life?” And this I observe, that our divines do generally condemn separation of bed and board, without the liberty of second choice; if that therefore in some cases be most purely necessary, (as who so blockish to deny?) then is this also as needful. Thus far by others is already well stepped, to inform us that divorce is not a matter of law, but of charity: if there remain a furlong yet to end the question, these following reasons may serve to gain it with any apprehension not too unlearned or too wayward. First, because ofttimes the causes of seeking divorce reside so deeply in the radical and innocent affections of nature, as is not within the diocese of law to tamper with. Other relations may aptly enough be held together by a civil and virtuous love: but the duties of man and wife are such as are chiefly conversant in that love which is most ancient and merely natural, whose two prime statutes are to join itself to that which is good, and acceptable, and friendly; and to turn aside and depart from what is disagreeable, displeasing, and unlike: of the two this latter is the strongest, and most equal to be regarded; for although a man may often be unjust in seeking that which he loves, yet he can never be unjust or blameable in retiring from his endless trouble and distaste, when as his tarrying can redound to no true content on either side. Hate is of all things the mightiest divider, nay is division itself. To couple hatred therefore, though wedlock try all her golden links, and borrow to her aid all the iron manacles and fetters of law, it does but seek to twist a rope of sand, which was a task they say that posed the devil: and that sluggish fiend in hell, Ocnus, whom the poems tell of, brought his idle cordage to as good effect, which never served to bind with, but to feed the ass that stood at his elbow. And that the restrictive law against divorce attains as little to bind any thing truly in a disjointed marriage, or to keep it bound, but serves only to feed the ignorance and definitive impertinence of a doltish canon, were no absurd allusion. To hinder therefore those deep and serious regresses of nature in a reasonable soul, parting from that mistaken help, which he justly seeks in a person created for him, recollecting himself from an unmeet help which was never meant, and to detain him by compulsion in such an unpredestined misery as this, is in diameter against both nature and institution: but to interpose a jurisdictive power over the inward and irremediable disposition of man, to command love and sympathy, to forbid dislike against the guiltless instinct of nature, is not within the province of any law to reach; and were indeed an uncommodious rudeness, not a just power: for that law may bandy with nature, and traverse her sage motions, was an error in Callicles the rhetorician, whom Socrates from high principles confutes in Plato’s Gorgias. If therefore divorce may be so natural, and that law and nature are not to go contrary; then to forbid divorce compulsively, is not only against nature, but against law.
Next it must be remembered, that all law is for some good, that may be frequently attained without the admixture of a worse inconvenience; and therefore many gross faults, as ingratitude and the like, which are too far within the soul to be cured by constraint of law, are left only to be wrought on by conscience and persuasion. Which made Aristotle, in the 10th of his Ethics to Nicomachus, aim at a kind of division of law into private or persuasive, and public or compulsive. Hence it is, that the law forbidding divorce never attains to any good end of such prohibition, but rather multiplies evil. For if nature’s resistless sway in love or hate be once compelled, it grows eareless of itself, vicious, useless to friends, unserviceable and spiritless to the commonwealth. Which Moses rightly foresaw, and all wise lawgivers that ever knew man, what kind of creature he was. The parliament also and clergy of England were not ignorant of this, when they consented that Harry the VIII. might put away his queen Anne of Cleve, whom he could not like after he had been wedded half a year; unless it were that, contrary to the proverb, they made a necessity of that which might have been a virtue in them to do: for even the freedom and eminence of man’s creation gives him to be a law in this matter to himself, being the head of the other sex which was made for him: whom therefore though he ought not to injure, yet, neither should he be forced to retain in society to his own overthrow, nor to hear any judge therein above himself. It being also an unseemly affront to the sequestered and veiled modesty of that sex, to have her unpleasingness and other concealments bandied up and down and aggravated in open court by those hired masters of tongue-fence. Such uncomely exigences it befel no less a majesty than Henry the VIII. to be reduced to, who, finding just reason in his conscience to forego his brother’s wife, after many indignities of being deluded, and made a boy of by those his two cardinal judges, was constrained at last, for want of other proof, that she had been carnally known by prince Arthur, even to uncover the nakedness of that virtuous lady, and to recite openly the obscene evidence of his brother’s chamberlain. Yet it pleased God to make him see all the tyranny of Rome, by discovering this which they exercised over divorce, and to make him the beginner of a reformation to this whole kingdom, by first asserting into his familiary power the right of just divorce. It is true, an adulteress cannot be shamed enough by any public proceeding; but the woman whose honour is not appeached is less injured by a silent dismission, being otherwise not illiberally dealt with, than to endure a clamouring debate of utterless things, in a business of that civil secrecy and difficult discerning, as not to be overmuch questioned by nearest friends. Which drew that answer from the greatest and worthiest Roman of his time, Paulus Emilius, being demanded why he would put away his wife for no visible reason? “This shoe,” said he, and held it out on his foot, “is a neat shoe, a new shoe, and yet none of you know where it wrings me;” much less by the unfamiliar cognizance of a feed gamester can such a private difference be examined, neither ought it.
Again, if law aim at the firm establishment and preservation of matrimonial faith, we know that cannot thrive under violent means, but is the more violated. It is not when two unfortunately met are by the canon forced to draw in that yoke an unmerciful day’s work of sorrow till death unharness them, that then the law keeps marriage most unviolated and unbroken; but when the law takes order, that marriage be accountant and responsible to perform that society, whether it be religious, civil, or corporal, which may be conscionably required and claimed therein, or else to be dissolved if it cannot be undergone. This is to make marriage most indissoluble, by making it a just and equal dealer, a performer of those due helps, which instituted the covenant; being otherwise a most unjust contract, and no more to be maintained under tuition of law, than the vilest fraud, or cheat, or theft, that may be committed. But because this is such a secret kind of fraud or theft, as cannot be discerned by law but only by the plaintiff himself; therefore to divorce was never counted a political or civil offence, neither to Jew nor Gentile, nor by any judicial intendment of Christ, further than could be discerned to transgress the allowance of Moses which was of necessity so large, that it doth all one as if it sent back the matter undeterminable at law, and intractable by rough dealing, to have instructions and admonitions bestowed about it by them whose spiritual office is to adjure and to denounce, and so left to the conscience. The law can only appoint the just and equal conditions of divorce, and is to look how it is an injury to the divorced, which in truth it can be none, as a mere separation; for if she consent, wherein has the law to right her? or consent not, then is it either just, and so deserved; or if unjust, such in all likelihood was the divorcer: and to part from an unjust man is a happiness, and no injury to be lamented. But suppose it to be an injury, the law is not able to amend it, unless she think it other than a miserable redress, to return back from whence she was expelled, or but entreated to be gone, or else to live apart still married without marriage, a married widow. Last, if it be to chasten the divorcer, what law punishes a deed which is not moral but natural, a deed which cannot certainly be found to be an injury; or how can it be punished by prohibiting the divorce, but that the innocent must equally partake both in the shame and in the smart? So that which way soever we look, the law can to no rational purpose forbid divorce, it can only take care that the conditions of divorce be not injurious. Thus then we see the trial of law, how impertinent it is to this question of divorce how helpless next, and then how hurtful.
The last reason why divorce is not to be restrained by law, it being against the law of nature and of nations. The larger proof whereof referred to Mr. Selden’s book, “De Jure Naturali et Gentium.” An objection of Paræus answered. How it ought to be ordered by the church. That this will not breed any worse inconvenience, nor so bad as is now suffered.
Therefore the last reason, why it should not be, is the example we have, not only from the noblest and wisest commonwealths, guided by the clearest light of human knowledge, but also from the divine testimonies of God himself, lawgiving in person to a sanctified people. That all this is true, whoso desires to know at large with least pains, and expects not here overlong rehearsals of that which is by others already so judiciously gathered; let him hasten to be acquainted with that noble volume written by our learned Selden, “Of the Law of Nature and of Nations,” a work more useful and more worthy to be perused by whosoever studies to be a great man in wisdom, equity, and justice, than all those “decretals and sumless sums,” which the pontifical clerks have doted on, ever since that unfortunate mother famously sinned thrice, and died impenitent of her bringing into the world those two misbegotten infants, and for ever infants, Lombard and Gratian, him the compiler of canon iniquity, the other the Tubalcain of scholastic sophistry, whose overspreading barbarism hath not only infused their own bastardy upon the fruitfullest part of human learning, not only dissipated and dejected the clear light of nature in us, and of nations, but hath tainted also the fountains of divine doctrine, and rendered the pure and solid law of God unbeneficial to us by their calumnious dunceries. Yet this law, which their unskilfulness hath made liable to all ignominy, the purity and wisdom of this law shall be the buckler of our dispute. Liberty of divorce we claim not, we think not but from this law; the dignity, the faith, the authority thereof is now grown among Christians, O astonishment! a labour of no mean difficulty and envy to defend. That it should not be counted a faultering dispense, a flattering permission of sin, the bill of adultery, a snare, is the expense of all this apology. And all that we solicit is, that it may be suffered to stand in the place where God set it, amidst the firmament of his holy laws, to shine, as it was wont, upon the weaknesses and errors of men, perishing else in the sincerity of their honest purposes: for certain there is no memory of whoredoms and adulteries left among us now, when this warranted freedom of God’s own giving is made dangerous and discarded for a scroll of license. It must be your suffrages and votes, O Englishmen, that this exploded decree of God and Moses may scape and come off fair, without the censure of a shameful abrogating: which, if yonder sun ride sure, and means not to break word with us to-morrow, was never yet abrogated by our Saviour. Give sentence if you please, that the frivolous canon may reverse the infallible judgment of Moses and his great director. Or if it be the reformed writers, whose doctrine persuades this rather, their reasons I dare affirm are all silenced, unless it be only this. Paræus on the Corinthians would prove, that hardness of heart in divorce is no more now to be permitted, but to be amerced with fine and imprisonment. I am not willing to discover the forgettings of reverend men, yet here I must: what article or clause of the whole new covenant can Paræus bring, to exasperate the judicial law upon any infirmity under the gospel? I say infirmity, for if it were the high hand of sin, the law as little would have endured it as the gospel; it would not stretch to the dividing of an inheritance; it refused to condemn adultery, not that these things should not be done at law, but to show that the gospel hath not the least influence upon judicial courts, much less to make them sharper and more heavy, least of all to arraign before a temporal judge that which the law without summons acquitted. “But,” saith he, “the law was the time of youth, under violent affections; the gospel in us is mature age, and ought to subdue affections.” True, and so ought the law too, if they be found inordinate, and not merely natural and blameless. Next I distinguish, that the time of the law is compared to youth and pupilage in respect of the ceremonial part, which led the Jews as children through corporal and garish rudiments, until the fulness of time should reveal to them the higher lessons of faith and redemption. This is not meant of the moral part; therein it soberly concerned them not to be babies, but to be men in good earnest: the sad and awful majesty of that law was not to be jested with: to bring a bearded nonage with lascivious dispensations before that throne, had been a lewd affront, as it is now a gross mistake. But what discipline is this, Paræus, to nourish violent affections in youth, by cockering and wanton indulgences, and to chastise them in mature age with a boyish rod of correction? How much more coherent is it to Scripture, that the law as a strict schoolmaster should have punished every trespass without indulgence so baneful to youth, and that the gospel should now correct that by admonition and reproof only, in free and mature age, which was punished with stripes in the childhood and bondage of the law? What therefore it allowed then so fairly, much less is to be whipped now, especially in penal courts: and if it ought now to trouble the conscience, why did that angry accuser and condemner law reprieve it? So then, neither from Moses nor from Christ hath the magistrate any authority to proceed against it. But what, shall then the disposal of that power return again to the master of a family? Wherefore not, since God there put it, and the presumptuous canon thence bereft it? This only must be provided, that the ancient manner be observed in the presence of the minister and other grave selected elders, who after they shall have admonished and pressed upon him the words of our Saviour, and he shall have protested in the faith of the eternal gospel, and the hope he has of happy resurrection, that otherwise than thus he cannot do, and thinks himself and this his case not contained in that prohibition of divorce which Christ pronounced, the matter not being of malice, but of nature, and so not capable of reconciling; to constrain him further were to unchristian him, to unman him, to throw the mountain of Sinai upon him, with the weight of the whole law to boot, flat against the liberty and essence of the gospel; and yet nothing available either to the sanctity of marriage, the good of husband, wife, or children; nothing profitable either to church or commonwealth, but hurtful and pernicious in all these respects. But this will bring in confusion: yet these cautious mistrusters might consider, that what they thus object lights not upon this book, but upon that which I engage against them, the book of God and Moses, with all the wisdom and providence which had forecast the worst of confusion that could succeed, and yet thought fit of such a permission. But let them be of good cheer, it wrought so little disorder among the Jews, that from Moses till after the captivity, not one of the prophets thought it worth the rebuking; for that of Malachi well looked into will appear to be not against divorcing, but rather against keeping strange concubines, to the vexation of their Hebrew wives. If therefore we Christians may be thought as good and tractable as the Jews were, (and certainly the prohibitors of divorce presume us to be better,) then less confusion is to be feared for this among us than was among them. If we be worse, or but as bad, which lamentable examples confirm we are, then have we more, or at least as much, need of this permitted law, as they to whom God therefore gave it (as they say) under a harsher covenant. Let not therefore the frailty of man go on thus inventing needless troubles to itself, to groan under the false imagination of a strictness never imposed from above; enjoining that for duty, which is an impossible and vain supererogating. “Be not righteous overmuch,” is the counsel of Ecclesiastes; “why shouldst thou destroy thyself?” Let us not be thus overcurious to strain at atoms, and yet to stop every vent and cranny of permissive liberty, lest nature wanting those needful pores and breathing-places, which God hath not debarred our weakness, either suddenly break out into some wide rupture of open vice and frantic heresy, or else inwardly fester with repining and blasphemous thoughts, under an unreasonable and fruitless rigour of unwarranted law. Against which evils nothing can more beseem the religion of the church, or the wisdom of the state, than to consider timely and provide. And in so doing let them not doubt but they shall vindicate the misreputed honour of God and his great lawgiver, by suffering him to give his own laws according to the condition of man’s nature best known to him, without the unsufferable imputation of dispensing legally with many ages of ratified adultery. They shall recover the misattended words of Christ to the sincerity of their true sense from manifold contradictions, and shall open them with the key of charity. Many helpless Christians they shall arise from the depth of sadness and distress, utterly unfitted as they are to serve God or man: many they shall reclaim from obscure and giddy sects, many regain from dissolute and brutish license, many from desperate hardness, if ever that were justly pleaded. They shall set free many daughters of Israel not wanting much of her sad plight whom “Satan had bound eighteen years.” Man they shall restore to his just dignity and prerogative in nature, preferring the soul’s free peace before the promiscuous draining of a carnal rage. Marriage, from a perilous hazard and snare, they shall reduce to be a more certain haven and retirement of happy society; when they shall judge according to God and Moses, (and how not then according to Christ,) when they shall judge it more wisdom and goodness to break that covenant seemingly, and keep it really, than by compulsion of law to keep it seemingly, and by compulsion of blameless nature to break it really, at least if it were ever truly joined. The vigour of discipline they may then turn with better success upon the prostitute looseness of the times, when men, finding in themselves the infirmities of former ages, shall not be constrained above the gift of God in them to unprofitable and impossible observances, never required from the civilest, the wisest, the holiest nations, whose other excellences in moral virtue they never yet could equal. Last of all, to those whose mind is still to maintain textual restrictions, whereof the bare sound cannot consist sometimes with humanity, much less with charity; I would ever answer, by putting them in remembrance of a command above all commands, which they seem to have forgot, and who spake it: in comparison whereof, this which they so exalt is but a petty and subordinate precept. “Let them go” therefore with whom I am loth to couple them, yet they will needs run into the same blindness with the Pharisees; “let them go therefore,” and consider well what this lesson means, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice;” for on that “saying all the law and prophets depend,” much more the gospel, whose end and excellence is mercy and peace. Or if they cannot learn that, how will they hear this? which yet I shall not doubt to leave with them as a conclusion, That God the Son hath put all other things under his own feet, but his commandments he hath left all under the feet of charity.
[* ]The first edition has supernatural.