Front Page Titles (by Subject) TETRACHORDON. EXPOSITIONS UPON THE FOUR CHIEF PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE WHICH TREAT OF MARRIAGE, OR NULLITIES IN MARRIAGE. - The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 1
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TETRACHORDON. EXPOSITIONS UPON THE FOUR CHIEF PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE WHICH TREAT OF MARRIAGE, OR NULLITIES IN MARRIAGE. - 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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ON GEN. i 27, 28, COMPARED AND EXPLAINED BY GEN. ii. 18, 23, 24. DEUT. xxiv. 1. 2. MATT. v. 31, 32, WITH MATT. xix. FROM VER. 3 TO 11. 1 COR. vii. FROM VER. 10 TO 16.
wherein the doctrine and discipline of divorce, as was lately published, is confirmed by explanation of scripture, by testimony of ancient fathers, of civil laws in the primitive church, of famousest reformed divines; and lastly, by an intended act of the parliament and church of england in the last year of edward the sixth.
TO THE PARLIAMENT.
That which I knew to be the part of a good magistrate, aiming at true liberty through the right information of religious and civil life, and that which I saw, and was partaker of, your solemn vows and covenants, parliament of England! your actions also manifestly tending to exalt the truth, and to depress the tyranny of error and ill custom, with more constancy and prowess than ever yet any, since that parliament which put the first sceptre of this kingdom into his hand whom God and extraordinary virtue made their monarch; were the causes that moved me, one else not placing much in the eminence of a dedication, to present your high notice with a discourse, conscious to itself of nothing more than of diligence, and firm affection to the public good. And that ye took it so as wise and impartial men, obtaining so great power and dignity, are wont to accept, in matters both doubtful and important, what they think offered them well meant, and from a rational ability, I had no less than to persuade me. And on that persuasion am returned, as to a famous and free port, myself also bound by more than a maritime law, to expose as freely what fraughtage I conceive to bring of no trifles. For although it be generally known, how and by whom ye have been instigated to a hard censure of that former book, entitled, “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” an opinion held by some of the best among reformed writers without scandal or confutement, though now thought new and dangerous by some of our severe Gnostics, whose little reading and less meditating, holds ever with hardest obstinacy that which it took up with easiest credulity; I do not find yet that aught, for the furious incitements which have been used, hath issued by your appointment, that might give the least interruption or disrepute either to the author, or to the book. Which he who will be better advised than to call your neglect or connivance at a thing imagined so perilous, can attribute it to nothing more justly, than to the deep and quiet stream of your direct and calm deliberations, that gave not way either to the fervent rashness or the immaterial gravity of those who ceased not to exasperate without cause. For which uprightness and incorrupt refusal of what ye were incensed to, lords and commons! (though it were done to justice, not to me, and was a peculiar demonstration how far your ways are different from the rash vulgar,) besides those allegiances of oath and duty, which are my public debt to your public labours, I have yet a store of gratitude laid up, which cannot be exhausted; and such thanks perhaps they may live to be, as shall more than whisper to the next ages. Yet that the author may be known to ground himself upon his own innocence, and the merit of his cause, not upon the favour of a diversion, or a delay to any just censure, but wishes rather he might see those his detractors at any fair meeting, as learned debatements are privileged with a due freedom under equal moderators; I shall here briefly single one of them, (because he hath obliged me to it,) who, I persuade me, having scarce read the book, nor knowing him who writ it, or at least feigning the latter, hath not forborn to scandalize him, unconferred with, unadmonished, undealt with by any pastorly or brotherly convincement, in the most open and invective manner, and at the most bitter opportunity that drift or set design could have invented. And this, when as the canon law, though commonly most favouring the boldness of their priests, punishes the naming or traducing of any person in the pulpit, was by him made no scruple. If I shall therefore take license by the right of nature, and that liberty wherein I was born, to defend myself publicly against a printed calumny, and do willingly appeal to those judges to whom I am accused, it can be no immoderate or unallowable course of seeking so just and needful reparations. Which I had done long since, had not those employments, which are now visible, deferred me. It was preached before ye, lords and commons! in August last, upon a special day of humiliation, that “there was a wicked book abroad,” and ye were taxed of sin that it was yet “uncensured, the book deserving to be burnt;” and “impudence” also was charged upon the author, who durst “set his name to it, and dedicate it to yourselves!” First, lords and commons! I pray to that God, before whom ye then were prostrate, so to forgive ye those omissions and trespasses, which ye desire most should find forgiveness, as I shall soon show to the world how easily ye absolve yourselves of that which this man calls your sin, and is indeed your wisdom, and your nobleness, whereof to this day ye have done well not to repent. He terms it “a wicked book,” and why but “for allowing other causes of divorce, than Christ and his apostles mention?” and with the same censure condemns of wickedness not only Martin Bucer, that elect instrument of reformation, highly honoured, and had in reverence by Edward the Sixth, and his whole parliament, whom also I had published in English by a good providence, about a week before this calumnious digression was preached; so that if he knew not Bucer then, as he ought to have known, he might at least have known him some months after, ere the sermon came in print; wherein notwithstanding he persists in his former sentence, and condemns again of wickedness, either ignorantly or wilfully, not only Martin Bucer, and all the choicest and holiest of our reformers, but the whole parliament and church of England in those best and purest times of Edward the Sixth. All which I shall prove with good evidence, at the end of these explanations. And then let it be judged and seriously considered with what hope the affairs of our religion are committed to one among others, who hath now only left him which of the twain he will choose, whether this shall be his palpable ignorance, or the same wickedness of his own book, which he so lavishly imputes to the writings of other men: and whether this of his, that thus peremptorily defames and attaints of wickedness unspotted churches, unblemished parliaments, and the most eminent restorers of Christian doctrine, deserve not to be burnt first. And if his heat had burst out only against the opinion, his wonted passion had no doubt been silently borne with wonted patience. But since, against the charity of that solemn place and meeting, it served him further to inveigh opprobriously against the person, branding him with no less than impudence, only for setting his name to what he had written; I must be excused not to be so wanting to the defence of an honest name, or to the reputation of those good men who afford me their society, but to be sensible of such a foul endeavoured disgrace: not knowing aught either in mine own deserts, or the laws of this land, why I should be subject, in such a notorious and illegal manner, to the intemperances of this man’s preaching choler. And indeed to be so prompt and ready in the midst of his humbleness, to toss reproaches of this bulk and size, argues as if they were the weapons of his exercise, I am sure not of his ministry, or of that day’s work. Certainly to subscribe my name at what I was to own, was what the state had ordered and requires. And he who lists not to be malicious, would call it ingenuity, clear conscience, willingness to avouch what might be questioned, or to be better instructed. And if God were so displeased with those, Isa. lviii. who “on the solemn fast were wont to smite with the fist of wickedness,” it could be no sign of his own humiliation accepted, which disposed him to smite so keenly with a reviling tongue. But if only to have writ my name must be counted “impudence,” how doth this but justify another, who might affirm with as good warrant, that the late discourse of “Scripture and Reason,” which is certain to be chiefly his own draught, was published without a name, out of base fear, and the sly avoidance of what might follow to his detriment, if the party at court should hap to reach him? And I, to have set my name, where he accuses me to have set it, am so far from recanting, that I offer my hand also if need be, to make good the same opinion which I there maintain, by inevitable consequences drawn parallel from his own principal arguments in that of “Scripture and Reason:” which I shall pardon him if he can deny, without shaking his own composition to pieces. The “impudence” therefore, since he weighed so little what a gross revile that was to give his equal, I send him back again for a phylactery to stitch upon his arrogance, that censures not only before conviction, so bitterly without so much as one reason given, but censures the congregation of his governors to their faces, for not being so hasty as himself to censure.
And whereas my other crime is, that I addressed the dedication of what I had studied to the parliament; how could I better declare the loyalty which I owe to that supreme and majestic tribunal, and the opinion which I have of the high entrusted judgment, and personal worth assembled in that place? With the same affections therefore, and the same addicted fidelity, parliament of England! I here again have brought to your perusal on the same argument these following expositions of Scripture. The former book, as pleased some to think, who were thought judicious, had of reason in it to a sufficiency; what they required was, that the Scriptures there alleged might be discussed more fully. To their desires thus much further hath been laboured in the Scriptures. Another sort also, who wanted more authorities and citations, have not been here unthought of. If all this attain not to satisfy them, as I am confident that none of those our great controversies at this day hath had a more demonstrative explaining, I must confess to admire what it is: for doubtless it is not reason now-a-days that satisfies or suborns the common credence of men, to yield so easily, and grow so vehement in matters much more disputable, and far less conducing to the daily good and peace of life.
Some whose necessary shifts have long enured them to cloak the defects of their unstudied years, and hatred now to learn, under the appearance of a grave solidity, (which estimation they have gained among weak perceivers,) find the ease of slighting what they cannot refute, and are determined, as I hear, to hold it not worth the answering. In which number I must be forced to reckon that doctor, who in a late equivocating treatise plausibly set afloat against the Dippers, diving the while himself with a more deep prelatical malignance against the present state and church-government, mentions with ignominy “the Tractate of Divorce;” yet answers nothing, but instead thereof (for which I do not commend his marshalling) sets Moses also among the crew of his Anabaptists; as one who to a holy nation, the commonwealth of Israel, gave laws “breaking the bonds of marriage to inordinate lust.” These are no mean surges of blasphemy, not only dipping Moses the divine lawgiver, but dashing with a high hand against the justice and purity of God himself: as these ensuing scriptures plainly and freely handled shall verify, to the lanching of that old apostemated error. Him therefore I leave now to his repentance.
Others, which is their courtesy, confess that wit and parts may do much to make that seem true which is not; as was objected to Socrates by them who could not resist his efficacy, that he ever made the worst cause seem the better; and thus thinking themselves discharged of the difficulty, love not to wade further into the fear of a convincement. These will be their excuses to decline the full examining of this serious point. So much the more I press it and repeat it, lords and commons! that ye beware while time is, ere this grand secret, and only art of ignorance affecting tyranny, grow powerful, and rule among us. For if sound argument and reason shall be thus put off, either by an undervaluing silence, or the masterly censure of a railing word or two in the pulpit, or by rejecting the force of truth, as the mere cunning of eloquence and sophistry; what can be the end of this, but that all good learning and knowledge will suddenly decay? Ignorance, and illiterate presumption, which is yet but our disease, will turn at length into our very constitution, and prove the hectic evil of this age: worse to be feared, if it get once to reign over us, than any fifth monarchy. If this shall be the course, that what was wont to be a chief commendation, and the ground of other men’s confidence in an author, his diligence, his learning, his elocution, whether by right or by ill meaning granted him, shall be turned now to a disadvantage and suspicion against him, that what he writes, though unconfuted, must therefore be mistrusted, therefore not received for the industry, the exactness, the labour in it, confessed to be more than ordinary; as if wisdom had now forsaken the thirsty and laborious inquirer, to dwell against her nature with the arrogant and shallow babbler; to what purpose all those pains and that continual searching required of us by Solomon to the attainment of understanding? Why are men bred up with such care and expense to a life of perpetual studies? Why do yourselves with such endeavour seek to wipe off the imputation to discourage the progress and advance of learning? He therefore, whose heart can bear him to the high pitch of your noble enterprises, may easily assure himself, that the prudence and far-judging circumspectness of so grave a magistracy sitting in parliament, who have before them the prepared and purposed act of their most religious predecessors to imitate in this question, cannot reject the clearness of these reasons, and these allegations both here and formerly offered them; nor can overlook the necessity of ordaining more wholesomely and more humanely in the casualties of divorce, than our laws have yet established, if the most urgent and excessive grievances happening in domestic life be worth the laying to heart: which, unless charity be far from us, cannot be neglected. And that these things, both in the right constitution, and in the right reformation of a commonwealth, call for speediest redress, and ought to be the first considered, enough was urged in what was prefaced to that monument of Bucer, which I brought to your remembrance, and the other time before. Henceforth, except new cause be given, I shall say less and less. For if the law make not timely provision, let the law, as reason is, bear the censure of those consequences, which her own default now more evidently produces. And if men want manliness to expostulate the right of their due ransom, and to second their own occasions, they may sit hereafter and bemoan themselves to have neglected through faintness the only remedy of their sufferings, which a seasonable and well-grounded speaking might have purchased them. And perhaps in time to come, others will know how to esteem what is not every day put into their hands, when they have marked events, and better weighed how hurtful and unwise it is, to hide a secret and pernicious rupture under the ill counsel of a bashful silence. But who would distrust aught, or not be ample in his hopes of your wise and Christian determinations? who have the prudence to consider, and should have the goodness, like gods, as ye are called, to find out readily, and by just law to administer those redresses, which have of old, not without God ordaining, been granted to the adversities of mankind, ere they who needed were put to ask. Certainly, if any other have enlarged his thoughts to expect from this government, so justly undertaken, and by frequent assistances from Heaven so apparently upheld, glorious changes and renovations both in church and state, he among the foremost might be named, who prays that the fate of England may tarry for no other deliverers.
Genesis i. 27.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them,
28. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, &c.
Genesis ii. 18.
And the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone, I will make him a help meet for him.
23. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of a man.
24. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.
Genesis i. 27.
“So God created man in his own image.”] To be informed aright in the whole history of marriage, that we may know for certain, not by a forced yoke, but by an impartial definition, what marriage is, and what is not marriage: it will undoubtedly be safest, fairest, and most with our obedience, to inquire, as our Saviour’s direction is, how it was in the beginning. And that we begin so high as man created after God’s own image, there want not earnest causes. For nothing now-a-days is more degenerately forgotten, than the true dignity of man, almost in every respect, but especially in this prime institution of matrimony, wherein his native pre-eminence ought most to shine. Although if we consider that just and natural privileges men neither can rightly seek, nor dare fully claim, unless they be allied to inward goodness and stedfast knowledge, and that the want of this quells them to a servile sense of their own conscious unworthiness, it may save the wondering why in this age many are so opposite both to human and to Christian liberty, either while they understand not, or envy others that do; contenting, or rather priding themselves in a specious humility and strictness bred out of low ignorance, that never yet conceived the freedom of the gospel; and is therefore by the apostle to the Colossians ranked with no better company than will worship and the mere show of wisdom. And how injurious herein they are, if not to themselves, yet to their neighbours, and not to them only, but to the all-wise and bounteous grace offered us in our redemption, will orderly appear.
“In the image of God created he him.”] It is enough determined, that this image of God, wherein man was created, is meant wisdom, purity, justice, and rule over all creatures. All which, being lost in Adam, was recovered with gain by the merits of Christ. For albeit our first parent had lordship over sea, and land, and air, yet there was a law without him, as a guard set over him. But Christ having cancelled the handwriting of ordinances which was against us, Col. ii. 14, and interpreted the fulfilling of all through charity, hath in that respect set us over law, in the free custody of his love, and left us victorious under the guidance of his living spirit, not under the dead letter; to follow that which most edifics, most aids and furthers a religious life, makes us holiest and likest to his immortal image; not that which makes us most conformable and captive to civil and subordinate precepts: whereof the strictest observance may ofttimes prove the destruction not only of many innocent persons and families, but of whole nations. Although indeed no ordinance human or from heaven can bind against the good of man; so that to keep them strictly against that end, is all one with to break them. Men of most renowned virtue have sometimes by transgressing most truly kept the law; and wisest magistrates have permitted and dispensed it; while they looked not peevishly at the letter, but with a greater spirit at the good of mankind, if always not written in the characters of law, yet engraven in the heart of man by a divine impression. This heathens could see, as the well-read in story can recount of Solon and Epaminondas, whom Cicero in his first book of “Invention” nobly defends. “All law,” saith he, “we ought to refer to the common good, and interpret by that, not by the scroll of letters. No man observes law for law’s sake, but for the good of them for whom it was made.” The rest might serve well to lecture these times, deluded through belly doctrines into a devout slavery. The Scripture also affords David in the showbread, Hezekiah in the passover, sound and safe transgressors of the literal command, which also dispensed not seldom with itself; and taught us on what just occasions to do so: until our Saviour, for whom that great and godlike work was reserved, redeemed us to a state above prescriptions, by dissolving the whole law into charity. And have we not the soul to understand this, and must we, against this glory of God’s transcendant love towards us, be still the servants of a literal indictment?
“Created he him.”] It might be doubted why he saith, “In the image of God created he him,” not them, as well as “male and female” them; especially since that image might be common to them both, but male and female could not, however the Jews fable and please themselves with the accidental concurrence of Plato’s wit, as if man at first had been created hermaphrodite: but then it must have been male and female created he him. So had the image of God been equally common to them both, it had no doubt been said, in the image of God created he them. But St. Paul ends the controversy, by explaining, that the woman is not primarily and immediately the image of God, but in reference to the man, “The head of the woman,” saith he, 1 Cor. xi. “is the man;” “he the image and glory of God, she the glory of the man;” he not for her, but she for him. Therefore his precept is, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as is fit in the Lord,” Col. iii. 18; “in every thing,” Eph. v. 24. Nevertheless man is not to hold her as a servant, but receives her into a part of that empire, which God proclaims him to, though not equally, yet largely, as his own image and glory: for it is no small glory to him, that a creature so like him should be made subject to him. Not but that particular exceptions may have place, if she exceed her husband in prudence and dexterity, and he contentedly yield: for then a superior and more natural law comes in, that the wiser should govern the less wise, whether male or female. But that which far more easily and obediently follows from this verse is, that, seeing woman was purposely made for man, and he her head, it cannot stand before the breath of this divine utterance, that man the portraiture of God, joining to himself for his intended good and solace an inferior sex, should so become her thrall, whose wilfulness or inability to be a wife frustrates the occasional end of her creation; but that he may acquit himself to freedom by his natural birthright, and that indelible character of priority, which God crowned him with. If it be urged, that sin hath lost him this, the answer is not far to seek, that from her the sin first proceeded, which keeps her justly in the same proportion still beneath. She is not to gain by being first in the transgression, that man should further lose to her, because already he hath lost by her means. Oft it happens, that in this matter he is without fault; so that his punishment herein is causeless: and God hath the praise in our speeches of him, to sort his punishment in the same kind with the offence. Suppose he erred; it is not the intent of God or man, to hunt an error so to the death with a revenge beyond all measure and proportion. But if we argue thus, this affliction is befallen him for his sin, therefore he must bear it without seeking the only remedy; first, it will be false, that all affliction comes for sin, as in the case of Job, and of the man born blind, John ix. 3, was evident; next, by that reason, all miseries coming for sin, we must let them all lie upon us like the vermin of an Indian Catharist, which his fond religion forbids him to molest. Were it a particular punishment inflicted through the anger of God upon a person, or upon a land, no law hinders us in that regard, no law but bids us remove it if we can; much more if it be a dangerous temptation withal; much more yet, if it be certainly a temptation, and not certainly a punishment though a pain. As for what they say we must bear with patience; to bear with patience, and to seek effectual remedies, implies no contradiction. It may no less be for our disobedience, our unfaithfulness, and other sins against God, that wives become adulterous to the bed; and questionless we ought to take the affliction as patiently as Christian prudence would wish: yet hereby is not lost the right of divorcing for adultery. No, you say, because our Saviour excepted that only. But why, if he were so bent to punish our sins, and try our patience in binding on us a disastrous marriage, why did he except adultery? Certainly to have been bound from divorce in that case also had been as plentiful a punishment to our sins, and not too little work for the patientest. Nay, perhaps they will say it was too great a sufferance; and with as slight a reason, for no wise man but would sooner pardon the act of adultery once and again committed by a person worth pity and forgiveness, than to lead a wearisome life of unloving and unquiet conversation with one who neither affects nor is affected, much less with one who exercises all bitterness, and would commit adultery too, but for envy lest the persecuted condition should thereby get the benefit of his freedom. It is plain therefore, that God enjoins not this supposed strictness of not divorcing either to punish us, or to try our patience.
Moreover, if man be the image of God, which consists in holiness, and woman ought in the same respect to be the image and companion of man, in such wise to be loved as the church is beloved of Christ; and if, as God is the head of Christ, and Christ the head of man, so man is the head of woman; I cannot see by this golden dependence of headship and subjection, but that piety and religion is the main tie of Christian matrimony: so as if there be found between the pair a notorious disparity either of wickedness or heresy, the husband by all manner of right is disengaged from a creature, not made and inflicted on him to the vexation of his righteousness: the wife also, as her subjection is terminated in the Lord, being herself the redeemed of Christ, is not still bound to be the vassal of him, who is the bondslave of Satan: she being now neither the image nor the glory of such a person, nor made for him, nor left in bondage to him; but hath recourse to the wing of charity, and protection of the church, unless there be a hope on either side: yet such a hope must be meant, as may be a rational hope, and not an endless servitude. Of which hereafter.
But usually it is objected, that if it be thus, then there can be no true marriage between misbelievers and irreligious persons. I might answer, let them see to that who are such; the church hath no commission to judge those without: 1 Cor. v. But this they will say perhaps, is but penuriously to resolve a doubt. I answer therefore, that where they are both irreligious, the marriage may be yet true enough to them in a civil relation. For there are left some remains of God’s image in man, as he is merely man; which reason God gives against the shedding of man’s blood, Gen. ix. as being made in God’s image, without expressing whether he were a good man or a bad, to exempt the slayer from punishment. So that in those marriages where the parties are alike void of religion, the wife owes a civil homage and subjection, the husband owes a civil loyalty. But where the yoke is misyoked, heretic with faithful, godly with ungodly, to the grievance and manifest endangering of a brother or sister, reasons of a higher strain than matrimonial bear sway; unless the gospel, instead of freeing us, debase itself to make us bond-men, and suffer evil to control good.
“Male and female created he them.”] This contains another end of matching man and woman, being the right and lawfulness of the marriage-bed; though much inferior to the former end of her being his image and help in religious society. And who of weakest insight may not see, that this creating of them male and female cannot in any order of reason, or Christianity, be of such moment against the better and higher purposes of their creation, as to enthral husband or wife to duties or to sufferings, unworthy and unbeseeming the image of God in them? Now whenas not only men, but good men, do stand upon their right, their estimation, their dignity, in all other actions and deportments, with warrant enough and good conscience, as having the image of God in them, it will not be difficult to determine what is unworthy and unseemly for a man to do or suffer in wedlock: and the like proportionally may be found for woman, if we love not to stand disputing below the principles of humanity. He that said, “Male and female created he them,” immediately before that said also in the same verse, “in the image of God created he him,” and redoubled it, that our thoughts might not be so full of dregs as to urge this poor consideration of male and female, without remembering the nobleness of that former repetition; lest when God sends a wise eye to examine our trivial glosses, they be found extremely to creep upon the ground: especially since they confess, that what here concerns marriage is but a brief touch, only preparative to the institution which follows more expressly in the next chapter: and that Christ so took it, as desiring to be briefest with them who came to tempt him, account shall be given in due place.
Ver. 28. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth,” &c.
This declares another end of matrimony, the propagation of mankind; and is again repeated to Noah and his sons. Many things might be noted on this place not ordinary, nor unworth the noting; but I undertook not a general comment. Hence therefore we see the desire of children is honest and pious; if we be not less zealous in our Christianity than Plato was in his heathenism; who in the sixth of his laws, counts offspring therefore desirable, that we may leave in our stead sons of our sons, continual servants of God: a religious and prudent desire, if people knew as well what were required to breeding as to begetting; which desire perhaps was a cause, why the Jews hardly could endure a barren wedlock: and Philo, in his book of special laws, esteems him only worth pardon, that sends not barrenness away. Carvilius, the first recorded in Rome to have sought divorce, had it granted him for the barrenness of his wife, upon his oath that he married to the end he might have children; as Dionysius and Gellius are authors. But to dismiss a wife only for barrenness, is hard: and yet in some the desire of children is so great, and so just, yea sometimes so necessary, that to condemn such a one to a childless age, the fault apparently not being in him, might seem perhaps more strict than needed. Sometimes inheritances, crowns, and dignities are so interested and annexed in their common peace and good to such or such lineal descent, that it may prove of great moment both in the affairs of men and of religion, to consider thoroughly what might be done herein, notwithstanding the waywardness of our school doctors.
Genesis ii. 18.
“And the Lord said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.”
Ver. 23. “And Adam said,” &c. Ver. 24. “Therefore shall a man leave.” &c.
This second chapter is granted to be a commentary on the first, and these verses granted to be an exposition of that former verse, “Male and female created he them:” and yet when this male and female is by the explicit words of God himself here declared to be not meant other than a fit help, and meet society; some, who would engross to themselves the whole trade of interpreting, will not suffer the clear text of God to do the office of explaining itself.
“And the Lord God said, It is not good.”] A man would think, that the consideration of who spake should raise up the intention of our minds to inquire better, and obey the purpose of so great a speaker: for as we order the business of marriage, that which he here speaks is all made vain; and in the decision of matrimony, or not matrimony, nothing at all regarded. Our presumption hath utterly changed the state and condition of this ordinance: God ordained it in love and helpfulness to be indissoluble, and we in outward act and formality to be a forced bondage; so that being subject to a thousand errors in the best men, if it prove a blessing to any, it is of mere accident, as man’s law hath handled it, and not of institution.
“It is not good for man to be alone.”] Hitherto all things, that have been named, were approved of God to be very good: loneliness is the first thing, which God’s eye named not good: whether it be a thing, or the want of something, I labour not; let it be their tendance, who have the art to be industriously idle. And here “alone” is meant alone without woman; otherwise Adam had the company of God himself, and angels to converse with; all creatures to delight him seriously, or to make him sport. God could have created him out of the same mould a thousand friends and brother Adams to have been his consorts; yet for all this, till Eve was given him, God reckoned him to be alone.
“It is not good.”] God here presents himself like to a man deliberating; both to show us that the matter is of high consequence, and that he intended to found it according to natural reason, not impulsive command; but that the duty should arise from the reason of it, not the reason be swallowed up in a reasonless duty. “Not good,” was as much to Adam before his fall as not pleasing, not expedient; but since the coming of sin into the world, to him who hath not received the continence, it is not only not expedient to be alone, but plainly sinful. And therefore he who wilfully abstains from marriage, not being supernaturally gifted, and he who by making the yoke of marriage unjust and intolerable, causes men to abhor it, are both in a diabolical sin, equal to that of Antichrist, who forbids to marry. For what difference at all whether he abstain men from marrying, or restrain them in a marriage happening totally discommodious, distasteful, dishonest, and pernicious to him, without the appearance of his fault? For God does not here precisely say, I make a female to this male, as he did before; but expounding himself here on purpose, he saith, because it is not good for man to be alone, I make him therefore a meet help. God supplies the privation of not good, with the perfect gift of a real and positive good: it is man’s perverse cooking, who hath turned this bounty of God into a scorpion, either by weak and shallow constructions, or by proud arrogance and cruelty to them who neither in their purposes nor in their actions have offended against the due honour of wedlock.
Now whereas the apostle’s speaking in the spirit, 1 Cor. vii. pronounces quite contrary to this word of God, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” and God cannot contradict himself; it instructs us, that his commands and words, especially such as bear the manifest title of some good to man, are not to be so strictly wrung, as to command without regard to the most natural and miserable necessities of mankind. Therefore the apostle adds a limitation in the 26th verse of that chapter, for the present necessity it is good; which he gives us doubtless as a pattern how to reconcile other places by the general rule of charity.
“For man to be alone.”] Some would have the sense hereof to be in respect of procreation only: and Austin contest that manly friendship in all other regard had been a more becoming solace for Adam, than to spend so many secret years in an empty world with one woman. But our writers deservedly reject this crabbed opinion; and defend that there is a peculiar comfort in the married state beside the genial bed, which no other society affords. No mortal nature can endure either in the actions of religion, or study of wisdom, without sometime slackening the cords of intense thought and labour: which lest we should think faulty, God himself conceals us not his own recreations before the world was built; “I was,” saith the eternal wisdom, “daily his delight, playing always before him.” And to him indeed wisdom is as a high tower of pleasure, but to us a steep hill, and we toiling ever about the bottom: he executes with ease the exploits of his omnipotence, as easy as with us it is to will: but no worthy enterprise can be done by us without continual plodding and wearisomeness to our faint and sensitive abilities. We cannot therefore always be contemplative, or pragmatical abroad, but have need of some delightful intermissions, wherein the enlarged soul may leave off a while her severe schooling; and, like a glad youth in wandering vacancy, may keep her holidays to joy and harmless pastime: which as she cannot well do without company, so in no company so well as where the different sex in most resembling unlikeness, and most unlike resemblance, cannot but please best, and be pleased in the aptitude of that variety. Whereof lest we should be too timorous, in the awe that our flat sages would form us and dress us, wisest Solomon among his gravest Proverbs countenances a kind of ravishment and erring fondness in the entertainment of wedded leisures; and in the Song of Songs, which is generally believed, even in the jolliest expressions, to figure the spousals of the church with Christ, sings of a thousand raptures between those two lovely ones far on the hither side of carnal enjoyment. By these instances, and more which might be brought, we may imagine how indulgently God provided against man’s loneliness; that he approved it not, as by himself declared not good; that he approved the remedy thereof, as of his own ordaining, consequently good: and as he ordained it, so doubtless proportionably to our fallen estate he gives it; else were his ordinance at least in vain, and we for all his gifts still empty handed. Nay, such an unbounteous giver we should make him, as in the fables Jupiter was to Ixion, giving him a cloud instead of Juno, giving him a monstrous issue by her, the breed of Centaurs, a neglected and unloved race, the fruits of a delusive marriage; and lastly, giving him her with a damnation to that wheel in hell, from a life thrown into the midst of temptations and disorders. But God is no deceitful giver, to bestow that on us for a remedy of loneliness, which if it bring not a sociable mind as well as a conjunctive body, leaves us no less alone than before; and if it bring a mind perpetually averse and disagreeable, betrays us to a worse condition than the most deserted loneliness. God cannot in the justice of his own promise and institution so unexpectedly mock us, by forcing that upon us as the remedy of solitude, which wraps us in a misery worse than any wilderness, as the Spirit of God himself judges, Prov. xix., especially knowing that the best and wisest men amidst the sincere and most cordial designs of their heart, do daily err in choosing. We may conclude therefore, seeing orthodoxal expositors confess to our hands, that by loneliness is not only meant the want of copulation, and that man is not less alone by turning in a body to him, unless there be within it a mind answerable; that it is a work more worthy the care and consultation of God to provide for the worthiest part of man, which is his mind, and not unnaturally to set it beneath the formalities and respects of the body, to make it a servant of its own vassal: I say, we may conclude that such a marriage, wherein the mind is so disgraced and vilified below the body’s interest, and can have no just or tolerable contentment, is not of God’s institution, and therefore no marriage. Nay, in concluding this, I say we conclude no more than what the common expositors themselves give us, both in that which I have recited, and much more hereafter. But the truth is, they give us in such a manner, as they who leave their own mature positions like the eggs of an ostrich in the dust; I do but lay them in the sun; their own pregnancies hatch the truth; and I am taxed of novelties and strange producements, while they, like that inconsiderate bird, know not that these are their own natural breed.
“I will make him a help meet for him.”] Here the heavenly institutor, as if he laboured not to be mistaken by the supercilious hypocrisy of those that love to master their brethren, and to make us sure that he gave us not now a servile yoke, but an amiable knot, contents not himself to say, I will make him a wife; but resolving to give us first the meaning before the name of a wife, saith graciously, “I will make him a help meet for him.” And here again, as before, I do not require more full and fair deductions than the whole consent of our divines usually raise from this text, that in matrimony there must be first a mutual help to piety, next to civil fellowship of love and amity, then to generation, so to household affairs, lastly the remedy of incontinence. And commonly they reckon them in such order, as leaves generation and incontinence to be last considered. This I amaze me at, that though all the superior and nobler ends both of marriage and of the married persons be absolutely frustrate, the matrimony stirs not, loses no hold, remains as rooted as the centre: but if the body bring but in a complaint of frigidity, by that cold application only this adamantine Alp of wedlock has leave to dissolve; which else all the machinations of religious or civil reason at the suit of a distressed mind, either for divine worship or human conversation violated, cannot unfasten. What courts of concupiscence are these, wherein fleshly appetite is heard before right reason, lust before love or devotion? They may be pious Christians together, they may be loving and friendly, they may be helpful to each other in the family, but they cannot couple; that shall divorce them, though either party would not. They can neither serve God together, nor one be at peace with the other, nor be good in the family one to other, but live as they were dead, or live as they were deadly enemies in a cage together; it is all one, they can couple, they shall not divorce till death, not though this sentence be their death. What is this besides tyranny, but to turn nature upside down, to make both religion and the mind of man wait upon the slavish errands of the body, and not the body to follow either the sanctity or the sovereignty of the mind, unspeakably wronged, and with all equity complaining? what is this but to abuse the sacred and mysterious bed of marriage to be the compulsive style of an ingrateful and malignant lust, stirred up only from a carnal acrimony, without either love or peace, or regard to any other thing holy or human? This I admire, how possibly it should inhabit thus long in the sense of so many disputing theologians, unless it be the lowest lees of a canonical infection liver-grown to their sides; which perhaps will never uncling, without the strong abstersive of some heroic magistrate, whose mind, equal to his high office, dares lead him both to know and to do without their frivolous case-putting. For certain he shall have God and this institution plainly on his side. And if it be true both in divinity and law, that consent alone, though copulation never follow, makes a marriage; how can they dissolve it for the want of that which made it not, and not dissolve it for that not continuing which made it and should preserve it in love and reason, and difference it from a brute conjugality?
“Meet for him.”] The original here is more expressive than other languages word for word can render it; but all agree effectual conformity of disposition and affection to be hereby signified; which God as it were, not satisfied with the naming of a help, goes on describing another self, a second self, a very self itself. Yet now there is nothing in the life of man, through our misconstruction, made more uncertain, more hazardous and full of chance, than this divine blessing with such favourable significance here conferred upon us; which if we do but err in our choice, the most unblameable error that can be, err but one minute, one moment after those mighty syllables pronounced, which take upon them to join heaven and hell together unpardonably till death pardon: this divine blessing that looked but now with such a humane smile upon us, and spoke such gentle reason, straight vanishes like a fair sky, and brings on such a scene of cloud and tempest, as turns all to shipwreck without haven or shore, but to a ransomless captivity. And then they tell us it is our sin: but let them be told again, that sin through the mercy of God, hath not made such waste upon us, as to make utterly void to our use any temporal benefit, much less any so much availing to a peaceful and sanctified life, merely for a most incident error, which no wariness can certainly shun. And wherefore serves our happy redemption, and the liberty we have in Christ, but to deliver us from calamitous yokes, not to be lived under without the endangerment of our souls, and to restore us in some competent measure to a right in every good thing both of this life, and the other? Thus we see how treatably and distinctly God hath here taught us what the prime ends of marriage are; mutual solace and help. That we are now, upon the most irreprehensible mistake in choosing, defeated and defrauded of all this original benignity, was begun first through the snare of anti-christian canons long since obtruded upon the church of Rome, and not yet scoured off by reformation, out of a lingering vain-glory that abides among us to make fair shows in formal ordinances, and to enjoin continence and bearing of crosses in such a garb as no scripture binds us, under the thickest arrows of temptation, where we need not stand. Now we shall see with what acknowledgment and assent Adam received this new associate which God brought him.
Ver. 23. “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.”
That there was a nearer alliance between Adam and Eve, than could be ever after between man and wife, is visible to any. For no other woman was ever moulded out of her husband’s rib, but of mere strangers for the most part they come to have that consanguinity, which they have by wedlock. And if we look nearly upon the matter, though marriage be most agreeable to holiness, to purity, and justice, yet is it not a natural, but a civil and ordained relation. For if it were in nature, no law or crime could disannul it, to make a wife, or husband, otherwise than still a wife or husband, but only death; as nothing but that can make a father no father, or a son no son. But divorce for adultery or desertion, as all our churches agree but England, not only separates, but nullifies, and extinguishes the relation itself of matrimony, so that they are no more man and wife; otherwise the innocent party could not marry elsewhere, without the guilt of adultery. Next, were it merely natural, why was it here ordained more than the rest of moral law to man in his original rectitude, in whose breast all that was natural or moral was engraven without external constitutions and edicts? Adam therefore in these words does not establish an indissoluble bond of marriage in the carnal ligaments of flesh and bones; for if he did, it would belong only to himself in the literal sense, every one of us being nearer in flesh of flesh, and bone of bones, to our parents than to a wife; they therefore were not to be left for her in that respect. But Adam, who had the wisdom given him to know all creatures, and to name them according to their properties, no doubt but had the gift to discern perfectly that which concerned him much more; and to apprehend at first sight the true fitness of that consort which God provided him. And therefore spake in reference to those words which God pronounced before; as if he had said, This is she by whose meet help and society I shall no more be alone; this is she who was made my image, even as I the image of God; not so much in body as in unity of mind and heart. And he might as easily know what were the words of God, as he knew so readily what had been done with his rib, while he slept so soundly. He might well know, if God took a rib out of his inside to form of it a double good to him, he would far sooner disjoin it from his outside, to prevent a treble mischief to him; and far sooner cut it quite off from all relation for his undoubted ease, than nail it into his body again, to stick for ever there a thorn in his heart. Whenas nature teaches us to divide any limb from the body to the saving of its fellows, though it be the maiming and deformity of the whole; how much more is it her doctrine to sever by incision, not a true limb so much, though that be lawful, but an adherent, a sore, the gangrene of a limb, to the recovery of a whole man! But if in these words we shall make Adam to erect a new establishment of marriage in the mere flesh, which God so lately had instituted, and founded in the sweet and mild familiarity of love and solace, and mutual fitness; what do we but use the mouth of our general parent, the first time it opens, to an arrogant opposition and correcting of God’s wiser ordinance? These words therefore cannot import any thing new in marriage, but either that which belongs to Adam only, or to us in reference only to the instituting words of God, which made a meet help against loneliness. Adam spake like Adam the words of flesh and bones, the shell and rind of matrimony; but God spake like God, of love, and solace, and meet help, the soul both of Adam’s words and of matrimony.
Ver. 24. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.”
This verse, as our common herd expounds it, is the great knot-tier, which hath undone by tying, and by tangling, millions of guiltless consciences: this is that grisly porter, who having drawn men and wisest men by subtle allurement within the train of an unhappy matrimony, claps the dungeon-gate upon them, as irrecoverable as the grave. But if we view him well, and hear him with not too hasty and prejudicant ears, we shall find no such terror in him. For first, it is not here said absolutely without all reason he shall cleave to his wife, be it to his weal or to his destruction as it happens; but he shall do this upon the premises and considerations of that meet help and society before mentioned. “Therefore he shall cleave to his wife,” no otherwise a wife than a fit help. He is not bid to leave the dear cohabitation of his father, mother, brothers, and sisters, to link himself inseparably with the mere carcass of a marriage, perhaps an enemy. This joining particle “Therefore” is in all equity, nay in all necessity of construction, to comprehend first and most principally what God spake concerning the inward essence of marriage in his institution, that we may learn how far to attend what Adam spake of the outward materials thereof in his approbation. For if we shall bind these words of Adam only to a corporal meaning, and that the force of this injunction upon all us his sons, to live individually with any woman which hath befallen us in the most mistaken wedlock, shall consist not in those moral and relative causes of Eve’s creation, but in the mere anatomy of a rib, and that Adam’s insight concerning wedlock reached no further, we shall make him as very an idiot as the Socinians make him; which would not be reverently done of us. Let us be content to allow our great forefather so much wisdom, as to take the instituting words of God along with him into this sentence, which if they be well minded, will assure us that flesh and ribs are but of a weak and dead efficacy to keep marriage united where there is no other fitness. The rib of marriage, to all since Adam, is a relation much rather than a bone; the nerves and sinews thereof are love and meet help, they knit not every couple that marries, and where they knit they seldom break; but where they break, which for the most part is where they were never truly joined, to such at the same instant both flesh and rib cease to be in common: so that here they argue nothing to the continuance of a false or violated marriage, but must be led back again to receive their meaning from those institutive words of God, which give them all the life and vigour they have.
“Therefore shall a man leave his father,” &c.] What to a man’s thinking more plain by this appointment, that the fatherly power should give place to conjugal prerogative? Yet it is generally held by reformed writers against the papist, that though in persons at discretion the marriage in itself be never so fit, though it be fully accomplished with benediction, board, and bed, yet the father not consenting, his main will without dispute shall dissolve all. And this they affirm only from collective reason, not any direct law; for that in Exod. xxii. 17, which is most particular, speaks that a father may refuse to marry his daughter to one who hath defloured her, not that he may take her away from one who hath soberly married her. Yet because the general honour due to parents is great, they hold he may, and perhaps hold not amiss. But again when the question is of harsh and rugged parents, who defer to bestow their children seasonably, they agree jointly, that the church or magistrate may bestow them, though without the father’s consent; and for this they have no express authority in Scripture. So that they may see by their own handling of this very place, that it is not the stubborn letter must govern us, but the divine and softening breath of charity, which turns and winds the dictate of every positive command, and shapes it to the good of mankind. Shall the outward accessory of a father’s will wanting rend the fittest and most affectionate marriage in twain, after all nuptial consummations; and shall not the want of love, and the privation of all civil and religious concord, which is the inward essence of wedlock, do as much to part those who were never truly wedded? Shall a father have this power to vindicate his own wilful honour and authority to the utter breach of a most dearly united marriage, and shall not a man in his own power have the permission to free his soul, his life, and all his comfort of life from the disaster of a no-marriage? Shall fatherhood, which is but man, for his own pleasure dissolve matrimony; and shall not matrimony, which is God’s ordinance, for its own honour and better conservation dissolve itself, when it is wrong and not fitted to any of the chief ends which it owes us?
“And they shall be one flesh.”] These words also infer, that there ought to be an individuality in marriage; but without all question presuppose the joining causes. Not a rule yet that we have met with, so universal in this whole institution, but hath admitted limitations and conditions according to human necessity. The very foundation of matrimony, though God laid it deliberately, “that it is not good for man to be alone,” holds not always, if the apostle can secure us. Soon after we are bid leave father and mother, and cleave to a wife, but must understand the father’s consent withal, else not. “Cleave to a wife,” but let her be a wife, let her be a meet help, a solace, not a nothing, not an adversary, not a desertrice: can any law or command be so unreasonable, as to make men cleave to calamity, to ruin, to perdition? In like manner here “they shall be one flesh;” but let the causes hold, and be made really good which only have the possibility to make them one flesh. We know that flesh can neither join nor keep together two bodies of itself; what is it then must make them one flesh, but likeness, but fitness of mind and disposition, which may breed the spirit of concord and union between them? If that be not in the nature of either, and that there has been a remediless mistake, as vain we go about to compel them into one flesh, as if we undertook to weave a garment of dry sand. It were more easy to compel the vegetable and nutritive power of nature to assimilations and mixtures, which are not alterable each by other; or force the concoctive stomach to turn that into flesh, which is so totally unlike that substance, as not to be wrought on. For as the unity of mind is nearer and greater than the union of bodies, so doubtless is the dissimilitude greater and more dividual, as that which makes between bodies all difference and distinction. Especially whenas besides the singular and substantial differences of every soul, there is an intimate quality of good or evil, through the whole progeny of Adam, which like a radical heat, or mortal chillness, joins them, or disjoins them irresistibly. In whom therefore either the will or the faculty, is found to have never joined, or now not to continue so, it is not to say, they shall be one flesh, for they cannot be one flesh. God commands not impossibilities; and all the ecclesiastical glue, that liturgy or laymen can compound, is not able to sodder up two such incongruous natures into the one flesh of a true beseeming marriage. Why did Moses then set down their uniting into one flesh? And I again ask why the gospel so oft repeats the eating of our Saviour’s flesh, the drinking of his blood? “That we are one body with him, the members of his body, flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone,” Ephes. v. Yet lest we should be Capernaitans, as we are told there, that the flesh profiteth nothing; so we are told here, if we be not as deaf as adders, that this union of the flesh proceeds from the union of a fit help and solace. We know, that there was never a more spiritual mystery than this gospel taught us under the terms of body and flesh; yet nothing less intended than that we should stick there. What a stupidness then is it, that in marriage, which is the nearest resemblance of our union with Christ, we should deject ourselves to such a sluggish and underfoot philosophy, as to esteem the validity of marriage merely by the flesh, though never so broken and disjointed from love and peace, which only can give a human qualification to that act of the flesh, and distinguish it from bestial! The text therefore uses this phrase, that “they shall be one flesh,” to justify and make legitimate the rites of marriage bed; which was not unneedful, if for all this warrant they were suspected of pollution by some sects of philosophy, and religions of old, and latelier among the papists, and other heretics elder than they. Some think there is a high mystery in those words, from that which Paul saith of them, Ephes. v. “This is a great mystery, but I speak of Christ and the church: and thence they would conclude marriage to be inseparable.
For me, I dispute not now whether matrimony be a mystery or no; if it be of Christ and his church, certainly it is not meant of every ungodly and miswedded marriage, but then only mysterious, when it is a holy, happy, and peaceful match. But when a saint is joined with a reprobate, or both alike wicked with wicked, fool with fool, a he-drunkard with a she; when the bed hath been nothing else for twenty years or more, but an old haunt of lust and malice mixed together, no love, no goodness, no loyalty, but counterplotting, and secret wishing one another’s dissolution; this is to me the greatest mystery in the world, if such a marriage as this can be the mystery of aught, unless it be the mystery of iniquity: according to that which Paræus cites out of Chrysostom, that a bad wife is a help for the devil, and the like may be said of a bad husband. Since therefore none but a fit and pious matrimony can signify the union of Christ and his church, there cannot hence be any hinderance of divorce to that wedlock wherein there can be no good mystery. Rather it might to a Christian conscience be matter of finding itself so much less satisfied than before, in the continuance of an unhappy yoke, wherein there can be no representation either of Christ, or of his church.
Thus having inquired the institution how it was in the beginning, both from the 1st chap. of Gen. where it was only mentioned in part, and from the second, where it was plainly and evidently instituted; and having attended each clause and word necessary with a diligence not drowsy, we shall now fix with some advantage, and by a short view backward gather up the ground we have gone, and sum up the strength we have, into one argumentative head, with that organic force that logic proffers us. All arts acknowledge, that then only we know certainly, when we can define; for definition is that which refines the pure essence of things from the circumstance. If therefore we can attain in this our controversy to define exactly what marriage is, we shall soon learn when there is a nullity thereof, and when a divorce.
The part therefore of this chapter, which hath been here treated, doth orderly and readily resolve itself into a definition of marriage, and a consectary from thence. To the definition these words chiefly contribute; “It is not good,” &c. “I will make,” &c. Where the consectary begins this connection, “Therefore” informs us, “Therefore shall a man,” &c. Definition is decreed by logicians to consist only of causes constituting the essence of a thing. What is not therefore among the causes constituting marriage, must not stay in the definition. Those causes are concluded to be matter, and, as the artist calls it, Form. But inasmuch as the same thing may be a cause more ways than one, and that in relations and institutions which have no corporal subsistence, but only a respective being, the Form, by which the thing is what it is, is oft so slender and undistinguishable, that it would soon confuse, were it not sustained by the efficient and final causes, which concur to make up the Form, invalid otherwise of itself, it will be needful to take in all the four causes into the definition. First therefore, the material cause of matrimony is man and woman; the author and efficient, God and their consent; the internal Form and soul of this relation, is conjugal love arising from a mutual fitness to the final causes of wedlock, help and society in religious, civil, and domestic conversation, which includes as an inferior end the fulfilling of natural desire, and specifical increase; these are the final causes both moving the Efficient, and perfecting the Form. And although copulation be considered among the ends of marriage, yet the act thereof in a right esteem can no longer be matrimonial, than it is an effect of conjugal love. When love finds itself utterly unmatched, and justly vanishes, nay rather cannot but vanish, the fleshly act indeed may continue, but not holy, not pure, not beseeming the sacred bond of marriage; being at best but an animal excretion, but more truely worse and more ignoble than that mute kindliness among the herds and flocks; in that proceeding as it ought from intellective principles, it participates of nothing rational, but that which the field and the fold equals. For in human actions the soul is the agent, the body in a manner passive. If then the body do out of sensitive force, what the soul complies not with how can man, and not rather something beneath man, be thought the doer?
But to proceed in the pursuit of an accurate definition, it will avail us something, and whet our thoughts, to examine what fabric hereof others have already reared. Paræus on Gen. defines marriage to be “an indissoluble conjunction of one man and one woman to an individual and intimate conversation, and mutual benevolence,” &c. Wherein is to be marked his placing of intimate conversation before bodily benevolence; for bodily is meant, though indeed “benevolence” rather sounds will, than body. Why then shall divorce be granted for want of bodily performance, and not for want of fitness to intimate conversation, whenas corporal benevolence cannot in any human fashion be without this? Thus his definition places the ends of marriage in one order, and esteems them in another. His tautology also of indissoluble and individual is not to be imitated; especially since neither indissoluble nor individual hath aught to do in the exact definition, being but a consectary flowing from thence, as appears by plain Scripture, “Therefore shall a man leave,” &c. For marriage is not true marriage by being individual, but therefore individual, if it be true marriage. No argument but causes enter the definition: a consectary is but the effect of those causes. Besides, that marriage is indissoluble, is not catholicly true; we know it dissoluble for adultery and for desertion by the verdict of all reformed churches. Dr. Ames defines it “an individual conjunction of one man and one woman, to communion of body and mutual society of life:” but this perverts the order of God, who in the institution places meet help and society of life before communion of body. And vulgar estimation undervalues beyond comparison all society of life and communion of mind beneath the communion of body; granting no divorce, but to the want, or miscommunicating of that. Hemingius, an approved author, Melancthon’s scholar, and who, next to Bucer and Erasmus, writes of divorce most like a divine, thus comprises, “Marriage is a conjunction of one man and one woman lawfully consenting, into one flesh, for mutual help’s sake, ordained of God.” And in his explanation stands punctually upon the conditions of consent, that it be not in any main matter deluded, as being the life of wedlock, and no true marriage without a true consent. “Into one flesh” he expounds into one mind, as well as one body, and makes it the formal cause; herein only missing, while he puts the effect into his definition instead of the cause which the text affords him. For “one flesh” is not the formal essence of wedlock, but one end, or one effect of “a meet help:” the end ofttimes being the effect and fruit of the form, as logic teaches: else many aged and holy matrimonies, and more eminently that of Joseph and Mary, would be no true marriage. And that maxim generally received, would be false, that “consent alone, though copulation never follow, makes the marriage.” Therefore to consent lawfully into one flesh, is not the formal cause of matrimony, but only one of the effects. The civil lawyers, and first Justinian or Tribonian defines matrimony a “conjunction of man and woman containing individual accustom of life.” Wherein first, individual is not so bad as indissoluble put in by others: and although much cavil might be made in the distinguishing between indivisible and individual, yet the one taken for possible, the other for actual, neither the one nor the other can belong to the essence of marriage; especially when a civilian defines, by which law marriage is actually divorced for many causes, and with good leave, by mutual consent. Therefore where “conjunction” is said, they who comment the Institutes agree, that conjunction of mind is by the law meant, not necessarily conjunction of body. That law then had good reason attending to its own definition, that divorce should be granted for the breaking of that conjunction which it holds necessary, sooner than for the want of that conjunction which it holds not necessary. And whereas Tuningus a famous lawyer, excuses individual as the purpose of marriage, not always the success, it suffices not. Purpose is not able to constitute the essence of a thing. Nature herself, the universal mother, intends nothing but her own perfection and preservation; yet is not the more indissoluble for that. The Pandects out of Modestinus, though not define, yet well describe marriage “the conjunction of male and female, the society of all life, the communion of divine and human right:” which Bucer also imitates on the fifth to the Ephesians. But it seems rather to comprehend the several ends of marriage than to contain the more constituting cause that makes it what it is.
That I therefore among others (for who sings not Hylas?) may give as well as take matter to be judged on, it will be looked I should produce another definition than these which have not stood the trial. Thus then I suppose that marriage by the natural and plain order of God’s institution in the text may be more demonstratively and essentially defined. “Marriage is a divine institution, joining man and woman in a love fitly disposed to the helps and comforts of domestic life.” “A divine institution.” This contains the prime efficient cause of marriage: as for consent of parents and guardians, it seems rather a concurrence than a cause; for as many that marry are in their own power as not; and where they are not their own, yet are they not subjected beyond reason. Now though efficient causes are not requisite in a definition, yet divine institution hath such influence upon the Form, and is so a conserving cause of it, that without it the Form is not sufficient to distinguish matrimony from other conjunctions of male and female, which are not to be counted marriage. “Joining man and woman in a love,” &c. This brings in the parties’ consent; until which be, the marriage hath no true being. When I say “consent,” I mean not error, for error is not properly consent: and why should not consent be here understood with equity and good to either part, as in all other friendly covenants, and not be strained and cruelly urged to the mischief and destruction of both? Neither do I mean that singular act of consent which made the contract; for that may remain, and yet the marriage not true nor lawful; and that may cease, and yet the marriage both true and lawful, to their sin that break it. So that either as no efficient at all, or but a transitory, it comes not into the definition. That consent I mean, which is a love fitly disposed to mutual help and comfort of life: this is that happy Form of Marriage naturally arising from the very heart of divine institution in the text, in all the former definitions either obscurely, and under mistaken terms expressed, or not at all. This gives marriage all her due, all her benefits, all her being, all her distinct and proper being. This makes a marriage not a bondage, a blessing not a curse, a gift of God not a snare. Unless there be a love, and that love born of fitness, how can it last? unless it last, how can the best and sweetest purposes of marriage be attained? And they not attained, which are the chief ends, and with a lawful love constitute the formal cause itself of marriage, how can the essence thereof subsist? How can it be indeed what it goes for? Conclude therefore by all the power of reason, that where this essence of marriage is not, there can be no true marriage; and the parties, either one of them or both, are free, and without fault, rather by a nullity than by a divorce, may betake them to a second choice, if their present condition be not tolerable to them. If any shall ask, why “domestic” in the definition? I answer, that because both in the Scriptures, and in the gravest poets and philosophers, I find the properties and excellencies of a wife set out only from domestic virtues; if they extend further, it diffuses them into the notion of some more common duty than matrimonial.
Thus far of the definition; the consectary which flows from thence, altogether depends thereon, is manifestly brought in by this connective particle “therefore;” and branches itself into a double consequence; First, individual society, “therefore shall a man leave father and mother:” Secondly, conjugal benevolence, “and they shall be one flesh.” Which, as was shown, is not without cause here mentioned, to prevent and to abolish the suspect of pollution in that natural and undefiled act. These consequences therefore cannot either in religion, law, or reason, be bound, and posted upon mankind to his sorrow and misery, but receive what force they have from the meetness of help and solace, which is the formal cause and end of that definition that sustains them. And although it be not for the majesty of Scripture, to humble herself in artificial theorems, and definitions, and corollaries, like a professor in the schools, but looks to be analyzed, and interpreted by the logical industry of her disciples and followers, and to be reduced by them, as oft as need is, into those sciential rules, which are the implements of instruction; yet Moses, as if foreseeing the miserable work that man’s ignorance and pusillanimity would make in this matrimonious business, and endeavouring his utmost to prevent it, condescends in this place to such a methodical and school-like way of defining and consequencing, as in no place of the whole law more.
Thus we have seen, and, if we be not contentious, may know what was marriage in the beginning, to which in the gospel we are referred; and what from hence to judge of nullity, or divorce. Here I esteem the work done; in this field the controversy decided; but because other places of Scripture seem to look aversely upon this our decision, (although indeed they keep all harmony with it,) and because it is a better work to reconcile the seeming diversities of Scripture, than the real dissensions of nearest friends; I shall assay in the three following discourses to perform that office.
Deuteronomy xxiv. 1, 2.
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, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.”
That which is the only discommodity of speaking in a clear matter, the abundance of argument that presses to be uttered, and the suspense of judgment what to choose, and how in the multitude of reason to be not tedious, is the greatest difficulty which I expect here to meet with. Yet much hath been said formerly concerning this law in “the Doctrine of Divorce.” Whereof I shall repeat no more than what is necessary. Two things are here doubted: First, and that but of late, whether this be a law or no; next, what this reason of “uncleanness” might mean, for which the law is granted. That it is a plain law no man ever questioned, till Vatablus within these hundred years professed Hebrew at Paris, a man of no religion, as Beza deciphers him. Yet some there be who follow him, not only against the current of all antiquity both Jewish and Christian, but the evidence of Scripture also, Malachi ii. 16, “Let him who hateth put away, saith the Lord God of Israel.” Although this place also hath been tampered with, as if it were to be thus rendered, “The Lord God saith, that he hateth putting away.” But this new interpretation rests only in the authority of Junius: for neither Calvin, nor Vatablus himself, nor any other known divine so interpreted before. And they of best note who have translated the Scripture since, and Diodati for one, follow not his reading. And perhaps they might reject it, if for nothing else, for these two reasons: first, it introduces in a new manner the person of God speaking less majestic than he is ever wont: when God speaks by his prophet, he ever speaks in the first person, thereby signifying his majesty and omnipresence. He would have said, I hate putting away, saith the Lord; and not sent word by Malachi in a sudden fallen style, “The Lord God saith, that he hateth putting away:” that were a phrase to shrink the glorious omnipresence of God speaking, into a kind of circumscriptive absence. And were as if a herald, in the achievement of a king, should commit the indecorum to set his helmet sideways and close, not full-faced and open in the posture of direction and command. We cannot think therefore that this last prophet would thus in a new fashion absent the person of God from his own words, as if he came not along with them. For it would also be wide from the proper scope of this place; he that reads attentively will soon perceive, that God blames not here the Jews for putting away their wives, but for keeping strange concubines, to the “profaning of Judah’s holiness,” and the vexation of their Hebrew wives, v. 11, and 14, “Judah hath married the daughter of a strange god:” and exhorts them rather to put their wives away whom they hate, as the law permitted, than to keep them under such affronts. And it is received, that this prophet lived in those times of Ezra and Nehemiah, (nay by some is thought to be Ezra himself,) when the people were forced by these two worthies to put their strange wives away. So that what the story of those times, and the plain context of the eleventh verse, from whence this rebuke begins, can give us to conjecture of the obscure and curt Ebraisms that follow; this prophet does not forbid putting away, but forbids keeping, and commands putting away according to God’s law, which is the plainest interpreter both of what God will, and what he can best suffer. Thus much evinces, that God there commanded divorce by Malachi; and this confirms, that he commands it also here by Moses.
I may the less doubt to mention by the way an author, though counted apocryphal, yet of no small account for piety and wisdom, the author of Ecclesiasticus. Which book, begun by the grandfather of that Jesus, who is called the son of Sirach, might have been written in part, not much after the time when Malachi lived, if we compute by the reign of Ptolemæus Euergetes. It professes to explain the law and the prophets; and yet exhorts us to divorce for incurable causes, and to cut off from the flesh those whom it there describes, Ecclesiastic. xxv. 26. Which doubtless that wise and ancient writer would never have advised, had either Malachi so lately forbidden it, or the law by a full precept not left it lawful. But I urge not this for want of better proof; our Saviour himself allows divorce to be a command, Mark x. 3, 5. Neither do they weaken this assertion, who say it was only a sufferance, as shall be proved at large in that place of Mark. But suppose it were not a written law, they never can deny it was a custom, and so effect nothing. For the same reasons that induce them why it should not be a law, will straiten them as hard why it should be allowed a custom. All custom is either evil, or not evil; if it be evil, this is the very end of lawgiving, to abolish evil customs by wholesome laws; unless we imagine Moses weaker than every negligent and startling politician. If it be, as they make this of divorce to be, a custom against nature, against justice, against charity, how, upon this most impure custom tolerated, could the God of pureness erect a nice and precise law, that the wife married after divorce could not return to her former husband, as being defiled? What was all this following niceness worth, built upon the lewd foundation of a wicked thing allowed? In few words then, this custom of divorce either was allowable, or not allowable; if not allowable, how could it be allowed? if it were allowable, all who understand law will consent, that a tolerated custom hath the force of a law, and is indeed no other but an unwritten law, as Justinian calls it, and is as prevalent as any written statute. So that their shift of turning this law into a custom wheels about, and gives the onset upon their own flanks; not disproving, but concluding it to be the more firm law, because it was without controversy a granted custom; as clear in the reason of common life, as those given rules whereon Euclid builds his propositions.
Thus being every way a law of God, who can without blasphemy doubt it to be a just and pure law? Moses continually disavows the giving them any statute, or judgment, but what he learnt of God; of whom also in his song he saith, Deut. xxxii., “He is the rock, his work is perfect, all his ways are judgment, a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” And David testifies, the judgments of the Lord “are true and righteous altogether.” Not partly right and partly wrong, much less wrong altogether, as divines of now-a-days dare censure them. Moses again, of that people to whom he gave this law, saith, Deut. xiv., “Ye are the children of the Lord your God, the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people to himself above all the nations upon the earth, that thou shouldst keep all his commandments, and be high in praise, in name, and in honour, holy to the Lord!” chap xxvi. And in the fourth, “Behold I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, keep therefore and do them. For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of nations that shall hear all these statutes, and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh to them? and what nation that hath statutes and judgements so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” Thus whether we look at the purity and justice of God himself, the jealousy of his honour among other nations, the holiness and moral perfection which he intended by his law to teach this people, we cannot possibly think how he could endure to let them slug and grow inveterately wicked, under base allowances, and whole adulterous lives by dispensation. They might not eat, they might not touch an unclean thing; to what hypocrisy then were they trained up, if by prescription of the same law, they might be unjust, they might be adulterous for term of life? forbid to soil their garments with a coy imaginary pollution, but not forbid, but countenanced and animated by law, to soil their souls with deepest defilements. What more unlike to God, what more like that God should hate, than that his law should be so curious to wash vessels and vestures, and so careless to leave unwashed, unregarded, so foul a scab of Egypt in their souls? What would we more? The statutes of the Lord are all pure and just: and if all, then this of divorce.
“Because he hath found some uncleanness in her.”] That we may not esteem this law to be a mere authorizing of license, as the Pharisees took it, Moses adds the reason, for “some uncleanness found.” Some heretofore have been so ignorant, as to have thought, that this uncleanness means adultery. But Erasmus, who, for having writ an excellent treatise of divorce, was wrote against by some burly standard divine, perhaps of Cullen, or of Lovain, who calls himself Phimostomus, shows learnedly out of the fathers, with other testimonies and reasons, that uncleanness is not here so understood; defends his former work, though new to that age, and perhaps counted licentious, and fears not to engage all his fame on the argument. Afterward, when expositors began to understand the Hebrew text, which they had not done of many ages before, they translated word for word not “uncleanness,” but “the nakedness of any thing;” and considering that nakedness is usually referred in Scripture to the mind as well as to the body, they constantly expound it any defect, annoyance, or ill quality in nature, which to be joined with, makes life tedious, and such company worse than solitude. So that here will be no cause to vary from the general consent of exposition, which gives us freely that God permitted divorce, for whatever was unalterably distasteful, whether in body or mind. But with this admonishment, that if the Roman law, especially in contracts and dowries, left many things to equity with these cautions, “ex fide bona, quod æquius melius erit, ut inter bonos bene agitur;” we will not grudge to think, that God intended not license here to every humour, but to such remediless grievances as might move a good and honest and faithful man then to divorce, when it can no more be peace or comfort to either of them continuing thus joined. And although it could not be avoided, but that men of hard hearts would abuse this liberty, yet doubtless it was intended, as all other privileges in law are, to good men principally, to bad only by accident. So that the sin was not in the permission, nor simply in the action of divorce, (for then the permitting also had been sin,) but only in the abuse. But that this law should, as it were, be wrung from God and Moses, only to serve the hardheartedness, and the lust of injurious men, how remote it is from all sense, and law, and honesty, and therefore surely from the meaning of Christ, shall abundantly be manifest in due order.
Now although Moses needed not to add other reason of this law than that one there expressed, yet to these ages wherein canons, and Scotisms, and Lombard laws, have dulled, and almost obliterated the lively sculpture of ancient reason and humanity; it will be requisite to heap reason upon reason, and all little enough to vindicate the whiteness and the innocence of this divine law, from the calumny it finds at this day, of being a door to license and confusion. Whenas indeed there is not a judicial point in all Moses, consisting of more true equity, high wisdom, and godlike pity than this law; not derogating, but preserving the honour and peace of marriage, and exactly agreeing with the sense and mind of that institution in Genesis.
For, first, if marriage be but an ordained relation, as it seems not more, it cannot take place above the prime dictates of nature: and if it be of natural right, yet it must yield to that which is more natural, and before it by eldership and precedence in nature. Now it is not natural, that Hugh marries Beatrice, or Thomas Rebecca, being only a civil contract, and full of many chances; but that these men seek them meet helps, that only is natural; and that they espouse them such, that only is marriage. But if they find them neither fit helps nor tolerable society, what thing more natural, more original, and first in nature, than to depart from that which is irksome, grievous, actively hateful, and injurious even to hostility, especially in a conjugal respect, wherein antipathies are invincible, and where the forced abiding of the one can be no true good, no real comfort to the other? For if he find no contentment from the other, how can he return it from himself? or no acceptance, how can he mutually accept? What more equal, more pious, than to untie a civil knot for a natural enmity held by violence from parting, to dissolve an accidental conjunction of this or that man and woman, for the most natural and most necessary disagreement of meet from unmeet, guilty from guiltless, contrary from contrary? It being certain, that the mystical and blessed unity of marriage can be no way more unhallowed and profaned, than by the forcible uniting of such disunions and separations. Which if we see ofttimes they cannot join or piece up a common friendship, or to a willing conversation in the same house, how should they possibly agree to the most familiar and united amity of wedlock? Abraham and Lot, though dear friends and brethren in a strange country, chose rather to part asunder, than to infect their friendship with the strife of their servants: Paul and Barnabas, joined together by the Holy Ghost to a spiritual work, thought it better to separate, when once they grew at variance. If these great saints, joined by nature, friendship, religion, high providence, and revelation, could not so govern a casual difference, a sudden passion, but must in wisdom divide from the outward duties of a friendship, or a colleagueship in the same family, or in the same journey, lest it should grow to a worse division; can any thing be more absurd and barbarous, than that they whom only error, casualty, art, or plot, hath joined, should be compelled, not against a sudden passion, but against the permanent and radical discords of nature, to the most intimate and incorporating duties of love and embracement, therein only rational and human, as they are free and voluntary; being else an abject and servile yoke, scarce not brutish? and that there is in man such a peculiar sway of liking or disliking in the affairs of matrimony, is evidently seen before marriage among those who can be friendly, can respect each other, yet to marry each other would not for any persuasion. If then this unfitness and disparity be not till after marriage discovered, through many causes, and colours, and concealments, that may overshadow; undoubtedly it will produce the same effects, and perhaps with more vehemence, that such a mistaken pair would give the world to be unmarried again. And their condition Solomon to the plain justification of divorce expresses, Prov. xxx. 21, 23, where he tells us of his own accord, that a “hated, or a hateful woman, when she is married, is a thing for which the earth is disquieted, and cannot bear it:” thus giving divine testimony to this divine law, which bids us nothing more than is the first and most innocent lesson of nature, to turn away peaceably from what afflicts, and hazards our destruction; especially when our staying can do no good, and is exposed to all evil.
Secondly, It is unjust that any ordinance, ordained to the good and comfort of man, where that end is missing, without his fault, should be forced upon him to an insufferable misery and discomfort, if not commonly ruin. All ordinances are established in their end; the end of law is the virtue, is the righteousness of law: and therefore him we count an ill expounder, who urges law against the intention thereof. The general end of every ordinance, of every severest, every divinest, even of Sabbath, is the good of man; yea, his temporal good not excluded. But marriage is one of the benignest ordinances of God to man, whereof both the general and particular end is the peace and contentment of man’s mind, as the institution declares. Contentment of body they grant, which, if it be defrauded, the plea of frigidity shall divorce: but here lies the fathomless absurdity, that granting this for bodily defect, they will not grant it for any defect of the mind, any violation of religious or civil society. Whenas, if the argument of Christ be firm against the ruler of the synagogue, Luke xiii. “Thou hypocrite! doth not each of you on the Sabbath-day loosen his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him to watering, and should not I unbind a daughter of Abraham from this bond of Satan?” it stands as good here; ye have regard in marriage to the grievance of body, should you not regard more the grievances of the mind, seeing the soul as much excels the body, as the outward man excels the ass, and more? for that animal is yet a living creature, perfect in itself; but the body without the soul is a mere senseless trunk. No ordinance therefore, given particularly to the good both spiritual and temporal of man, can be urged upon him to his mischief; and if they yield this to the unworthier part, the body, whereabout are they in their principles, that they yield it not to the more worthy, the mind of a good man?
Thirdly, As no ordinance, so no covenant, no not between God and man, much less between man and man, being, as all are, intended to the good of both parties, can hold to the deluding or making miserable of them both. For equity is understood in every covenant, even between enemies, though the terms be not expressed. If equity therefore made it, extremity may dissolve it. But marriage, they used to say, is the covenant of God. Undoubted: and so is any covenant frequently called in Scripture, wherein God is called to witness: the covenant of friendship between David and Jonathan is called the covenant of the Lord, 1 Sam. xx. The covenant of Zedekiah with the king of Babel, a covenant to be doubted whether lawful or no, yet, in respect of God invoked thereto, is called “the oath, and the covenant of God,” Ezek. xvii. Marriage also is called “the covenant of God,” Prov. ii. 17. Why, but as before, because God is the witness thereof, Mal. ii. 14. So that this denomination adds nothing to the covenant of marriage, above any other civil and solemn contract: nor is it more indissoluble for this reason than any other against the end of its own ordination; nor is any vow or oath to God exacted with such a rigour, where superstition reigns not. For look how much divine the covenant is, so much the more equal, so much the more to be expected that every article thereof should be fairly made good; no false dealing or unperforming should be thrust upon men without redress, if the covenant be so divine. But faith, they say, must be kept in covenant, though to our damage. I answer, that only holds true, where the other side performs; which failing, he is no longer bound. Again, this is true, when the keeping of faith can be of any use or benefit to the other. But in marriage, a league of love and willingness, if faith be not willingly kept, it scarce is worth the keeping; nor can be any delight to a generous mind, with whom it is forcibly kept: and the question still supposes the one brought to an impossibility of keeping it as he ought, by the other’s default; and to keep it formally, not only with a thousand shifts and dissimulations, but with open anguish, perpetual sadness and disturbance, no willingness, no cheerfulness, no contentment; cannot be any good to a mind not basely poor and shallow, with whom the contract of love is so kept. A covenant therefore brought to that pass, is on the unfaulty side without injury dissolved.
Fourthly, The law is not to neglect men under greatest sufferances, but to see covenants of greatest moment faithfulest performed. And what injury comparable to that sustained in a frustrate and false-dealing marriage, to lose, for another’s fault against him, the best portion of his temporal comforts, and of his spiritual too, as it may fall out? It was the law, that for man’s good and quiet reduced things to propriety, which were at first in common; how much more lawlike were it to assist nature in disappropriating that evil, which by continuing proper becomes destructive? But he might have bewared. So he might in any other covenant, wherein the law does not constrain error to so dear a forfeit. And yet in these matters wherein the wisest are apt to err, all the wariness that can be, ofttimes nothing avails. But the law can compel the offending party to be more duteous. Yes, if all these kind of offences were fit in public to be complained of, or being compelled were any satisfaction to a mate not sottish, or malicious. And these injuries work so vehemently, that if the law remedy them not, by separating the cause when no way else will pacify, the person not relieved betakes him either to such disorderly courses, or to such a dull dejection, as renders him either infamous, or useless to the service of God and his country. Which the law ought to prevent as a thing pernicious to the commonwealth; and what better prevention than this which Moses used?
Fifthly, The law is to tender the liberty and the human dignity of them that live under the law, whether it be the man’s right above the woman, or the woman’s just appeal against wrong and servitude. But the duties of marriage contain in them a duty of benevolence, which to do by compulsion against the soul, where there can be neither peace, nor joy, nor love, but an enthralment to one who either cannot or will not be mutual in the godliest and the civilest ends of that society, is the ignoblest and the lowest slavery that a human shape can be put to. This law therefore justly and piously provides against such an unmanly task of bondage as this. The civil law, though it favoured the setting free of a slave, yet, if he proved ungrateful to his patron, reduced him to a servile condition. If that law did well to reduce from liberty to bondage for an ingratitude not the greatest, much more became it the law of God, to enact the restorement of a freeborn man from an unpurposed and unworthy bondage to a rightful liberty, for the most unnatural fraud and ingratitude that can be committed against him. And if that civilian emperor, in his title of “Donations,” permit the giver to recall his gift from him who proves unthankful towards him; yea, though he had subscribed and signed in the deed of his gift not to recall it, though for this very cause of ingratitude; with much more equity doth Moses permit here the giver to recall no petty gift, but the gift of himself, from one who most injuriously and deceitfully uses him against the main ends and conditions of his giving himself, expressed in God’s institution.
Sixthly, Although there be nothing in the plain words of this law, that seems to regard the afflictions of a wife, how great soever; yet expositors determine, and doubtless determine rightly, that God was not uncompassionate of them also in the framing of this law. For should the rescript of Antoninus in the civil law give release to servants flying for refuge to the emperor’s statue, by giving leave to change their cruel masters; and should God, who in his law also is good to injured servants, by granting them their freedom in divers cases, not consider the wrongs and miseries of a wife, which is no servant? Though herein the counter sense of our divines to me, I must confess, seems admirable; who teach that God gave this as a merciful law, not for man whom he here names, and to whom by name he gives this power; but for the wife, whom he names not, and to whom by name he gives no power at all. For certainly if man be liable to injuries in marriage, as well as women, and man be the worthier person, it were a preposterous law to respect only the less worthy; her whom God made for marriage, and not him at all for whom marriage was made.
Seventhly, The law of marriage gives place to the power of parents: for we hold, that consent of parents not had may break the wedlock, though else accomplished. It gives place to masterly power; for the master might take away from a Hebrew servant the wife which he gave him, Exod. xxi. If it be answered, that the marriage of servants is no matrimony; it is replied, that this in the ancient Roman law is true, not in the Mosaic. If it be added, she was a stranger, not a Hebrew, therefore easily divorced; it will be answered, that strangers not being Canaanites, and they also being converts, might be lawfully married, as Rahab was. And her conversion is here supposed; for a Hebrew master could not lawfully give a heathen wife to a Hebrew servant. However, the divorcing of an Israelitish woman was as easy by the law, as the divorcing of a stranger, and almost in the same words permitted, Deut. xxiv. and Deut. xxi. Lastly, it gives place to the right of war, for a captive woman lawfully married, and afterwards not beloved, might be dismissed, only without ransom, Deut. xxi. If marriage be dissolved by so many exterior powers, not superior, as we think, why may not the power of marriage itself, for its own peace and honour, dissolve itself, where the persons wedded be free persons? Why may not a greater and more natural power complaining dissolve marriage? For the ends, why matrimony was ordained, are certainly and by all logic above the ordinance itself; why may not that dissolve marriage without which that institution hath no force at all? For the prime ends of marriage are the whole strength and validity thereof, without which matrimony is like an idol, nothing in the world. But those former allowances were all for hardness of heart. Be that granted, until we come where to understand it better; if the law suffer thus far the obstinacy of a bad man, is it not more righteous here, to do willingly what is but equal, to remove in season the extremities of a good man?
Eighthly, If a man had deflowered a virgin, or brought an ill name on his wife, that she came not a virgin to him, he was amerced in certain shekels of silver, and bound never to divorce her all his days, Deut. xxii., which shows that the law gave no liberty to divorce, where the injury was palpable; and that the absolute forbidding to divorce was in part the punishment of a deflourer, and a defamer. Yet not so but that the wife questionless might depart when she pleased. Otherwise this course had not so much righted her, as delivered her up to more spite and cruel usage. This law therefore doth justly distinguish the privilege of an honest and blameless man in the matter of divorce, from the punishment of a notorious offender.
Ninthly, Suppose it should be imputed to a man, that he was too rash in his choice, and why he took not better heed, let him now smart, and bear his folly as he may; although the law of God, that terrible law, do not thus upbraid the infirmities and unwilling mistakes of man in his integrity: but suppose these and the like proud aggravations of some stern hypocrite, more merciless in his mercies, than any literal law in the rigour of severity, must be patiently heard; yet all law and God’s law especially, grants every where to error, easy remitments, even where the utmost penalty exacted were no undoing. With great reason therefore and mercy doth it here not torment an error, if it be so, with the endurance of a whole life lost to all household comfort and society, a punishment of too vast and huge dimension for an error, and the more unreasonable for that the like objection may be opposed against the plea of divorcing for adultery: he might have looked better before to her breeding under religious parents: why did he not more diligently inquire into her manners, into what company she kept? every glance of her eye, every step of her gait, would have prophesied adultery, if the quick scent of these discerners had been took along; they had the divination to have foretold you all this, as they have now the divinity to punish an error inhumanly. As good reason to be content and forced to be content with your adulteress, if these objectors might be the judges of human frailty. But God, more mild and good to man, than man to his brother, in all this liberty given to divorcement, mentions not a word of our past errors and mistakes, if any were; which these men objecting from their own inventions, prosecute with all violence and iniquity. For if the one be to look so narrowly what he takes, at the peril of ever keeping, why should not the other be made as wary what is promised, by the peril of losing? for without those promises the treaty of marriage had not proceeded. Why should his own error bind him, rather than the other’s fraud acquit him? Let the buyer beware, saith the old law-beaten termer. Belike then there is no more honesty, nor ingenuity in the bargain of a wedlock, than in the buying of a colt: we must it seems drive it on as craftily with those whose affinity we seek, as if they were a pack of salemen and complotters. But the deceiver deceives himself in the unprosperous marriage, and therein is sufficiently punished. I answer, that the most of those who deceive are such as either understand not, or value not the true purposes of marriage; they have the prey they seek, not the punishment: yet say it prove to them some cross, it is not equal that error and fraud should be linked in the same degree of forfeiture, but rather that error should be acquitted, and fraud bereaved his morsel, if the mistake were not on both sides; for then on both sides the acquitment would be reasonable, if the bondage be intolerable; which this law graciously determines, not unmindful of the wife, as was granted willingly to the common expositors, though beyond the letter of this law, yet not beyond the spirit of charity.
Tenthly, Marriage is a solemn thing, some say a holy, the resemblance of Christ and his church: and so indeed it is where the persons are truly religious; and we know all sacred things, not performed sincerely as they ought, are no way acceptable to God in their outward formality. And that wherein it differs from personal duties, if they be not truly done, the fault is in ourselves; but marriage to be a true and pious marriage is not in the single power of any person; the essence whereof, as of all other covenants, is in relation to another, the making and maintaining causes thereof are all mutual, and must be a communion of spiritual and temporal comforts. If then either of them cannot, or obstinately will not, be answerable in these duties, so as that the other can have no peaceful living, or endure the want of what he justly seeks, and sees no hope, then straight from that dwelling, love, which is the soul of wedlock, takes his flight, leaving only some cold performances of civil and common respects; but the true bond of marriage, if there were ever any there, is already burst like a rotten thread. Then follows dissimulation, suspicion, false colours, false pretences, and worse than these, disturbance, annoyance, vexation, sorrow, temptation even in the faultless person weary of himself, and of all actions public or domestic; then comes disorder, neglect, hatred, and perpetual strife; all these the enemies of holiness and Christianity, and every one persisted in, a remediless violation of matrimony. Therefore God, who hates all feigning and formality, where there should be all faith and sincereness, and abhors the inevitable discord, where there should be greater concord; when through another’s default faith and concord cannot be, counts it neither just to punish the innocent with the transgressor, nor holy, nor honourable for the sanctity of marriage, that should be the union of peace and love, to be made the commitment and close fight of enmity and hate. And therefore doth in this law what best agrees with his goodness, loosening a sacred thing to peace and charity, rather than binding it to hatred and contention; loosening only the outward and formal tie of that which is already inwardly and really broken, or else was really never joined.
Eleventhly, One of the chief matrimonial ends is said to seek a holy seed; but where an unfit marriage administers continual cause of hatred and distemper, there, as was heard before, cannot choose but much unholiness abide. Nothing more unhallows a man, more unprepares him to the service of God in any duty, than a habit of wrath and perturbation, arising from the importunity of troublous causes never absent. And where the household stands in this plight, what love can there be to the unfortunate issue, what care of their breeding, which is of main conducement to their being holy? God therefore, knowing how unhappy it would be for children to be born in such a family, gives this law as a prevention, that, being an unhappy pair, they should not add to be unhappy parents, or else as a remedy that if there be children, while they are fewest, they may follow either parent, as shall be agreed, or judged, from the house of hatred and discord to a place of more holy and peaceable education.
Twelfthly, All law is available to some good end, but the final prohibition of divorce avails to no good end, causing only the endless aggravation of evil, and therefore this permission of divorce was given to the Jews by the wisdom and fatherly providence of God; who knew that law cannot command love, without which matrimony hath no true being, no good, no solace, nothing of God’s instituting, nothing but so sordid and so low, as to be disdained of any generous person. Law cannot enable natural inability either of body, or mind, which gives the grievance; it cannot make equal those inequalities, it cannot make fit those unfitnesses; and where there is malice more than defect of nature, it cannot hinder ten thousand injuries, and bitter actions of despight, too subtle and too unapparent for law to deal with. And while it seeks to remedy more outward wrongs, it exposes the injured person to other more inward and more cutting. All these evils unavoidably will redound upon the children, if any be, and upon the whole family. It degenerates and disorders the best spirits, leaves them to unsettled imaginations, and degraded hopes, careless of themselves, their households and their friends, unactive to all public service, dead to the commonwealth; wherein they are by one mishap, and no willing trespass of theirs, outlawed from all the benefits and comforts of married life and posterity. It confers as little to the honour and inviolable keeping of matrimony, but sooner stirs up temptations and occasions to secret adulteries and unchaste roving. But it maintains public honesty. Public folly rather; who shall judge of public honesty? The law of God and of ancientest Christians, and all civil nations; or the illegitimate law of monks and canonists, the most malevolent, most unexperienced, most incompetent judges of matrimony?
These reasons, and many more that might be alleged, afford us plainly to perceive both what good cause this law had to do for good men in mischances, and what necessity it had to suffer accidentally the hardheartedness of bad men, which it could not certainly discover, or discovering could not subdue, no nor endeavour to restrain without multiplying sorrow to them, for whom all was endeavoured. The guiltless therefore were not deprived their needful redresses, and the hard hearts of others, unchastisable in those judicial courts, were so remitted there, as bound over to the higher session of conscience.
Notwithstanding all this, there is a loud exception against this law of God, nor can the holy Author save his law from this exception, that it opens a door to all license and confusion. But this is the rudest, I was almost saying the most graceless objection, and with the least reverence to God and Moses, that could be devised: this is to cite God before man’s tribunal, to arrogate a wisdom and holiness above him. Did not God then foresee what event of license or confusion could follow? Did not he know how to ponder these abuses with more prevailing respects, in the most even balance of his justice and pureness, till these correctors came up to show him better? The law is, if it stir up sin any way, to stir it up by forbidding, as one contrary excites another, Rom. vii.; but if it once come to provoke sin, by granting license to sin, according to laws that have no other honest end, but only to permit the fulfilling of obstinate lust, how is God not made the contradicter of himself? No man denies, that best things may be abused; but it is a rule resulting from many pregnant experiences, that what doth most harm in the abusing, used rightly doth most good. And such a good to take away from honest men, for being abused by such as abuse all things, is the greatest abuse of all. That the whole law is no further useful, than as a man uses it lawfully, St. Paul teaches, 1 Tim. i. And that Christian liberty may be used for an occasion to the flesh, the same apostle confesses, Gal. v.; yet thinks not of removing it for that, but bids us rather “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath freed us, and not be held again in the yoke of bondage.” The very permission, which Christ gave to divorce for adultery, may be foully abused, by any whose hardness of heart can either feign adultery, or dares commit, that he may divorce. And for this cause the pope, and hitherto the church of England, forbid all divorce from the bond of marriage, though for openest adultery. If then it be righteous to hinder, for the fear of abuse, that which God’s law, notwithstanding that caution, hath warranted to be done, doth not our righteousness come short of Antichrist? or do we not rather herein conform ourselves to his unrighteousness in this undue and unwise fear? For God regards more to relieve by this law the just complaints of good men, than to curb the license of wicked men, to the crushing withal, and the overwhelming of his afflicted servants. He loves more that his law should look with pity upon the difficulties of his own, than with rigour upon the boundless riots of them who serve another master, and, hindered here by strictness, will break another way to worse enormities. If this law therefore have many good reasons for which God gave it, and no intention of giving scope to lewdness, but as abuse by accident comes in with every good law, and every good thing; it cannot be wisdom in us, while we can content us with God’s wisdom, nor can be purity, if his purity will suffice us, to except against this law, as if it fostered license. But if they affirm this law had no other end, but to permit obdurate lust, because it would be obdurate, making the law of God intentionally to proclaim and enact sin lawful, as if the will of God were become sinful, or sin stronger than his direct and lawgiving will; the men would be admonished to look well to it, that while they are so eager to shut the door against license, they do not open a worse door to blasphemy. And yet they shall be here further shown their iniquity: what more foul common sin among us than drunkenness? And who can be ignorant, that if the importation of wine, and the use of all strong drink, were forbid, it would both clean rid the possibility of committing that odious vice, and men might afterwards live happily and healthfully without the use of those intoxicating liquors? Yet who is there, the severest of them all, that ever propounded to lose his sack, his ale, toward the certain abolishing of so great a sin? who is there of them, the holiest, that less loves his rich Canary at meals, though it be fetched from places that hazard the religion of them who fetch it, and though it make his neighbour drunk out of the same tun? While they forbid not therefore the use of that liquid merchandise, which forbidden would utterly remove a most loathsome sin, and not impair either the health or the refreshment of mankind, supplied many other ways: why do they forbid a law of God, the forbidding whereof brings into excessive bondage ofttimes the best of men, and betters not the worse? He, to remove a national vice, will not pardon his cups, nor think it concerns him to forbear the quaffing of that outlandish grape, in his unnecessary fulness, though other men abuse it never so much; nor is he so abstemious as to intercede with the magistrate, that all matter of drunkenness be banished the commonwealth; and yet for the fear of a less inconvenience unpardonably requires of his brethren, in their extreme necessity, to debar themselves the use of God’s permissive law, though it might be their saving, and no man’s endangering the more. Thus this peremptory strictness we may discern of what sort it is, how unequal, and how unjust.
But it will breed confusion. What confusion it would breed God himself took the care to prevent in the fourth verse of this chapter, that the divorced, being married to another, might not return to her former husband. And Justinian’s law counsels the same in his title of “Nuptials.” And what confusion else can there be in separation, to separate upon extreme urgency the religious from the irreligious, the fit from the unfit, the willing from the wilful, the abused from the abuser? Such a separation is quite contrary to confusion. But to bind and mix together holy with atheist, heavenly with hellish, fitness with unfitness, light with darkness, antipathy with antipathy, the injured with the injurer, and force them into the most inward nearness of a detested union; this doubtless is the most horrid, the most unnatural mixture, the greatest confusion that can be confused.
Thus by this plain and Christian Talmud, vindicating the law of God from irreverent and unwary expositions, I trust, where it shall meet with intelligent perusers, some stay at least in men’s thoughts will be obtained, to consider these many prudent and righteous ends of this divorcing permission: that it may have, for the great Author’s sake, hereafter, some competent allowance to be counted a little purer than the prerogative of a legal and public ribaldry, granted to that holy seed. So that from hence we shall hope to find the way still more open to the reconciling of those places, which treat this matter in the gospel. And thither now without interruption the course of method brings us.
Matthew, v. 31, 32.
31. “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.”
32. “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife,” &c.
Matthew, xix. 3, 4, &c.
3. “And the Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him,” &c.
“It hath been said.”] What hitherto hath been spoke upon the law of God touching matrimony or divorce, he who will deny to have been argued according to reason and all equity of Scripture, I cannot edify how, or by what rule of proportion, that man’s virtue calculates, what his elements are, nor what his analytics. Confidently to those who have read good books, and to those whose reason is not an illiterate book to themselves, I appeal, whether they would not confess all this to be the commentary of truth and justice, were it not for these recited words of our Saviour. And if they take not back that which they thus grant, nothing sooner might persuade them that Christ here teaches no new percept, and nothing sooner might direct them to find his meaning than to compare and measure it by the rules of nature and eternal righteousness, which no written law extinguishes, and the gospel least of all. For what can be more opposite and disparaging to the covenant of love, of freedom, and of our manhood in grace, than to be made the yoking pedagogue of new severities, the scribe of syllables and rigid letters, not only grievous to the best of men, but different and strange from the light of reason in them, save only as they are fain to stretch and distort their apprehensions, for fear of displeasing the verbal straitness of a text, which our own servile fear gives us not the leisure to understand aright? If the law of Christ shall be written in our hearts, as was promised to the gospel, Jer. xxxi., how can this in the vulgar and superficial sense be a law of Christ, so far from being written in our hearts, that it injures and disallows not only the free dictates of nature and moral law, but of charity also, and religion in our hearts? Our Saviour’s doctrine is, that the end and the fulfilling of every command is charity; no faith without it, no truth without it, no worship, no works pleasing to God but as they partake of charity. He himself sets us an example, breaking the solemnest and strictest ordinance of religious rest, and justified the breaking, not to cure a dying man, but such whose cure might without danger have been deferred. And wherefore needs must the sick man’s bed be carried on that day by his appointment? And why were the disciples, who could not forbear on that day to pluck the corn, so industriously defended, but to show us, that, if he preferred the slightest occasions of man’s good before the observing of highest and severest ordinances, he gave us much more easy leave to break the intolerable yoke of a never well-joined wedlock for the removing of our heaviest afflictions? Therefore it is, that the most of evangelic precepts are given us in proverbial forms, to drive us from the letter, though we love ever to be sticking there. For no other cause did Christ assure us that whatsoever things we bind, or slacken on earth, are so in heaven, but to signify that the Christian arbitrement of charity is supreme decider of all controversy, and supreme resolver of all Scripture, not as the pope determines for his own tyranny, but as the church ought to determine for its own true liberty. Hence Eusebius, not far from the beginning of his history, compares the state of Christians to that of Noah and the patriarchs before the law. And this indeed was the reason why apostolic tradition in the ancient church was counted nigh equal to the written word, though it carried them at length awry, for want of considering that tradition was not left to be imposed as law, but to be a pattern of that Christian prudence and liberty, which holy men by right assumed of old; which truth was so evident, that it found entrance even into the council of Trent, when the point of tradition came to be discussed. And Marinaro, a learned Carmelite, for approaching too near the true cause that gave esteem to tradition, that is to say, the difference between the Old and New Testaments, the one punctually prescribing written law, the other guiding by the inward spirit, was reprehended by Cardinal Pool as one that had spoken more worthy a German colloquy, than a general council. I omit many instances, many proofs and arguments of this kind, which alone would compile a just volume, and shall content me here to have shown briefly, that the great and almost only commandment of the gospel is, to command nothing against the good of man, and much more no civil command against his civil good. If we understand not this, we are but cracked cymbals, we do but tinkle, we know nothing, we do nothing, all the sweat of our toilsomest obedience will but mock us. And what we suffer superstitiously returns us no thanks. Thus medicining our eyes, we need not doubt to see more into the meaning of these our Saviour’s words, than many who have gone before us.
“It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife.”] Our Saviour was by the doctors of his time suspected of intending to dissolve the law. In this chapter he wipes off this aspersion upon his accusers, and shows how they were the lawbreakers. In every commonwealth, when it decays, corruption makes two main steps; first, when men cease to do according the inward and uncompelled actions of virtue, caring only to live by the outward constraint of law, and turn the simplicity of real good into the craft of seeming so by law. To this hypocritical honesty was Rome declined in that age wherein Horace lived, and discovered it to Quintius.
The next declining is, when law becomes now too strait for the secular manners, and those too loose for the cincture of law. This brings in false and crooked interpretations to eke out law, and invents the subtle encroachment of obscure traditions hard to be disproved. To both these descents the Pharisees themselves were fallen. Our Saviour therefore shows them both where they broke the law, in not marking the divine intent thereof, but only the letter; and where they depraved the letter also with sophistical expositions. This law of divorce they had depraved both ways: first, by teaching that to give a bill of divorce was all the duty which that law required, whatever the cause were; next, by running to divorce for any trivial accidental cause; whenas the law evidently stays in the grave causes of natural and immutable dislike. “It hath been said,” saith he. Christ doth not put any contempt or disesteem upon the law of Moses, by citing it so briefly; for in the same manner God himself cites a law of greatest caution, Jer. iii. “They say if a man put away his wife, shall he return to her again?” &c. Nor doth he more abolish it than the law of swearing, cited next with the same brevity, and more appearance of contradicting: for divorce hath an exception left it; but we are charged there, as absolutely as words can charge us, “not to swear at all;” yet who denies the lawfulness of an oath, though here it be in no case permitted? And what shall become of his solemn protestation not to abolish one law, or one tittle of any law, especially of those which he mentions in this chapter? And that he meant more particularly the not abolishing of Mosaic divorce, is beyond all cavil manifest in Luke xvi. 17, 18, where this clause against abrogating is inserted immediately before the sentence against divorce, as if it were called thither on purpose to defend the equity of this particular law against the foreseen rashness of common textuaries, who abolish laws, as the rabble demolish images, in the zeal of their hammers oft violating the sepulchres of good men: like Pentheus in the tragedies, they see that for Thebes which is not, and take that for superstition, as these men in the heat of their annulling perceive not how they abolish right, and equal and justice, under the appearance of judicial. And yet are confessing all the while, that these sayings of Christ stand not in contradiction to the law of Moses, but to the false doctrine of the Pharisees raised from thence; that the law of God is perfect, not liable to additions or diminutions: and Paræus accuses the Jesuit Maldonatus of greatest falsity for limiting the perfection of that law only to the rudeness of the Jews. He adds, “That the law promiseth life to the performers thereof, therefore needs not perfecter precepts than such as bring to life; that if the corrections of Christ stand opposite, not to the corruptions of the Pharisees, but to the law itself of God, the heresy of Manes would follow, one God of the Old Testament, and another of the New. That Christ saith not here, Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of Moses’ law, but of the scribes and Pharisees.” That all this may be true: whither is common sense flown asquint, if we can maintain that Christ forbid the Mosaic divorce utterly, and yet abolished not the law that permits it? For if the conscience only were checked, and the law not repealed, what means the fanatic boldness of this age, that dares tutor Christ to be more strict than he thought fit? Ye shall have the evasion, it was a judicial law. What could infancy and slumber have invented more childish? Judicial or not judicial, it was one of those laws expressly which he forewarned us with protestation, that his mind was, not to abrogate: and if we mark the steerage of his words, what course they hold, we may perceive that what he protested not to dissolve (that he might faithfully and not deceitfully remove a suspicion from himself) was principally concerning the judicial law; for of that sort are all these here which he vindicates, except the last. Of the ceremonial law he told them true, that nothing of it should pass “until all were fulfilled.” Of the moral law he knew the Pharisees did not suspect he meant to nullify that: for so doing would soon have undone his authority, and advanced theirs. Of the judicial law therefore chiefly this apology was meant: for how is that fulfilled longer than the common equity thereof remains in force? And how is this our Saviour’s defence of himself not made fallacious, if the Pharisees’ chief fear be lest he should abolish the judicial law, and he, to satisfy them, protests his good intention to the moral law? It is the general grant of divines, that what in the judicial law is not merely judaical,* but reaches to human equity in common, was never in the thought of being abrogated. If our Saviour took away aught of law, it was the burdensome of it, not the ease of burden; it was the bondage, not the liberty of any divine law, that he removed; this he often professed to be the end of his coming. But what if the law of divorce be a moral law, as most certainly it is fundamentally, and hath been so proved in the reasons thereof? For though the giving of a bill may be judicial, yet the act of divorce is altogether conversant in good and evil, and so absolutely moral. So far as it is good, it never can be abolished, being moral; and so far as it is simply evil, it never could be judicial, as hath been shown at large “in the Doctrine of Divorce,” and will be reassumed anon. Whence one of these two necessities follow, that either it was never established, or never abolished. Thus much may be enough to have said on this place. The following verse will be better unfolded in the 19th chapter, where it meets us again, after a large debatement on the question between our Saviour and his adversaries.
Matthew xix. 3, 4, &c.
Ver. 3. “And the Pharisees came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him.”
“Tempting him.”] The manner of these men coming to our Saviour, not to learn, but to tempt him, may give us to expect, that their answer will be such as is fittest for them; not so much a teaching, as an entangling. No man, though never so willing or so well enabled to instruct, but if he discern his willingness and candour made use of to entrap him, will suddenly draw in himself, and laying aside the facil vein of perspicuity, will know his time to utter clouds and riddles; if he be not less wise than that noted fish, whenas he should be not unwiser than the serpent. Our Saviour at no time expressed any great desire to teach the obstinate and unteachable Pharisees; but when they came to tempt him, then least of all. As now about the liberty of divorce, so another time about the punishment of adultery, they came to sound him; and what satisfaction got they from his answer, either to themselves, or to us, that might direct a law under the gospel, new from that of Moses, unless we draw his absolution of adultery into an edict? So about the tribute, who is there can pick out a full solution, what and when we must give to Cæsar, by the answer which he gave the Pharisees? If we must give to Cæsar that which is Cæsar’s, and all be Cæsar’s which hath his image, we must either new stamp our coin, or we may go new stamp our foreheads with the superscription of slaves instead of freemen. Besides, it is a general precept not only of Christ, but of all other sages, not to instruct the unworthy and the conceited, who love tradition more than truth, but to perplex and stumble them purposely with contrived obscurities. No wonder then if they, who would determine of divorce by this place, have ever found it difficult and unsatisfying through all the ages of the church, as Austin himself and other great writers confess. Lastly, it is manifest to be the principal scope of our Saviour, both here, and in the fifth of Matthew, to convince the Pharisees of what they being evil did licentiously, not to explain what others being good and blameless men might be permitted to do in case of extremity. Neither was it seasonable to talk of honest and conscientrous liberty among them, who had abused legal and civil liberty to uncivil license. We do not say to a servant what we say to a son; nor was it expedient to preach freedom to those who had transgressed in wantonness. When we rebuke a prodigal, we admonish him of thrift, not of magnificence, or bounty. And to school a proud man, we labour to make him humble, not magnanimous. So Christ, to retort these arrogant inquisitors their own, took the course to lay their haughtiness under a severity which they deserved; not to acquaint them, or to make them judges either of the just man’s right and privilege, or of the afflicted man’s necessity. And if we may have leave to conjecture, there is a likelihood offered us by Tertullian in his fourth against Marcion, whereby it may seem very probable, that the Pharisees had a private drift of malice against our Saviour’s life in proposing this question; and our Saviour had a peculiar aim in the rigour of his answer, both to let them know the freedom of his spirit, and the sharpness of his discerning. “This I must now show,” saith Tertullian, “whence our Lord deduced this sentence, and which way he directed it, whereby it will more fully appear, that he intended not to dissolve Moses.” And thereupon tells us, that the vehemence of this our Saviour’s speech was chiefly darted against Herod and Herodias. The story is out of Josephus; Herod had been a long time married to the daughter of Aretas king of Petra, till happening on his journey towards Rome to be entertained at his brother Philip’s house, he cast his eye unlawfully and unguestlike upon Herodias there, the wife of Philip, but daughter to Aristobulus their common brother, and durst make words of marrying her his niece from his brother’s bed. She assented, upon agreement he should expel his former wife. All was accomplished, and by the Baptist rebuked with the loss of his head. Though doubtless that stayed not the various discourses of men upon the fact, which while the Herodian flatterers, and not a few perhaps among the Pharisees, endeavoured to defend by wresting the law, it might be a means to bring the question of divorce into a hot agitation among the people, how far Moses gave allowance. The Pharisees therefore knowing our Saviour to be a friend of John the Baptist, and no doubt but having heard much of his sermon on the mount, wherein he spake rigidly against the license of divorce, they put him this question, both in hope to find him a contradictor of Moses, and a condemner of Herod; so to insnare him within compass of the same accusation which had ended his friend; and our Saviour so orders his answer, as that they might perceive Herod and his adulteress, only not named: so lively it concerned them both what he spake. No wonder, then, if the sentence of our Saviour sounded stricter than his custom was; which his conscious attempters doubtless apprehended sooner than his other auditors. Thus much we gain from hence to inform us, that what Christ intends to speak here of divorce, will be rather the forbidding of what we may not do herein passionately and abusively, as Herod and Herodias did, than the discussing of what herein we may do reasonably and necessarily.
“Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?”] It might be rendered more exactly from the Greek, “to loosen or to set free;” which though it seem to have a milder signification than the two Hebrew words commonly used for divorce, yet interpreters have noted, that the Greek also is read in the Septuagint for an act which is not without constraint. As when Achish drove from his presence David, counterfeiting madness, Psal. xxxiv., the Greek word is the same with this here, to put away. And Erasmus quotes Hilary rendering it by an expression not so soft. Whence may be doubted, whether the Pharisees did not state this question in the strict right of the man, not tarrying for the wife’s consent. And if our Saviour answered directly according to what was asked in the term of putting away, it will be questionable, whether the rigour of his sentence did not forbid only such putting away as is without mutual consent, in a violent and harsh manner, or without any reason but will, as the tetrarch did. Which might be the cause that those Christian emperors feared not in their constitutions to dissolve marriage by mutual consent; in that our Saviour seems here, as the case is most likely, not to condemn all divorce, but all injury and violence in divorce. But no injury can be done to them, who seek it, as the Ethics of Aristotle sufficiently prove. True it is, that an unjust thing may be done to one though willing, and so may justly be forbidden: but divorce being in itself no unjust or evil thing, but only as it is joined with injury or lust; injury it cannot be at law, if consent be, and Aristotle err not. And lust it may as frequently not be, while charity hath the judging of so many private grievances in a misfortuned wedlock, which may pardonably seek a redemption. But whether it be or not, the law cannot discern or examine lust, so long as it walks from one lawful term to another, from divorce to marriage, both in themselves indifferent. For if the law cannot take hold to punish many actions apparently covetous, ambitious, ingrateful, proud, how can it forbid and punish that for lust, which is but only surmised so, and can no more be certainly proved in the divorcing now, than before in the marrying? Whence if divorce be no unjust thing, but through lust, a cause not discernible by law, as law is wont to discern in other cases, and can be no injury, where consent is; there can be nothing in the equity of law, why divorce by consent may not be lawful: leaving secresies to conscience, the thing which our Saviour here aims to rectify, not to revoke the statutes of Moses. In the mean while the word “to put away,” being in the Greek to loosen or dissolve, utterly takes away that vain papistical distinction of divorce from bed, and divorce from bond, evincing plainly, that Christ and the Pharisees mean here that divorce, which finally dissolves the bond, and frees both parties to a second marriage.
“For every cause.”] This the Pharisees held, that for every cause they might divorce, for every accidental cause, any quarrel or difference that might happen. So both Josephus and Philo, men who lived in the same age, explain; and the Syriac translator, whose antiquity is thought parallel to the Evangelists themselves, reads it conformably, “upon any occasion or pretence.” Divines also generally agree, that thus the Pharisees meant. Cameron, a late writer, much applauded, commenting this place not undiligently, affirms that the Greek preposition ϰατὰ translated unusually (for) hath a force in it implying the suddenness of those pharisaic divorces; and that their question was to this effect, “whether for any cause, whatever it chanced to be, straight as it rose, the divorce might be lawful.” This he freely gives, whatever moved him, and I as freely take, nor can deny his observation to be acute and learned. If therefore we insist upon the word of “putting away;” that it imports a constraint without consent, as might be insisted, and may enjoy what Cameron bestows on us, that “for every cause” is to be understood, “according as any cause may happen,” with a relation to the speediness of those divorces, and that Herodian act especially, as is already brought us; the sentence of our Saviour will appear nothing so strict a prohibition as hath been long conceived, forbidding only to divorce for casual and temporary causes, that may be soon ended, or soon remedied: and likewise forbidding to divorce rashly, and on the sudden heat, except it be for adultery. If these qualifications may be admitted, as partly we offer them, partly are offered them by some of their own opinion, and that where nothing is repugnant why they should not be admitted, nothing can wrest them from us; the severe sentence of our Saviour will straight unbend the seeming frown into that gentleness and compassion, which was so abundant in all his actions, his office, and his doctrine, from all which otherwise it stands off at no mean distance.
Ver. 4. “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female?”
Ver. 5. “And said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh.”
Ver. 6. “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”
4, and 5. “Made them male and female; and said, For this cause,” &c.] We see it here undeniably, that the law which our Saviour cites to prove that divorce was forbidden, is not an absolute and tyrannical command without reason, as now-a-days we make it little better, but is grounded upon some rational cause not difficult to be apprehended, being in a matter which equally concerns the meanest and the plainest sort of persons in a household life. Our next way then will be to inquire if there be not more reasons than one; and if there be, whether this be the best and chiefest. That we shall find by turning to the first institution, to which Christ refers our own reading: he himself, having to deal with treacherous assailants, useth brevity, and lighting on the first place in Genesis that mentions any thing tending to marriage in the first chapter, joins it immediately to the twenty-fourth verse of the second chapter, omitting all the prime words between which create the institution, and contain the noblest and purest ends of matrimony; without which attained, that conjunction hath nothing in it above what is common to us with beasts. So likewise beneath in this very chapter to the young man, who came not tempting him, but to learn of him, asking him which commandments he should keep; he neither repeats the first table, nor all the second, nor that in order which he repeats. If here then being tempted, he desire to be the shorter, and the darker in his conference, and omit to cite that from the second of Genesis, which all divines confess is a commentary to what he cites out of the first, the “making them male and female;” what are we to do, but to search the institution ourselves? And we shall find there his own authority, giving other manner of reasons why such firm union is to be in matrimony; without which reasons, their being male and female can be no cause of joining them unseparably: for if it be, then no adultery can sever. Therefore the prohibition of divorce depends not upon this reason here expressed to the Pharisees, but upon the plainer and more eminent causes omitted here, and referred to the institution; which causes not being found in a particular and casual matrimony, this sensitive and materious cause alone can no more hinder a divorce against those higher and more human reasons urging it, than it can alone without them to warrant a copulation, but leaves it arbitrary to those who in their chance of marriage find not why divorce is forbid them, but why it is permitted them; and find both here and in Genesis, that the forbidding is not absolute, but according to the reasons there taught us, not here. And that our Saviour taught them no better, but uses the most vulgar, most animal and corporal argument to convince them, is first to show us, that as through their licentious divorces they made no more of marriage, than as if to marry were no more than to be male and female, so he goes no higher in his confutation; deeming them unworthy to be talked with in a higher strain, but to be tied in marriage by the mere material cause thereof, since their own license testified that nothing matrimonial was in their thought, but to be male and female. Next, it might be done to discover the brute ignorance of these carnal doctors, who taking on them to dispute of marriage and divorce, were put to silence with such a slender opposition as this, and outed from their hold with scarce one quarter of an argument. That we may believe this, his entertainment of the young man soon after may persuade us. Whom, though he came to preach eternal life by faith only, he dismisses with a salvation taught him by works only. On which place Paræus notes, “That this man was to be convinced by a false persuasion; and that Christ is wont otherwise to answer hypocrites, otherwise those that are docible.” Much rather then may we think, that, in handling these tempters, he forgot not so to frame his prudent ambiguities and concealments, as was to the troubling of those peremptory disputants most wholesome. When therefore we would know what right there may be, in all accidents, to divorce, we must repair thither where God professes to teach his servants by the prime institution, and not where we see him intending to dazzle sophisters: we must not read, “he made them male and female,” and not understand he made them more intendedly “a meet help” to remove the evil of being “alone.” We must take both these together, and then we may infer completely, as from the whole cause, why a man shall cleave to his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh: but if the full and chief cause why we may not divorce be wanting here, this place may skirmish with the rabbies while it will, but to the true Christian it prohibits nothing beyond the full reason of its own prohibiting, which is best known by the institution.
Ver. 6. “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.”] This is true in the general right of marriage, but not in the chance medley of every particular match. For if they who were once undoubtedly one flesh, yet become twain by adultery, then sure they who were never one flesh rightly, never helps meet for each other according to the plain prescript of God, may with less ado than a volume be concluded still twain. And so long as we account a magistrate no magistrate, if there be but a flaw in his election, why should we not much rather count a matrimony no matrimony, if it cannot be in any reasonable manner according to the words of God’s institution.
“What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder.”] But here the Christian prudence lies to consider what God hath joined; shall we say that God hath joined error, fraud, unfitness, wrath, contention, perpetual loneliness, perpetual discord; whatever lust, or wine, or witchery, threat or inticement, avarice or ambition hath joined together, faithful and unfaithful, Christian with antichristian, hate with hate, or hate with love; shall we say this is God’s joining?
“Let not man put asunder.”] That is to say, what God hath joined; for if it be, as how oft we see it may be, not of God’s joining, and his law tells us he joins not unmatchable things, but hates to join them, as an abominable confusion, then the divine law of Moses puts them asunder, his own divine will in the institution puts them asunder, as oft as the reasons be not extant, for which only God ordained their joining. Man only puts asunder when his inordinate desires, his passion, his violence, his injury makes the breach: not when the utter want of that which lawfully was the end of his joining, when wrongs and extremities and unsupportable grievances compel him to disjoin: when such as Herod and the Pharisees divorce beside law, or against law, then only man separates, and to such only this prohibition belongs. In a word, if it be unlawful for man to put asunder that which God hath joined, let man take heed it be not detestable to join that by compulsion which God hath put asunder.
Ver. 7. “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?”
Ver. 8. “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.”
“Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you.”] Hence the divinity now current argues, that this judicial law of Moses is abolished. But suppose it were so, though it hath been proved otherwise, the firmness of such right to divorce, as here pleads is fetched from the prime institution, does not stand or fall with the judicial Jew, but is as moral as what is moralest. Yet as I have shown positively, that this law cannot be abrogated, both by the words of our Saviour pronouncing the contrary, and by that unabolishable equity which it conveys to us; so I shall now bring to view those appearances of strength, which are levied from this text to maintain the most gross and massy paradox that ever did violence to reason and religion, bred only under the shadow of these words, to all other piety or philosophy strange and insolent, that God by act of law drew out a line of adultery almost two thousand years long: although to detect the prodigy of this surmise, the former book set forth on this argument hath already been copious. I shall not repeat much, though I might borrow of mine own; but shall endeavour to add something either yet untouched, or not largely enough explained. First, it shall be manifest, that the common exposition cannot possibly consist with Christian doctrine; next, a truer meaning of this our Saviour’s reply shall be left in the room. The received exposition is, that God, though not approving, did enact a law to permit adultery by divorcement simply unlawful. And this conceit they feed with fond supposals, that have not the least footing in Scripture: as that the Jews learned this custom of divorce in Egypt, and therefore God would not unteach it them till Christ came, but let it stick as a notorious botch of deformity in the midst of his most perfect and severe law. And yet he saith, Lev. xviii. “After the doings of Egypt ye shall not do.” Another while they invent a slander, (as what thing more bold than teaching ignorance when he shifts to hide his nakedness?) that the Jews were naturally to their wives the cruellest men in the world; would poison, brain, and do I know not what, if they might not divorce. Certain, if it were a fault heavily punished, to bring an evil report upon the land which God gave, what is it to raise a groundless calumny against the people which God made choice of? But that this bold interpretament, how commonly soever sided with, cannot stand a minute with any competent reverence to God, or his law, or his people, nor with any other maxim of religion, or good manners, might be proved through all the heads and topics of argumentation; but I shall willingly be as concise as possible. First, the law, not only the moral, but the judicial, given by Moses, is just and pure; for such is God who gave it. “Hearken, O Israel,” saith Moses, Deut. iv. “unto the statutes and the judgments which I teach you, to do them, that ye may live, &c. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.” And onward in the chapter, “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me. Keep therefore and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding. For what nation hath God so nigh unto them, and what nation hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before ye this day?” Is it imaginable there should be among these a law which God allowed not, a law giving permissions laxative to unmarry a wife, and marry a lust, a law to suffer a kind of tribunal adultery? Many other scriptures might be brought to assert the purity of this judicial law, and many I have alleged before; this law therefore is pure and just. But if it permit, if it teach, if it defend that which is both unjust and impure, as by the common doctrine it doth, what think we? The three general doctrines of Justinian’s law are, “To live in honesty, To hurt no man, To give every one his due.” Shall the Roman civil law observe these three things, as the only end of law, and shall a statute be found in the civil law of God, enacted simply and totally against all these three precepts of nature and morality?
Secondly, The gifts of God are all perfect, and certainly the law is, of all his other gifts, one of the perfectest. But if it give that outwardly which it takes away really, and give that seemingly, which, if a man take it, wraps him into sin and damns him; what gift of an enemy can be more dangerous and destroying than this?
Thirdly, Moses every where commends his laws, prefers them before all of other nations, and warrants them to be the way of life and safety to all that walk therein, Lev. xviii. But if they contain statutes which God approves not, and train men unweeting to commit injustice and adultery under the shelter of law; if those things be sin, and death sin’s wages, what is this law but the snare of death?
Fourthly, The statutes and judgments of the Lord, which, without exception, are often told us to be such, as doing we may live by them, are doubtless to be counted the rule of knowledge and of conscience. “For I had not known lust,” saith the apostle, “but by the law.” But if the law come down from the state of her incorruptible majesty to grant lust his boon, palpably it darkens and confounds both knowledge and conscience; it goes against the common office of all goodness and friendliness, which is at least to counsel and admonish; it subverts the rules of all sober education, and is itself a most negligent and debauching tutor.
Fifthly, If the law permits a thing unlawful, it permits that which elsewhere it hath forbid; so that hereby it contradicts itself, and transgresses itself. But if the law become a transgressor, it stands guilty to itself, and how then shall it save another? It makes a confederacy with sin, how then can it justly condemn a sinner? And thus reducing itself to the state of neither saving nor condemning, it will not fail to expire solemnly ridiculous.
Sixthly, The prophets in Scripture declare severely against the decreeing of that which is unjust, Psal. xciv. 20; Isaiah x. But it was done, they say, for hardness of heart: to which objection the apostle’s rule, “not to do evil that good may come thereby,” gives an invincible repulse; and here especially, where it cannot be shown how any good came by doing this evil, how rather more evil did not hereon abound; for the giving way to hardness of heart hardens the more, and adds more to the number. God to an evil and adulterous generation would not “grant a sign;” much less would he for their hardness of heart pollute his law with adulterous permission. Yea, but to permit evil, is not to do evil. Yes, it is in a most eminent manner to do evil: where else are all our grave and faithful sayings, that he whose office is to forbid and forbids not, bids, exhorts, encourages? Why hath God denounced his anger against parents, masters, friends, magistrates, neglectful of forbidding what they ought, if law, the common father, master, friend, and perpetual magistrate, shall not only forbid, but enact, exhibit, and uphold with countenance and protection, a deed every way dishonest, whatever the pretence be? If it were of those inward vices, which the law cannot by outward constraint remedy, but leaves to conscience and persuasion, it had been guiltless in being silent: but to write a decree of that which can be no way lawful, and might with ease be hindered, makes law by the doom of law itself accessory in the highest degree.
Seventhly, It makes God the direct author of sin: for although he be not made the author of what he silently permits in his providence, yet in his law, the image of his will, when in plain expression he constitutes and ordains a fact utterly unlawful; what wants he to authorize it, and what wants that to be the author?
Eighthly, To establish by law a thing wholly unlawful and dishonest, is an affirmation was never heard of before in any law, reason, philosophy, or religion, till it was raised by inconsiderate glossists from the mistake of this text. And though the civilians have been contented to chew this opinion, after the canon had subdued them, yet they never could bring example or authority, either from divine writ, or human learning, or human practice in any nation, or well-formed republic, but only from the customary abuse of this text. Usually they allege the epistle of Cicero to Atticus; wherein Cato is blamed for giving sentence to the scum of Romulus, as if he were in Plato’s commonwealth. Cato would have called some great one into judgment for bribery; Cicero, as the time stood, advised against it. Cato, not to endamage the public treasury, would not grant to the Roman knights, that the Asian taxes might be farmed them at a less rate. Cicero wished it granted. Nothing in all this will be like the establishing of a law to sin: here are no laws made, here only the execution of law is craved might be suspended: between which and our question is a broad difference. And what if human lawgivers have confessed they could not frame their laws to that perfection which they desired? We hear of no such confession from Moses concerning the laws of God, but rather all praise and high testimony of perfection given them. And although man’s nature cannot bear exactest laws, yet still within the confines of good it may and must, so long as less good is far enough from altogether evil. As for what they instance of usury, let them first prove usury to be wholly unlawful, as the laws allow it; which learned men as numerous on the other side will deny them. Or if it be altogether unlawful, why is it tolerated more than divorce? He who said divorce not, said also, “Lend, hoping for nothing again,” Luke vi. 35. But then they put in, that trade could not stand; and so to serve the commodity of insatiable trading, usury shall be permitted: but divorce, the only means ofttimes to right the innocent and outrageously wronged, shall be utterly forbid. This is egregious doctrine, and for which one day charity will much thank them. Beza not finding how to solve this perplexity, and Cameron since him, would secure us; although the latter confesses, that to “permit a wicked thing by law, is a wickedness which God abhors; yet to limit sin, and prescribe it a certain measure, is good.” First, this evasion will not help here; for this law bounded no man: he might put away whatever found not favour in his eyes. And how could it forbid to divorce, whom it could not forbid to dislike, or command to love? If these be the limits of law to restrain sin, who so lame a sinner, but may hop over them more easily than over those Romulean circumscriptions, not as Remus did with hard success, but with all indemnity? Such a limiting as this were not worth the mischief that accompanies it. This law therefore, not bounding the supposed sin, by permitting enlarges it, gives it enfranchisement. And never greater confusion, than when law and sin move their landmarks, mix their territories, and correspond, have intercourse and traffic together. When law contracts a kindred and hospitality with transgression, becomes the godfather of sin, and names it lawful; when sin revels and gossips within the arsenal of law, plays and dandles the artillery of justice that should be bent against her, this is a fair limitation indeed. Besides, it is an absurdity to say that law can measure sin, or moderate sin; sin is not in a predicament to be measured and modified, but is always an excess. The least sin that is exceeds the measure of the largest law that can be good; and is, as boundless as that vacuity beyond the world. If once it square to the measure of law, it ceases to be an excess, and consequently ceases to be a sin; or else law conforming itself to the obliquity of sin, betrays itself to be not straight, but crooked, and so immediately no law. And the improper conceit of moderating sin by law will appear, if we can imagine any lawgiver so senseless as to decree, that so far a man may steal, and thus far be drunk, that moderately he may cozen, and moderately commit adultery. To the same extent it would be as pithily absurd to publish, that a man may moderately divorce, if to do that be entirely naught. But to end this moot; the law of Moses is manifest to fix no limit therein at all, or such at least as impeaches the fraudulent abuser no more than if it were not set; only requires the dismissive writing without other caution, leaves that to the inner man, and the bar of conscience. But it stopped other sins. This is as vain as the rest, and dangerously uncertain: the contrary to be feared rather, that one sin, admitted courteously by law, opened the gate to another. However, evil must not be done for good. And it were a fall to be lamented, and indignity unspeakable, if law should become tributary to sin her slave, and forced to yield up into his hands her awful minister, punishment; should buy out our peace with sin for sin, paying as it were her so many Philistian foreskins to the proud demand of transgression. But suppose it any way possible to limit sin, to put a girdle about that chaos, suppose it also good; yet if to permit sin by law be an abomination in the eyes of God, as Cameron acknowledges, the evil of permitting will eat out the good of limiting. For though sin be not limited, there can but evil come out of evil; but if it be permitted and decreed lawful by divine law, of force then sin must proceed from the infinite good, which is a dreadful thought. But if the restraining of sin by this permission being good, as this author testifies, be more good than the permission of more sin by the restraint of divorce, and that God, weighing both these like two ingots, in the perfect scales of his justice and providence, found them so, and others, coming without authority from God, shall change this counterpoise, and judge it better to let sin multiply by setting a judicial restraint upon divorce which Christ never set; then to limit sin by this permission, as God himself thought best to permit it, it will behove them to consult betimes whether these their balances be not false and abominable; and this their limiting that which God loosened, and their loosening the sins that he limited, which they confess was good to do: and were it possible to do by law, doubtless it would be most morally good; and they so believing, as we hear they do, and yet abolishing a law so good and moral, the limiter of sin, what are they else but contrary to themselves? For they can never bring us to that time wherein it will not be good to limit sin, and they can never limit it better than so as God prescribed in his law.
Others conceive it a more defensible retirement to say, this permission to divorce sinfully for hardness of heart was a dispensation. But surely they either know not, or attended not to what a dispensation means. A dispensation is for no long time, is particular to some persons, rather than general to a whole people; always hath charity the end, is granted to necessities and infirmities, not to obstinate lust. This permission is another creature, hath all those evils and absurdities following the name of a dispensation, as when it was named a law; and is the very antarctic pole against charity, nothing more adverse, ensnaring and ruining those that trust in it, or use it; so lewd and criminous as never durst enter into the head of any politician, Jew, or proselyte, till they became the apt scholars of this canonistic exposition. Aught in it, that can allude in the least manner to charity, or goodness, belongs with more full right to the Christian under grace and liberty, than to the Jew under law and bondage. To Jewish ignorance it could not be dispensed, without a horrid imputation laid upon the law, to dispense foully, instead of teaching fairly; like that dispensation that first polluted Christendom with idolatry, permitting to laymen images instead of books and preaching. Sloth or malice in the law would they have this called? But what ignorance can be pretended for the Jews, who had all the same precepts about marriage, that we know? for Christ refers all to the institution. It was as reasonable for them to know then as for us now, and concerned them alike; for wherein hath the gospel altered the nature of matrimony? All these considerations, or many of them, have been further amplified in “the Doctrine of Divorce.” And what Rivetus and Paræus have objected, or given over as past cure, hath been there discussed. Whereby it may be plain enough to men of eyes, that the vulgar exposition of a permittance by law to an entire sin, whatever the colour may be, is an opinion both ungodly, unpolitic, unvirtuous, and void of all honesty and civil sense. It appertains therefore to every zealous Christian, both for the honour of God’s law, and the vindication of our Saviour’s words, that such an irreligious depravement no longer may be soothed and flattered through custom, but with all diligence and speed solidly refuted, and in the room a better explanation given; which is now our next endeavour.
“Moses suffered you to put away,” &c.] Not commanded you, says the common observer, and therefore cared not how soon it were abolished, being but suffered; herein declaring his annotation to be slight, and nothing law-prudent. For in this place “commanded” and “suffered” are interchangeably used in the same sense both by our Saviour and the Pharisees. Our Saviour, who here saith, “Moses suffered you,” in the 10th of Mark saith, “Moses wrote you this command.” And the Pharisees, who here say, “Moses commanded,” and would mainly have it a command, in that place of Mark say, “Moses suffered,” which had made against them in their own mouths, if the word of “suffering” had weakened the command. So that suffered and commanded is here taken for the same thing on both sides of the controversy: as Cameron also and others on this place acknowledge. And lawyers know that all the precepts of law are divided into obligatory and permissive, containing either what we must do, or what we may do; and of this latter sort are as many precepts as of the former, and all as lawful. Tutelage, an ordainment than which nothing more just, being for the defence of orphans, the Institutes of Justinian say “is given and permitted by the civil law:” and “to parents it is permitted to choose and appoint by will the guardians of their children.” What more equal? and yet the civil law calls this “permission.” So likewise to “manumise,” to adopt, to make a will, and to be made an heir, is called “permission” by law. Marriage itself, and this which is already granted, to divorce for adultery, obliges no man, is but a permission by law, is but suffered. By this we may see how weakly it hath been thought, that all divorce is utterly unlawful, because the law is said to suffer it: whenas to “suffer” is but the legal phrase denoting what by law a man may do or not do.
“Because of the hardness of your hearts.”] Hence they argue that therefore it must be abolished. But the contrary to this will sooner follow, that because he suffered it for a cause, therefore in relation to that cause he allowed it. Next, if he in his wisdom, and in the midst of his severity, allowed it for hardness of heart, it can be nothing better than arrogance and presumption to take stricter courses against hardness of heart, than God ever set an example; and that under the gospel, which warrants them to do no judicial act of compulsion in this matter, much less to be more severe against hardness of extremity, than God thought good to be against hardness of heart. He suffered it, rather than worse inconveniences; these men wiser, as they make themselves, will suffer the worst and heinousest inconveniences to follow, rather than they will suffer what God suffered. Although they can know when they please, that Christ spake only to the conscience, did not judge on the civil bench, but always disavowed it. What can be more contrary to the ways of God, than these their doings? If they be such enemies to hardness of heart, although this groundless rigour proclaims it to be in themselves, they may yet learn, or consider, that hardness of heart hath a twofold acceptation in the gospel. One, when it is in a good man taken for infirmity and imperfection, which was in all the apostles, whose weakness only, not utter want of belief, is called hardness of heart, Mark xvi. Partly for this hardness of heart, the imperfection and decay of man from original righteousness, it was that God suffered not divorce only, but all that which by civilians is termed the “secondary law of nature and of nations.” He suffered his own people to waste and spoil and slay by war, to lead captives, to be some masters, some servants, some to be princes, others to be subjects; he suffered propriety to divide all things by several possession, trade, and commerce, not without usury; in his commonwealth some to be undeservedly rich, others to be undeservingly poor. All which till hardness of heart came in was most unjust; whenas prime nature made us all equal, made us equal coheirs by common right and dominion over all creatures. In the same manner and for the same cause, he suffered divorce as well as marriage, our imperfect and degenerate condition of necessity requiring this law among the rest, as a remedy against intolerable wrong and servitude above the patience of man to bear. Nor was it given only because our infirmity, or if it must be so called, hardness of heart could not endure all things; but because the hardness of another’s heart might not inflict all things upon an innocent person, whom far other ends brought into a league of love, and not of bondage and indignity. If therefore we abolish divorce as only suffered for hardness of heart, we may as well abolish the whole law of nations, as only suffered for the same cause; it being shown us by St. Paul, 1 Cor. vi. that the very seeking of a man’s right by law, and at the hands of a worldly magistrate, is not without the hardness of our hearts. “For why do ye not rather take wrong,” saith he, “why suffer ye not rather yourselves to be defrauded?” If nothing now must be suffered for hardness of heart, I say the very prosecution of our right by way of civil justice can no more be suffered among Christians, for the hardness of heart wherewith most men pursue it. And that would next remove all our judicial laws, and this restraint of divorce also in the number; which would more than half end the controversy. But if it be plain, that the whole juridical law and civil power is only suffered under the gospel, for the hardness of our hearts, then wherefore should not that which Moses suffered, be suffered still by the same reason?
In a second signification, hardness of heart is taken for a stubborn resolution to do evil. And that God ever makes any law purposely to such. I deny; for he vouchsafes to enter covenant with them, but as they fortune to be mixed with good men, and pass undiscovered; much less that he should decree an unlawful thing only to serve their licentiousness. But that God “suffers” this reprobate hardness of heart I affirm, not only in this law of divorce, but throughout all his best and purest commandments. He commands all to worship in singleness of heart according to all his ordinances; and yet suffers the wicked man to perform all the rites of religion hypocritically, and in the hardness of his heart. He gives us general statutes and privileges in all civil matters, just and good of themselves, yet suffers unworthiest men to use them, and by them to prosecute their own right, or any colour of right, though for the most part maliciously, covetously, rigorously, revengefully. He allowed by law the discreet father and husband to forbid, if he thought fit, the religious vows of his wife or daughter, Numb. xxx.; and in the same law suffered the hardheartedness of impious and covetuous fathers or husbands abusing this law, to forbid their wives or daughters in their offerings and devotions of greatest zeal. If then God suffer hardness of heart equally in the best laws, as in this of divorce, there can be no reason that for this cause this law should be abolished. But other laws, they object, may be well used, this never. How often shall I answer, both from the institution of marriage, and from other general rules in Scripture, that this law of divorce hath many wise and charitable ends besides the being suffered for hardness of heart, which is indeed no end, but an accident happening through the whole law; which gives to good men right, and to bad men, who abuse right under false pretences, gives only sufferance. Now although Christ express no other reasons here, but only what was suffered, it nothing follows that this law had no other reason to be permitted but for hardness of heart. The Scripture seldom or never in one place sets down all the reasons of what it grants or commands, especially when it talks to enemies and tempters. St. Paul permitting marriage, 1 Cor. vii. seems to permit even that also for hardness of heart only, lest we should run into fornication: yet no intelligent man thence concludes marriage allowed in the gospel only to avoid an evil, because no other end is there expressed. Thus Moses of necessity suffered many to put away their wives for hardness of heart; but enacted the law of divorce doubtless for other good causes, not for this only sufferance. He permitted not divorce by law as an evil, for that was impossible to divine law, but permitted by accident the evil of them who divorced against the law’s intention undiscoverably. This also may be thought not improbably, that Christ, stirred up in his spirit against these tempting Pharisees, answered them in a certain form of indignation usual among good authors; whereby the question or the truth is not directly answered, but something which is fitter for them who ask, to hear. So in the ecclesiastical stories, one demanding how God employed himself before the world was made? had answer, that he was making hell for curious questioners. Another (and Libanus the sophist, as I remember) asking in derision some Christian, What the carpenter, meaning our Saviour, was doing, now that Julian so prevailed? had it returned him, that the carpenter was making a coffin for the apostate. So Christ being demanded maliciously why Moses made the law of divorce, answers them in a vehement scheme, not telling them the cause why he made it, but what was fittest to be told them, that “for the hardness of their hearts” he suffered them to abuse it. And albeit Mark say not “he suffered” you, but, “to you he wrote this precept;” Mark may be warrantably expounded by Matthew the larger. And whether he suffered, or gave precept, being all one as was heard, it changes not the trope of indignation, fittest account for such askers. Next, for the hardness of “your hearts, to you he wrote this precept,” infers not therefore for this cause only he wrote it, as was paralleled by other Scriptures. Lastly, it may be worth the observing, that Christ, speaking to the Pharisees, does not say in general that for hardness of heart he gave this precept, but “you he suffered, and to you he gave this precept, for your hardness of heart.” It cannot be easily thought, that Christ here included all the children of Israel under the person of these tempting Pharisees, but that he conceals wherefore he gave the better sort of them this law, and expresses by saying emphatically “To you” how he gave it to the worser, such as the Pharisees best represented, that is to say, for the hardness of your hearts: as indeed to wicked men and hardened hearts he gives the whole law and the gospel also, to harden them the more. Thus many ways it may orthodoxly be understood how God or Moses suffered such as the demanders were, to divorce for hardness of heart. Whereas the vulgar expositor, beset with contradictions and absurdities round, and resolving at any peril to make an exposition of it, (as there is nothing more violent and boisterous than a reverend ignorance in fear to be convicted,) rushes brutely and impetuously against all the principles both of nature, piety, and moral goodness; and in the fury of his literal expounding overturns them all.
“But from the beginning it was not so.”] Not how from the beginning? Do they suppose that men might not divorce at all, not necessarily, not deliberately, except for adultery, but that some law, like canon law, presently attached them, both before and after the flood, till stricter Moses came, and with law brought license into the world? that were a fancy indeed to smile at. Undoubtedly as to point of judicial law, divorce was more permissive from the beginning before Moses than under Moses. But from the beginning, that is to say, by the institution in Paradise, it was not intended that matrimony should dissolve for every trivial cause, as you Pharisees accustom. But that it was not thus suffered from the beginning ever since the race of men corrupted, and laws were made, he who will affirm must have found out other antiquities than are yet known. Besides, we must consider now, what can be so as from the beginning, not only what should be so. In the beginning, had men continued perfect, it had been just that all things should have remained as they began to Adam and Eve. But after that the sons of men grew violent and injurious, it altered the lore of justice, and put the government of things into a new frame. While man and woman were both perfect each to other, there needed no divorce; but when they both degenerated to imperfection, and ofttimes grew to be an intolerable evil each to other, then law more justly did permit the alienating of that evil which estate made proper, than it did the appropriating of that good which nature at first made common. For if the absence of outward good be not so bad as the presence of a close evil, and that propriety, whether by covenant or possession, be but the attainment of some outward good, it is more natural and righteous that the law should sever us from an intimate evil, than appropriate any outward good to us from the community of nature. The gospel indeed tending ever to that which is perfectest, aimed at the restorement of all things as they were in the beginning; and therefore all things were in common to those primitive Christians in the Acts, which Ananias and Sapphira dearly felt. That custom also continued more or less till the time of Justin Martyr, as may be read in his second Apology, which might be writ after that act of communion perhaps some forty years above a hundred. But who will be the man that shall introduce this kind of commonwealth, as Christianity now goes? If then marriage must be as in the beginning, the persons that marry must be such as then were; the institution must make good, in some tolerable sort, what it promises to either party. If not, it is but madness to drag this one ordinance back to the beginning, and draw down all other to the present necessity and condition, far from the beginning, even to the tolerating of extortions and oppressions. Christ only told us, that from the beginning it was not so; that is to say, not so as the Pharisees manured the business; did not command us that it should be forcibly so again in all points, as at the beginning; or so at least in our intentions and desires, but so in execution, as reason and present nature can bear. Although we are not to seek, that the institution itself from the first beginning was never but conditional, as all covenants are: because thus and thus, therefore so and so; if not thus, then not so. Then moreover was perfectest to fulfil each law in itself; now is perfectest in this estate of things, to ask of charity how much law may be fulfilled: else the fulfilling ofttimes is the greatest breaking. If any therefore demand, which is now most perfection, to ease an extremity by divorce, or to enrage and fester it by the grievous observance of a miserable wedlock, I am not destitute to say, which is most perfection (although some, who believe they think favourably of divorce, esteem it only venial to infirmity). Him I hold more in the way to perfection, who foregoes an unfit, ungodly, and discordant wedlock, to live according to peace and love, and God’s institution in a fitter choice, than he who debars himself the happy experience of all godly, which is peaceful, conversation in his family, to live a contentious and unchristian life not to be avoided, in temptations not to be lived in, only for the false keeping of a most unreal nullity, a marriage that hath no affinity with God’s intention, a daring phantasm, a mere toy of terror awing weak senses, to the lamentable superstition of ruining themselves; the remedy whereof God in his law vouchsafes us. Which not to dare use, he warranting, is not our perfection, is our infirmity, our little faith, our timorous and low conceit of charity: and in them who force us, it is their masking pride and vanity, to seem holier and more circumspect than God. So far is it that we need impute to him infirmity, who thus divorces: since the rule of perfection is not so much that which was done in the beginning, as that which is now nearest to the rule of charity. This is the greatest, the perfectest, the highest commandment.
Ver. 9. “And I say unto you, whoso shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away, doth commit adultery.”
“And I say unto you.”] That this restrictive denouncement of Christ contradicts and refutes that permissive precept of Moses common expositors themselves disclaim: and that it does not traverse from the closet of conscience to the courts of civil or canon law, with any Christian rightly commenced, requires not long evincing. If Christ then did not here check permissive Moses, nor did reduce matrimony to the beginning more than all other things, as the reason of man’s condition could bear; we would know precisely what it was which he did, and what the end was of his declaring thus austerely against divorce. For this is a confessed oracle in law, that he who looks not at the intention of a precept, the more superstitious he is of the letter, the more he misinterprets. Was it to shame Moses? that had been monstrous: or all those purest ages of Israel, to whom the permission was granted? that were as incredible. Or was it that he who came to abrogate the burden of law, not the equity, should put this yoke upon a blameless person, to league himself in chains with a begirting mischief, not to separate till death? He who taught us, that no man puts a piece of new cloth upon an old garment or new wine into old bottles, that he should sew this patch of strictness upon the old apparel of our frailty, to make a rent more incurable, whenas in all other amendments his doctrine still charges, that regard be had to the garment, and to the vessel, what it can endure; this were an irregular and single piece of rigour, not only sounding disproportion to the whole gospel, but outstretching the most rigorous nerves of law and rigour itself. No other end therefore can be left imaginable of this excessive restraint, but to bridle those erroneous and licentious postillers the Pharisees; not by telling them what may be done in necessity, but what censure they deserve who divorce abusively, which their tetrarch had done. And as the offence was in one extreme, so the rebuke, to bring more efficaciously to a rectitude and mediocrity, stands not in the middle way of duty, but in the other extreme. Which art of powerful reclaiming, wisest men have also taught in their ethical precepts and Gnomologies, resembling it, as when we bend a crooked wand the contrary way; not that it should stand so bent, but that the overbending might reduce it to a straightness by its own reluctance. And as the physician cures him who hath taken down poison, not by the middling temper of nourishment, but by the other extreme of antidote; so Christ administers here a sharp and corrosive sentence against a foul and putrid license; not to eat into the flesh, but into the sore. And knowing that our divines through all their comments make no scruple, where they please, to soften the high and vehement speeches of our Saviour, which they call hyperboles: why in this one text should they be such crabbed Masorites of the letter, as not to mollify a transcendence of literal rigidity, which they confess to find often elsewhere in his manner of delivery, but must make their exposition here such an obdurate Cyclops, to have but one eye for this text, and that only open to cruelty and enthralment, such as no divine or human law before ever heard of? No, let the foppish canonist, with his fardel of matrimonial cases, go and be vendible where men be so unhappy as to cheapen him: the words of Christ shall be asserted from such elemental notaries, and resolved by the now only lawgiving mouth of charity; which may be done undoubtedly by understanding them as follows.
“Whosoever shall put away his wife.”] That is to say, shall so put away as the propounders of this question, the Pharisees, were wont to do, and covertly defended Herod for so doing; whom to rebuke, our Saviour here mainly intends, and not to determine all the cases of divorce, as appears by St. Paul. Whosoever shall put away, either violently without mutual consent for urgent reasons, or conspiringly by plot of lust, or cunning malice, shall put away for any sudden mood, or contingency of disagreement, which is not daily practice, but may blow soon over, and be reconciled, except it be fornication; whosoever shall put away rashly, as his choler prompts him, without due time of deliberating, and think his conscience discharged only by the bill of divorce given, and the outward law satisfied; whosoever, lastly, shall put away his wife, that is, a wife indeed, and not in name only, such a one who both can and is willing to be a meet help toward the chief ends of marriage both civil and sanctified, except fornication be the cause, that man, or that pair, commit adultery. Not he who puts away by mutual consent, with all the considerations and respects of humanity and gentleness, without malicious or lustful drift. Not he who after sober and cool experience, and long debate within himself, puts away, whom though he cannot love or suffer as a wife with that sincere affection that marriage requires, yet loves at least with that civility and goodness, as not to keep her under a neglected and unwelcome residence, where nothing can be hearty, and not being, it must needs be both unjoyous and injurious to any perceiving person so detained, and more injurious than to be freely and upon good terms dismissed. Nor doth he put away adulterously who complains of causes rooted in immutable nature, utter unfitness, utter disconformity, not conciliable, because not to be amended without a miracle. Nor he who puts away an unquenchable vexation from his bosom, and flies an evil, than which a greater cannot befall human society. Nor he who puts away with the full suffrage and applause of his conscience, not relying on the written bill of law, but claiming by faith and fulness of persuasion the rights and promises of God’s institution, of which he finds himself in a mistaken wedlock defrauded. Doubtless this man hath bail enough to be no adulterer, giving divorce for these causes.
“His wife.”] This word is not to be idle here, a mere word without sense, much less a fallacious word signifying contrary to what it pretends; but faithfully signifies a wife; that is, a comfortable help and society, as God instituted; does not signify deceitfully under this name an intolerable adversary, not a helpless, unaffectionate, and sullen mass, whose very company represents the visible and exactest figure of loneliness itself. Such an associate he who puts away, divorces not a wife, but disjoins a nullity which God never joined, if she be neither willing, nor to her proper and requisite duties sufficient, as the words of God institute her. And this also is Bucer’s explication of this place.
“Except it be for fornication,” or “saving for the cause of fornication,” as Matt. v.] This declares what kind of causes our Saviour meant; fornication being no natural and perpetual cause, but only accidental and temporary; therefore shows that head of causes from whence it is excepted, to be meant of the same sort. For exceptions are not logically deduced from a diverse kind, as to say whoso puts away for any natural cause except fornication, the exception would want salt. And if they understand it, whoso for any cause whatever, they cast themselves; granting divorce for frigidity, a natural cause of their own allowing, though not here expressed, and for desertion without infidelity, whenas he who marries, as they allow him for desertion, deserts as well as is deserted, and finally puts away for another cause besides adultery. It will with all due reason therefore be thus better understood, whoso puts away for any accidental and temporary causes, except one of them, which is fornication. Thus this exception finds out the causes from whence it is excepted, to be of the same kind, that is, casual, not continual.
“Saving for the cause of fornication.”] The New Testament, though it be said originally writ in Greek, yet hath nothing near so many Atticisms as Hebraisms, and Syriacisms, which was the majesty of God, not filing the tongue of Scripture to a Gentilish idiom, but in a princely manner offering to them as to Gentiles and foreigners grace and mercy, though not in foreign words, yet in a foreign style that might induce them to the fountains; and though their calling were high and happy, yet still to acknowledge God’s ancient people their betters, and that language the metropolitan language. He therefore who thinks to scholiaze upon the gospel, though Greek, according to his Greek analogies, and hath not been auditor to the oriental dialects, shall want in the heat of his analysis no accommodation to stumble. In this place, as the 5th of Matth. reads it, “Saving for the cause of fornication,” the Greek, such as it is, sounds it, except for the “word, report, speech, or proportion” of fornication. In which regard, with other inducements, many ancient and learned writers have understood this exception, as comprehending any fault equivalent and proportional to fornication But truth is, the evangelist here Hebraizes, taking “word or speech for cause or matter” in the common eastern phrase, meaning perhaps no more than if he had said for fornication, as in this 19th chapter. And yet the word is found in the 5th of Exodus also signifying proportion; where the Israelites are commanded to do their tasks, “the matter of each day in his day.” A task we know is a proportion of work, not doing the same thing absolutely every day, but so much. Whereby it may be doubtful yet, whether here be not excepted not only fornication itself, but other causes equipollent, and proportional to fornication. Which very word also to understand rightly, we must of necessity have recourse again to the Hebrew. For in the Greek and Latin sense by fornication is meant the common prostitution of body for sale. So that they who are so exact for the letter shall be dealt with by the Lexicon, and the Etymologicon too if they please, and must be bound to forbid divorce for adultery also, until it come to open whoredom and trade, like that for which Claudius divorced Messalina. Since therefore they take not here the word fornication in the common significance, for an open exercise in the stews, but grant divorce for one single act of privatest adultery, notwithstanding that the word speaks a public and notorious frequency of fact, not without price; we may reason with as good leave, and as little straining to the text, that our Saviour on set purpose chose this word fornication, improperly applied to the lapse of adultery, that we might not think ourselves bound from all divorce, except when that fault hath been actually committed. For the language of Scripture signifies by fornication (and others besides St. Austin so expounded it) not only the trespass of body, nor perhaps that between married persons, unless in a degree or quality as shameless as the bordello; but signifies also any notable disobedience, or intractable carriage of the wife to the husband, as Judg. xix. 2, whereof at large in “the Doctrine of Divorce,” l. 2, c. 18. Secondly, signifies the apparent alienation of mind not to idolatry, (which may seem to answer the act of adultery,) but far on this side, to any point of will-worship, though to the true God; sometimes it notes the love of earthly things, or worldly pleasures, though in a right believer, sometimes the least suspicion of unwitting idolatry. As Numb. xv. 39, wilful disobedience to any of the least of God’s commandments is called fornication: Psal. lxxiii. 26, 27, a distrust only in God, and withdrawing from that nearness of zeal and confidence which ought to be, is called fornication. We may be sure it could not import thus much less than idolatry in the borrowed metaphor between God and man, unless it signified as much less than adultery in the ordinary acceptation between man and wife. Add also, that there was no need our Saviour should grant divorce for adultery, it being death by law, and law then in force. Which was the cause why Joseph sought to put away his betrothed wife privately, lest he should make her an example of capital punishment, as learnedest expounders affirm, Herod being a great zealot of the Mosaic law, and the Pharisees great masters of the text, as the woman taken in adultery doubtless had cause to fear. Or if they can prove it was neglected, which they cannot do, why did our Saviour shape his answer to the corruption of that age, and not rather tell them of their neglect? If they say he came not to meddle with their judicatures, much less then was it in his thought to make them new ones, or that divorce should be judicially restrained in a stricter manner by these his words, more than adultery judicially acquitted by those his words to the adulteress. His sentence doth no more by law forbid divorce here, than by law it doth absolve adultery there. To them therefore, who have drawn this yoke upon Christians from his words thus wrested, nothing remains but the guilt of a presumption and perverseness, which will be hard for them to answer. Thus much that the word fornication is to be understood as the language of Christ understands it for a constant alienation and disaffection of mind, or for the continual practice of disobedience and crossness from the duties of love and peace; that is, in sum, when to be a tolerable wife is either naturally not in their power, or obstinately not in their will: and this opinion also is St. Austin’s, lest it should hap to be suspected of novelty. Yet grant the thing here meant were only adultery, the reason of things will afford more to our assertion, than did the reason of words. For why is divorce unlawful but only for adultery? because, say they, that crime only breaks the matrimony. But this, I reply, the institution itself gainsays: for that which is most contrary to the words and meaning of the institution, that most breaks the matrimony; but a perpetual unmeetness and unwillingness to all the duties of help, of love, and tranquillity, is most contrary to the words and meaning of the institution; that therefore much more breaks matrimony than the act of adultery, though repeated. For this, as it is not felt, nor troubles him who perceives it not, so being perceived, may be soon repented, soon amended: soon, if it can be pardoned, may be redeemed with the more ardent love and duty in her who hath the pardon. But this natural unmeetness both cannot be unknown long, and ever after cannot be amended, if it be natural, and will not, if it be far gone obstinate. So that wanting aught in the instant to be as great a breach as adultery, it gains it in the perpetuity to be greater. Next, adultery does not exclude her other fitness, her other pleasingness; she may be otherwise both loving and prevalent, as many adultresses be; but in this general unfitness or alienation she can be nothing to him that can please. In adultery nothing is given from the husband, which he misses, or enjoys the less, as it may be subtly given; but this unfitness defrauds him of the whole contentment which is sought in wedlock. And what benefit to him, though nothing be given by the stealth of adultery to another, if that which there is to give, whether it be solace, or society, be not such as may justly content him? and so not only deprives him of what it should give him, but gives him sorrow and affliction, which it did not owe him. Besides, is adultery the greatest breach of matrimony in respect of the offence to God, or of the injury to man? If in the former, then other sins may offend God more, and sooner cause him to disunite his servant from being one flesh with such an offender. If in respect of the latter, other injuries are demonstrated therein more heavy to man’s nature than the iterated act of adultery. God therefore, in his wisdom, would not so dispose his remedies, as to provide them for the less injuries, and not allow them for the greater. Thus is won both from the word fornication, and the reason of adultery, that the exception of divorce is not limited to that act, but enlarged to the causes above specified.
“And whoso marrieth her which is put away, doth commit adultery.”] By this clause alone, if by nothing else, we may assure us that Christ intended not to deliver here the whole doctrine of divorce, but only to condemn abuses. Otherwise to marry after desertion, which the apostle, and the reformed churches at this day, permit, is here forbid, as adultery. Be she never so wrongfully deserted, or put away, as the law then suffered, if thus forsaken and expulsed, she accept the refuge and protection of any honester man who would love her better, and give herself in marriage to him; by what the letter guides us, it shall be present adultery to them both. This is either harsh and cruel, or all the churches, teaching as they do to the contrary, are loose and remiss; besides that the apostle himself stands deeply fined in a contradiction against our Saviour. What shall we make of this? what rather the common interpreter can make of it, for they be his own markets, let him now try; let him try which way he can wind in his Vertumnian distinctions and evasions, if his canonical gabardine of text and letter do not now sit too close about him, and pinch his activity: which if I err not, hath here hampered itself in a spring fit for those who put their confidence in alphabets. Spanheim, a writer of “Evangelic Doubts,” comes now and confesses, that our Saviour’s words are “to be limited beyond the limitation there expressed, and excepted beyond their own exception,” as not speaking of what happened rarely, but what most commonly. Is it so rare, Spanheim, to be deserted? or was it then so rare to put away injuriously, that a person so hatefully expelled, should to the heaping of more injury be turned like an infectious thing out of all marriage fruition upon pain of adultery, as not considerable to the brevity of this half sentence? Of what then speaks our Saviour? “of that collusion,” saith he, “which was then most frequent among the Jews, of changing wives and husbands through inconstancy and unchaste desires.” Colluders yourselves, as violent to this law of God by your unmerciful binding, as the Pharisees by their unbounded loosening! Have thousands of Christian souls perished as to this life, and God knows what hath betided their consciences, for want of this healing explanation; and is it now at last obscurely drawn forth, only to cure a scratch, and leave the the main wound spouting? “Whosoever putteth away his wife, except for fornication, committeth adultery.” That shall be spoke of all ages, and all men, though never so justly otherwise moved to divorce: in the very next breath, “And whoso marrieth her which is put away committeth adultery:” the men are new and miraculous, they tell you now, “you are to limit it to that age when it was in fashion to chop matrimonies; and must be meant of him who puts away with his wife’s consent through the lightness and lewdness of them both.” But by what rule of logic, or indeed of reason, is our commission to understand the antecedent one way and the consequent another? for in that habitude this whole verse may be considered: or at least to take the parts of a copulate axiom, both absolutely affirmative, and to say, the first is absolutely true, the other not, but must be limited to a certain time and custom; which is no less than to say they are both false? For in this compound axiom, be the parts never so many, if one of them do but falter, and be not equally absolute and general, the rest are all false. If therefore, that “he who marries her which is put away commits adultery,” be not generally true, neither is it generally true, that “he commits adultery who puts away for other cause than fornication.” And if the marrying her which is put away must be understood limited, which they cannot but yield it must, with the same limitation must be understood the putting away. Thus doth the common exposition confound itself and justify this which is here brought; that our Saviour, as well in the first part of this sentence as in the second, prohibited only such divorces as the Jews then made through malice or through plotted license, not those which are for necessary and just causes; where charity and wisdom disjoins, that which not God, but error and disaster, joined.
And there is yet to this our exposition, a stronger siding friend, than any can be an adversary, unless St. Paul be doubted, who repeating a command concerning divorce, 1 Cor. vii. which is agreed by writers to be the same with this of our Saviour, and appointing that the “wife remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband,” leaves it infallible, that our Saviour spake chiefly against putting away for casual and choleric disagreements, or any other cause which may with human patience and wisdom be reconciled; not hereby meaning to haul and dash together the irreconcileable aversations of nature, nor to tie up a faultless person like a parricide, as it were into one sack with an enemy, to be his causeless tormentor and executioner the length of a long life. Lastly, let this sentence of Christ be understood how it will, yet that it was never intended for a judicial law, to be enforced by the magistrate, besides that the office of our Saviour had no such purpose in the gospel, this latter part of the sentence may assure us, “And whoso marrieth her which is put away, commits adultery.” Shall the exception for adultery belong to this clause or not? If not, it would be strange, that he who marrries a woman really divorced for adultery, as Christ permitted, should become an adulterer by marrying one who is now no other man’s wife, himself being also free, who might by this means reclaim her from common whoredom. And if the exception must belong hither, then it follows that he who marries an adulteress divorced commits no adultery; which would soon discover to us what an absurd and senseless piece of injustice this would be, to make a civil statute of in penal courts; whereby the adulteress put away may marry another safely; and without a crime to him that marries her; but the innocent and wrongfully divorced shall not marry again without the guilt of adultery both to herself and to her second husband. This saying of Christ therefore cannot be made a temporal law, were it but for this reason. Nor is it easy to say what coherence there is at all in it from the letter, to any perfect sense not obnoxious to some absurdity, and seems much less agreeable to whatever else of the gospel is left us written: doubtless by our Saviour spoken in that fierceness and abstruse intricacy, first to amuse his tempters, and admonish in general the abusers of that Mosaic law; next, to let Herod know a second knower of his unlawful act, though the Baptist were beheaded; last, that his disciples and all good men might learn to expound him in this place, as in all other his precepts, not by the written letter, but by that unerring paraphrase of Christian love and charity, which is the sum of all commands, and the perfection.
Ver. 10. “His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.”
This verse I add, to leave no objection behind unanswered: for some may think, if this our Saviour’s sentence be so fair, as not commanding aught that patience or nature cannot brook, why then did the disciples murmur and say, “it is not good to marry?” I answer, that the disciples had been longer bred up under the pharisean doctrine, than under that of Christ, and so no marvel though they yet retained the infection of loving old licentious customs; no marvel though they thought it hard they might not for any offence, that thoroughly angered them, divorce a wife, as well as put away a servant, since it was but giving her a bill, as they were taught. Secondly it was no unwonted thing with them not to understand our Saviour in matters far easier. So that be it granted their conceit of this text was the same which is now commonly conceived, according to the usual rate of their capacity then, it will not hurt a better interpretation. But why did not Christ, seeing their error, inform them? for good cause: it was his professed method not to teach them all things at all times, but each thing in due place and season. Christ said, Luke xxii. that “he who had no sword, should sell his garment and buy one:” the disciples took it in a manifest wrong sense, yet our Saviour did not there inform them better. He told them, “it was easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye,” than a rich man in at heaven-gate. They were “amazed exceedingly:” he explained himself to mean of those “who trust in riches,” Mark x. “They were amazed then out of measure,” for so Mark relates it; as if his explaining had increased their amazement in such a plain case, and which concerned so nearly their calling to be informed in. Good reason therefore, if Christ at that time did not stand amplifying to the thick prejudice and tradition wherein they were, this question of more difficulty, and less concernment to any perhaps of them in particular. Yet did he not omit to sow within them the seeds of a sufficient determining, against the time that his promised Spirit should bring all things to their memory. He had declared in their hearing not long before, how distant he was from abolishing the law itself of divorce; he had referred them to the institution; and after all this, gives them a set answer, from which they might collect what was clear enough, that “all men cannot receive all sayings,” ver. 11. If such regard be had to each man’s receiving of marriage or single life, what can arise, that the same Christian regard should not be had in most necessary divorce? All which instructed both them and us, that it beseemed his disciples to learn the deciding of this question, which hath nothing new in it, first by the institution, then by the general grounds of religion, not by a particular saying here and there, tempered and levelled only to an incident occasion, the riddance of a tempting assault. For what can this be but weak and shallow apprehension, to forsake the standard principles of institution, faith, and charity; then to be blank and various at every occurrence in Scripture, and in a cold spasm of scruple, to rear peculiar doctrines upon the place, that shall bid the gray authority of most unchangeable and sovereign rules to stand by and be contradicted? Thus to this evangelic precept of famous difficulty, which for these many ages weakly understood, and violently put in practice, hath made a shambles rather than an ordinance of matrimony, I am firm a truer exposition cannot be given. If this or that argument here used please not every one, there is no scarcity of arguments, any half of them will suffice. Or should they all fail, as truth itself can fail as soon, I should content me with the institution alone to wage this controversy, and not distrust to evince. If any need it not, the happier; yet Christians ought to study earnestly what may be another’s need. But if, as mortal mischances are, some hap to need it, let them be sure they abuse not, and give God his thanks, who hath revived this remedy, not too late for them, and scowered off an inveterate misexposition from the gospel: a work not to perish by the vain breath or doom of this age. Our next industry shall be, under the same guidance, to try with what fidelity that remaining passage in the Epistles touching this matter hath been commented.
1 Corinthians vii. 10, &c.
10. “And unto the married I command,” &c.
11. “And let not the husband put away his wife.”
This intimates but what our Saviour taught before, that divorce is not rashly to be made, but reconcilement to be persuaded and endeavoured, as oft as the cause can have to do with reconcilement, and is not under the dominion of blameless nature; which may have reason to depart, though seldomest and last from charitable love, yet sometimes from friendly, and familiar, and something oftener from conjugal love, which requires not only moral, but natural causes to the making and maintaining; and may be warrantably excused to retire from the deception of what it justly seeks, and the ill requitals which unjustly it finds. For nature hath her zodiac also, keeps her great annual circuit over human things, as truly as the sun and planets in the firmament; hath her anomalies, hath her obliquities in ascensions and declinations, accesses and recesses, as blamelessly as they in heaven. And sitting in her planetary orb with two reins in each hand, one strait, the other loose, tempers the course of minds as well as bodies to several conjunctions and oppositions, friendly or unfriendly aspects, consenting oftest with reason, but never contrary. This in the effect no man of meanest reach but daily sees; and though to every one it appear not in the cause, yet to a clear capacity, well nurtured with good reading and observation, it cannot but be plain and visible. Other exposition therefore than hath been given to former places, that give light to these two summary verses, will not be needful; save only that these precepts are meant to those married who differ not in religion.
“But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: if any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.”
Now follows what is to be done, if the persons wedded be of a different faith. The common belief is, that a Christian is here commanded not to divorce, if the infidel please to stay, though it be but to vex, or to deride, or to seduce the Christian. This doctrine will be the easy work of a refutation. The other opinion is, that a Christian is here conditionally permitted to hold wedlock with a misbeliever only, upon hopes limited by Christian prudence, which without much difficulty shall be defended. That this here spoken by Paul, not by the Lord, cannot be a command, these reasons avouch. First, the law of Moses, Exod. xxxiv. 16, Deut. vii. 3, 6, interpreted by Ezra and Nehemiah, two infallible authors, commands to divorce an infidel not for the fear only of a ceremonious defilement, but of an irreligious seducement, feared both in respect of the believer himself, and of his children in danger to be perverted by the misbelieving parent, Nehem. xiii. 24, 26. And Peter Martyr thought this a convincing reason. If therefore the legal pollution vanishing have abrogated the ceremony of this law, so that a Christian may be permitted to retain an infidel without uncleanness, yet the moral reason of divorcing stands to eternity, which neither apostle nor angel from heaven can countermand. All that they reply to this is their human warrant, that God will preserve us in our obedience to this command against the danger of seducement. And so undoubtedly he will, if we understand his commands aright; if we turn not this evangelic permission into a legal, and yet illegal, command; if we turn not hope into bondage, the charitable and free hope of gaining another into the forced and servile temptation of loosing ourselves: but more of this beneath. Thus these words of Paul by common doctrine made a command, are made a contradiction to the moral law.
Secondly, Not the law only, but the gospel from the law, and from itself, requires even in the same chapter, where divorce between them of one religion is so narrowly forbid, rather than our Christian love should come into danger of backsliding, to forsake all relations how near soever, and the wife expressly, with promise of a high reward, Matt. xix. And he who hates not father or mother, wife or children, hindering his Christian course, much more if they despise or assault it, cannot be a disciple, Luke xiv. How can the apostle then command us to love and continue in that matrimony, which our Saviour bids us hate and forsake? They can as soon teach our faculty of respiration to contract and to dilate itself at once, to breathe and to fetch breath in the same instant, as teach our minds how to do such contrary acts as these towards the same object, and as they must be done in the same moment. For either the hatred of her religion, and her hatred to our religion, will work powerfully against the love of her society, or the love of that will by degrees flatter out all our zealous hatred and forsaking, and soon ensnare us to unchristianly compliances.
Thirdly, In marriage there ought not only to be a civil love, but such a love as Christ loves his church; but where the religion is contrary without hope of conversion, there can be no love, no faith, no peaceful society, (they of the other opinion confess it,) nay there ought not to be, further than in expectation of gaining a soul; when that ceases, we know God hath put an enmity between the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent. Neither should we “love them that hate the Lord,” as the prophet told Jehoshaphat, 2 Chron. xix. And this apostle himself in another place warns us, that we “be not unequally yoked with infidels,” 2 Cor. vi., for that there can be no fellowship, no communion, no concord between such. Outward commerce and civil intercourse cannot perhaps be avoided; but true friendship and familiarity there can be none. How vainly therefore, not to say how impiously, would the most inward and dear alliance of marriage or continuance in marriage be commanded, where true friendship is confessed impossible! For, say they, we are forbid here to marry with an infidel, not bid to divorce. But to rob the words thus of their full sense, will not be allowed them: it is not said, enter not into yoke, but “be not unequally yoked;” which plainly forbids the thing in present act, as well as in purpose: and his manifest conclusion is, not only that “we should not touch,” but that having touched, “we should come out from among them, and be separate;” with the promise of a blessing thereupon, that “God will receive us, will be our father, and we his sons and daughters,” ver. 17, 18. Why we should stay with an infidel after the expense of all our hopes can be but for a civil relation; but why we should depart from a seducer, setting aside the misconstruction of this place, is from a religious necessity of departing. The worse cause therefore of staying (if it be any cause at all, for civil government forces it not) must not overtop the religious cause of separating, executed with such an urgent zeal, and such a prostrate humiliation, by Ezra and Nehemiah. What God hates to join, certainly he cannot love should continue joined; it being all one in matter of ill consequence, to marry, or to continue married with an infidel, save only so long as we wait willingly, and with a safe hope. St. Paul therefore citing here a command of the Lord Almighty, for so he terms it, that we should separate, cannot have bound us with that which he calls his own, whether command or counsel, that we should not separate.
Which is the fourth reason, for he himself takes care lest we should mistake him, “but to the rest speak I, not the Lord.” If the Lord spake not, then man spake it, and man hath no lordship to command the conscience: yet modern interpreters will have it a command, maugre St. Paul himself; they will make him a prophet like Caiaphas, to speak the word of the Lord, not thinking, nay denying to think: though he disavow to have received it from the Lord, his word shall not be taken; though an apostle, he shall be borne down in his own epistle, by a race of expositors who presume to know from whom he spake, better than he himself. Paul deposes, that the Lord speaks not this; they, that the Lord speaks it: can this be less than to brave him with a full-faced contradiction? Certainly to such a violence as this, for I cannot call it an expounding, what a man should answer I know not, unless that if it be their pleasure next to put a gag into the apostle’s mouth, they are already furnished with a commodious audacity toward the attempt. Beza would seem to shun the contradictory, by telling us that the Lord spake it not in person, as he did the former precept. But how many other doctrines doth St. Paul deliver, which the Lord spake not in person, and yet never uses this preamble but in things indifferent! So long as we receive him for a messenger of God, for him to stand sorting sentences, what the Lord spake in person, and what he, not the Lord in person, would be but a chill trifling, and his readers might catch an ague the while. But if we shall supply the grammatical ellipsis regularly, and as we must in the same tense, all will be then clear, for we cannot supply it thus, To the rest I speak, the Lord spake not; but I speak, the Lord speaks not.” If then the Lord neither spake in person, nor speaks it now, the apostle testifying both, it follows duly, that this can be no command. Forsooth the fear is, lest this, not being a command, would prove an evangelic counsel, and so make way for supererogations. As if the apostle could not speak his mind in things indifferent, as he doth in four or five several places of this chapter with the like preface of not commanding, but that the doubted inconvenience of supererogating must needs rush in. And how adds it to the word of the Lord, (for this also they object,) whenas the apostle by his Christian prudence guides us in the liberty which God hath left us to, without command? Could not the Spirit of God instruct us by him what was free, as well as what was not? But what need I more, when Cameron, an ingenuous writer, and in high esteem, solidly confutes the surmise of a command here, and among other words hath these; that “when Paul speaks as an apostle, he uses this form, ‘The Lord saith, not I,’ ver. 10; but as a private man he saith, ‘I speak, not the Lord.’” And thus also all the prime fathers, Austin, Jerom, and the rest, understood this place.
Fifthly, The very stating of the question declares this to be no command; “If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.” For the Greek word συνευδοϰεῖ does not imply only her being pleased to stay, but his being pleased to let her stay; it must be a consent of them both. Nor can the force of this word be rendered less, without either much negligence or iniquity of him that otherwise translates it. And thus the Greek church also, and their synods understood it, who best knew what their own language meant, as appears by Matthæus Monachus, an author set forth by Leunclavius, and of antiquity perhaps not inferior to Balsamon, who writes upon the canons of the apostles: this author in his chapter, “that marriage is not to be made with heretics,” thus recites the second canon of the 6th synod: “As to the Corinthians, Paul determines; If the believing wife choose to live with the unbelieving husband, or the believing husband with the unbelieving wife. Mark,” saith he, “how the apostle here condescends; if the believer please to dwell with the unbeliever; so that if he please not, out of doubt the marriage is dissolved. And I am persuaded it was so in the beginning, and thus preached.” And thereupon gives an example of one, who though not deserted, yet by the decree of Theodotus the patriarch divorced an unbelieving wife. What therefore depends in the plain state of this question on the consent and well liking of them both must not be a command. Lay next the latter end of the 11th verse to the 12th, (for wherefore else is logic taught us?) in a discreet axiom, as it can be no other by the phrase; “The Lord saith, Let not the husband put away his wife: but I say, Let him not put away a misbelieving wife.” This sounds as if by the judgment of Paul a man might put away any wife but the misbelieving; or else the parts are not discreet, or dissentany, for both conclude not putting away, and consequently in such a form the proposition is ridiculous. Of necessity therefore the former part of this sentence must be conceived, as understood, and silently granted, that although the Lord command to divorce an infidel, yet I, not the Lord command you. No, but give my judgment, that for some evangelic reasons a Christian may be permitted not to divorce her. Thus while we reduce the brevity of St. Paul to a plainer sense, by the needful supply of that which was granted between him and the Corinthians, the very logic of his speech extracts him confessing, that the Lord’s command lay in a seeming contrariety to this his counsel: and that he meant not to thrust out a command of the Lord by a new one of his own, as one nail drives another, but to release us from the rigour of it, by the right of the gospel, so far forth as a charitable cause leads us in the hope of winning another soul without the peril of losing our own. For this is the glory of the gospel, to teach us that “the end of the commandment is charity,” 1 Tim. i., not the drudging out a poor and worthless duty forced from us by the tax and tale of so many letters. This doctrine therefore can be no command, but it must contradict the moral law, the gospel, and the apostle himself, both elsewhere and here also even in the act of speaking.
If then it be no command, it must remain to be a permission, and that not absolute, for so it would be still contrary to the law, but with such a caution as breaks not the law, but as the manner of the gospel is, fulfils it through charity. The law had two reasons, the one was ceremonial, the pollution that all Gentiles were to the Jews; this the vision of Peter had abolished, Acts x., and cleansed all creatures to the use of a Christian. The Corinthians understood not this, but feared, lest dwelling in matrimony with an unbeliever, they were defiled. The apostle discusses that scruple with an evangelic reason, showing them that although God heretofore under the law, not intending the conversion of the Gentiles, except some special ones, held them as polluted things to the Jew, yet now purposing to call them in, he hath purified them from that legal uncleanness wherein they stood, to use and to be used in a pure manner.
For saith he, “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband, else were your children unclean; but now they are holy.” That is, they are sanctified to you, from that legal impurity which you so fear; and are brought into a near capacity to be holy, if they believe, and to have free access to holy things. In the mean time, as being God’s creatures, a Christian hath power to use them according to their proper use; in as much as now, “all things to the pure are become pure.” In this legal respect therefore ye need not doubt to continue in marriage with an unbeliever. Thus others also expound this place, and Cameron especially. This reason warrants us only what we may do without fear of pollution, does not bind us that we must. But the other reason of the law to divorce an infidel was moral, the avoiding of enticement from the true faith. This cannot shrink; but remains in as full force as ever, to save the actual Christian from the snare of a misbeliever. Yet if a Christian full of grace and spiritual gifts, finding the misbeliever not frowardly affected, fears not a seducing, but hopes rather a gaining, who sees not that this moral reason is not violated by not divorcing, which the law commanded to do, but better fulfilled by the excellence of the gospel working through charity? For neither the faithful is seduced, and the unfaithful is either saved, or with all discharge of love and evangelic duty sought to be saved. But contrariwise, if the infirm Christian shall be commanded here against his mind, against his hope, and against his strength, to dwell with all the scandals, the household persecutions, or alluring temptations of an infidel, how is not the gospel by this made harsher than the law, and more yoking? Therefore the apostle, ere he deliver this other reason why we need not in all haste put away an infidel, his mind misgiving him, lest he should seem to be the imposer of a new command, stays not for method, but with an abrupt speed inserts the declaration of their liberty in this matter.
“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”
“But if the unbelieving depart.”] This cannot be restrained to local departure only: for who knows not that an offensive society is worse than a forsaking? If his purpose of cohabitation be to endanger the life, or the conscience, Beza himself is half persuaded, that this may purchase to the faithful person the same freedom that a desertion may; and so Gerard and others whom he cites. If therefore he depart in affection; if he depart from giving hope of his conversion; if he disturb, or scoff at religion, seduce or tempt; if he rage, doubtless not the weak only, but the strong may leave him: if not for fear, yet for the dignity’s sake of religion, which cannot be liable to all base affronts, merely for the worshipping of a civil marriage. I take therefore “departing” to be as large as the negative of being well pleased: that is, if he be not pleased for the present to live lovingly, quietly, inoffensively, so as may give good hope; which appears well by that which follows.
“A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.”] If St. Paul provide seriously against the bondage of a Christian, it is not the only bondage to live unmarried for a deserting infidel, but to endure his presence intolerably, to bear indignities against his religion in words or deeds, to be wearied with seducements, to have idolatries and superstitions ever before his eyes, to be tormented with impure and profane conversation; this must needs be bondage to a Christian: is this left all unprovided for, without remedy, or freedom granted? Undoubtedly no; for the apostle leaves it further to be considered with prudence, what bondage a brother or sister is not under, not only in this case, but as he speaks himself plurally, “in such cases.”
“But God hath called us to peace.”] To peace, not to bondage, not to brabbles and contentions with him who is not pleased to live peaceably, as marriage and Christianity require. And where strife arises from a cause hopeless to be allayed, what better way to peace than by separating that which is ill joined? It is not divorce that first breaks the peace of a family, as some fondly comment on this place; but it is peace already broken, which, when other cures fail can only be restored to the faultless person by a necessary divorce. And St. Paul here warrants us to seek peace, rather than to remain in bondage. If God hath called us to peace, why should we not follow him, why should we miserably stay in perpetual discord under a servitude not required?
“For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt ave thy husband,” &c.] St. Paul having thus cleared himself, not to go about the mining of our Christian liberty, not to cast a snare upon us, which to do he so much hated, returns now to the second reason of that law, to put away an infidel for fear of seducement, which he does not here contradict with a command now to venture that; but if neither the infirmity of the Christian, nor the strength of the unbeliever, be feared, but hopes appearing that he may be won, he judges it no breaking of that law, though the believer be permitted to forbear divorce, and can abide, without the peril of seducement, to offer the charity of a salvation to wife or husband, which is the fulfilling, not the transgressing, of that law; and well worth the undertaking with much hazard and patience. For what knowest thou, whether thou shalt save thy wife; that is, till all means convenient and possible with discretion and probability, as human things are, have been used. For Christ himself sends not our hope on pilgrimage to the world’s end; but sets it bounds, beyond which we need not wait on a brother, much less on an infidel. If after such a time we may count a professing Christian no better than a heathen, after less time perhaps we may cease to hope of a heathen, that he will turn Christian. Otherwise, to bind us harder than the law, and tell us we are not under bondage, is mere mockery. If, till the unbeliever please to part, we may not stir from the house of our bondage, then certain this our liberty is not grounded in the purchase of Christ, but in the pleasure of a miscreant. What knows the loyal husband, whether he may not save the adulteress? he is not therefore bound to receive her. What knows the wife, but she may reclaim her husband who hath deserted her? Yet the reformed churches do not enjoin her to wait longer than after the contempt of an ecclesiastical summons. Beza himself here befriends us with a remarkable speech, “What could be firmly constituted in human matters, if under pretence of expecting grace from above, it should be never lawful for us to seek our right?” And yet in other cases not less reasonable to obtain a most just and needful remedy by divorce, he turns the innocent party to a task of prayers beyond the multitude of beads and rosaries, to beg the gift of chastity in recompense of an injurious marriage. But the apostle is evident enough, “we are not under bondage;” trusting that he writes to those who are not ignorant what bondage is, to let supercilious determiners cheat them of their freedom. God hath called us to peace, and so doubtless hath left in our hands how to obtain it seasonably: if it be not our own choice to sit ever like novices wretchedly servile.
Thus much the apostle in this question between Christian and pagan, to us now of little use; yet supposing it written for our instruction, as it may be rightly applied, I doubt not but that the difference between a true believer and a heretic, or any one truly religious either deserted or seeking divorce from any one grossly erroneous or profane, may be referred hither. For St. Paul leaves us here the solution not of this case only, which little concerns us, but of such like cases, which may occur to us. For where the reasons directly square, who can forbid why the verdict should not be the same? But this the common writers allow us not. And yet from this text, which in plain words give liberty to none, unless deserted by an infidel, they collect the same freedom, though the desertion be not for religion, which as I conceive, they need not do; but may without straining, reduce it to the cause of fornication. For first, they confess that desertion is seldom without a just suspicion of adultery: next, it is a breach of marriage in the same kind, and in some sort worse: for adultery, though it give to another, yet it bereaves not all; but the deserter wholly denies all right, and makes one flesh twain, which is counted the absolutest breach of matrimony, and causes the other, as much as in him lies, to commit sin, by being so left. Nevertheless, those reasons, which they bring of establishing by this place the like liberty from any desertion, are fair and solid: and if the thing be lawful, and can be proved so, more ways than one, so much the safer. Their arguments I shall here recite, and that they may not come idle, shall use them to make good the like freedom to divorce for other causes; and that we are no more under bondage to any heinous default against the main ends of matrimony, than to a desertion: first they allege that 1 to Tim. v. 8, “If any provide not for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” But a deserter, say they, “can have no care of them who are most his own; therefore the deserted party is not less to be righted against such a one, than against an infidel.” With the same evidence I argue, that man or wife, who hates in wedlock, is perpetually unsociable, unpeaceful, or unduteous, either not being able, or not willing to perform what the main ends of marriage demand in help and solace, cannot be said to care for who should be dearest in the house; therefore is worse than an infidel in both regards, either in undertaking a duty which he cannot perform, to the undeserved and unspeakable injury of the other party so defrauded and betrayed, or not performing what he hath undertaken, whenas he may or might have, to the perjury of himself, more irreligious than heathenism. The blameless person therefore hath as good a plea to sue out his delivery from this bondage, as from the desertion of an infidel. Since most writers cannot but grant that desertion is not only a local absence, but an intolerable society; or if they grant it not, the reasons of St. Paul grant it, with as much leave as they grant to enlarge a particular freedom from paganism, into a general freedom from any desertion. Secondly, they reason from the likeness of either fact, “the same law redounds to the deserted by a Christian, as by an infidel, the same peril of temptation.” And I in like manner affirm, that if honest and free persons may be allowed to know what is most to their own loss the same loss and discontent, but worse disquiet with continual misery and temptation, resides in the company, or better called the persecution of an unfit, or an unpeaceable consort, than by his desertion. For then the deserted may enjoy himself at least. And he who deserts is more favourable to the party whom his presence afflicts, than that importunate thing, which is and will be ever conversant before the eyes, a loyal and individual vexation. As for those who still rudely urge it no loss to marriage, no desertion, so long as the flesh is present, and offers a benevolence that hates, or is justly hated; I am not of that vulgar and low persuasion, to think such forced embracements as these worth the honour, or the humanity of marriage, but far beneath the soul of a rational and freeborn man. Thirdly, they say, “It is not the infidelity of the deserter, but the desertion of the infidel, from which the apostle gives this freedom:” and I join, that the apostle could as little require our subjection to an unfit and injurious bondage present, as to an infidel absent. To free us from that which is an evil by being distant, and not from that which is an inmate, and in the bosom evil, argues an improvident and careless deliverer. And thus all occasions, which way soever they turn, are not unofficious to administer something which may conduce to explain or to defend the assertion of this book touching divorce. I complain of nothing, but that it is indeed too copious to be the matter of a dispute, or a defence, rather to be yielded, as in the best ages, a thing of common reason, not of controversy. What have I left to say? I fear to be more elaborate in such a perspicuity as this; lest I should seem not to teach, but to upbraid the dullness of an age; not to commune with reason in men, but to deplore the loss of reason from among men: this only, and not the want of more to say, is the limit of my discourse.
Who among the fathers have interpreted the words of Christ concerning divorce, as is here interpreted; and what the civil law of Christian emperors in the primitive church determined.
Although testimony be in logic an argument rightly called “inartificial,” and doth not solidly fetch the truth by multiplicity of authors, nor argue a thing false by the few that hold so; yet seeing most men from their youth so accustom, as not to scan reason, nor clearly to apprehend it, but to trust for that the names and numbers of such, as have got, and many times undeservedly, the reputation among them to know much; and because there is vulgar also of teachers who are as blindly by whom they fancy led, as they lead the people, it will not be amiss for them who had rather list themselves under this weaker sort, and follow authorities, to take notice that this opinion, which I bring, hath been favoured, and by some of those affirmed, who in their time were able to carry what they taught, had they urged it, through all Christendom; or to have left it such a credit with all good men, as they who could not boldly use the opinion, would have feared to censure it. But since by his appointment on whom the times and seasons wait, every point of doctrine is not fatal to be thoroughly sifted out in every age; it will be enough for me to find, that the thoughts of wisest heads heretofore, and hearts no less reverenced for devotion, have tended this way, and contributed their lot in some good measure towards this which hath been here attained. Others of them, and modern especially, have been as full in the assertion, though not so full in the reason; so that either in this regard, or in the former, I shall be manifest in a middle fortune to meet the praise or dispraise of being something first.
But I defer not what I undertook to show, that in the church both primitive and reformed, the words of Christ have been understood to grant divorce for other causes than adultery; and that the word fornication, in marriage, hath a larger sense than that commonly supposed.
Justin Martyr in his first Apology, written within fifty years after St. John died, relates a story which Eusebius transcribes, that a certain matron of Rome, the wife of a vicious husband, herself also formerly vicious, but converted to the faith, and persuading the same to her husband, at least the amendment of his wicked life; upon his not yielding to her daily entreaties and persuasions in this behalf, procured by law to be divorced from him. This was neither for adultery, nor desertion, but as the relation says, “esteeming it an ungodly thing to be the consort of bed with him, who against the law of nature and of right sought out voluptuous ways.” Suppose he endeavoured some unnatural abuse, as the Greek admits that meaning, it cannot yet be called adultery; it therefore could be thought worthy of divorce no otherwise than as equivalent, or worse; and other vices will appear in other respects as much divorcive. Next, it is said her friends advised her to stay a while; and what reason gave they? not because they held unlawful what she purposed, but because they thought she might longer yet hope his repentance. She obeyed, till the man going to Alexandria, and from thence reported to grow still more impenitent, not for any adultery or desertion, whereof neither can be gathered, but saith the Martyr, and speaks it like one approving, “lest she should be partaker of his unrighteous and ungodly deeds, remaining in wedlock, the communion of bed and board with such a person, she left him by a lawful divorce.” This cannot but give us the judgment of the church in those pure and next to apostolic times. For how else could the woman have been permitted, or here not reprehended? and if a wife might then do this without reproof, a husband certainly might no less, if not more.
Tertullian in the same age, writing his fourth Book against Marcion, witnesses “that Christ, by his answer to the Pharisees, protected the constitution of Moses as his own, and directed the institution of the Creator,” for I alter not his Carthaginian phrase; “he excused rather than destroyed the constitution of Moses; I say, he forbid conditionally, if any one therefore put away, that he may marry another: so that if he prohibited conditionally, then not wholly: and what he forbad not wholly, he permitted otherwise, where the cause ceases for which he prohibited:” that is, when a man makes it not the cause of his putting away, merely that he may marry again. “Christ teaches not contrary to Moses, the justice of divorce hath Christ the asserter: he would not have marriage separate, nor kept with ignominy, permitting then a divorce;” and guesses that this vehemence of our Saviour’s sentence was chiefly bent against Herod, as was cited before. Which leaves it evident how Tertullian interpreted this prohibition of our Saviour: for whereas the text is, “Whosoever putteth away, and marrieth another,” wherefore should Tertullian explain it, “Whosoever putteth away that he may marry another,” but to signify his opinion, that our Saviour did not forbid divorce from an unworthy yoke, but forbid the malice or the lust of a needless change, and chiefly those plotted divorces then in use?
Origen in the next century testifies to have known certain who had the government of churches in his time, who permitted some to marry, while yet their former husbands lived, and excuses the deed, as done “not without cause, though without Scripture,” which confirms that cause not to be adultery; for how then was it against Scripture that they married again? And a little beneath, for I cite his seventh homily on Matthew, saith he, “to endure faults worse than adultery and fornication, seems a thing unreasonable;” and disputes therefore that Christ did not speak by “way of precept, but as it were expounding.” By which and the like speeches, Origen declares his mind, far from thinking that our Saviour confined all the causes of divorce to actual adultery.
Lactantius, of the age that succeeded, speaking of this matter in the 6th of his “Institutions,” hath these words: “But lest any think he may circumscribe divine precepts, let this be added, that all misinterpreting, and occasion of fraud or death may be removed, he commits adultery who marries the divorced wife; and besides the crime of adultery, divorces a wife that he may marry another.” To divorce and marry another, and to divorce that he may marry another, are two different things; and imply that Lactantius thought not this place the forbidding of all necessary divorce, but such only as proceeded from the wanton desire of a future choice, not from the burden of a present affliction.
About this time the council of Eliberis in Spain decreed the husband excommunicate, “if he kept his wife being an adulteress; but if he left her, he might after ten years be received into communion, if he retained her any while in his house after the adultery known.” The council of Neocæsaria, in the year 314, decreed, That if the wife of any laic were convicted of adultery, that man could not be admitted into the ministry: if after ordination it were committed, he was to divorce her; if not he could not hold his ministry. The council of Nantes condemned in seven years’ penance the husband that would reconcile with an adulteress. But how proves this that other causes may divorce? It proves thus: There can be but two causes why these councils enjoined so strictly the divorcing of an adulteress, either as an offender against God, or against the husband; in the latter respect they could not impose on him to divorce; for every man is the master of his own forgiveness; who shall hinder him to pardon the injuries done against himself? It follows therefore, that the divorce of an adulteress was commanded by these three councils, as it was a sin against God; and by all consequence they could not but believe that other sins as heinous might with equal justice be the ground of a divorce.
Basil in his 73d rule, as Chamier numbers it, thus determines; “That divorce ought not to be, unless for adultery, or the hinderance to a godly life.” What doth this but proclaim aloud more causes of divorce than adultery, if by other sins besides this, in wife or husband, the godliness of the better person may be certainly hindered and endangered?
Epiphanius no less ancient, writing against heretics, and therefore should himself be orthodoxal above others, acquaints us in his second book, Tom. 1, not that his private persuasion was, but that the whole church in his time generally thought other causes of divorce lawful besides adultery, as comprehended under that name: “If,” saith he, “a divorce happen for any cause, either fornication or adultery, or any heinous fault, the word of God blames not either the man or wife marrying again, nor cuts them off from the congregation, or from life, but bears with the infirmity; not that he may keep both wives, but that leaving the former he may be lawfully joined to the latter: the holy word, and the holy church of God, commiserates this man, especially if he be otherwise of good conversation, and live according to God’s law.” This place is clearer than exposition, and needs no comment.
Ambrose, on the 16th of Luke, teaches “that all wedlock is not God’s joining:” and to the 19th of Prov. “That a wife is prepared of the Lord,” as the old Latin translates it, he answers, that the Septuagint renders it, “a wife is fitted by the Lord, and tempered to a kind of harmony; and where that harmony is, there God joins; where it is not, there dissension reigns, which is not from God, for God is love.” This he brings to prove the marrying of Christian with Gentile to be no marriage, and consequently divorced without sin: but he who sees not this argument how plainly it serves to divorce any untunable, or unatonable matrimony, sees little. On the first to the Cor. vii. he grants a woman may leave her husband not only for fornication, “but for apostacy, and inverting nature, though not marry again; but the man may;” here are causes of divorce assigned other than adultery. And going on, he affirms, “that the cause of God is greater than the cause of matrimony; that the reverence of wedlock is not due to him who hates the author thereof; that no matrimony is firm without devotion to God; that dishonour done to God acquits the other being deserted from the bond of matrimony; that the faith of marriage is not to be kept with such.” If these contorted sentences be aught worth, it is not the desertion that breaks what is broken, but the impiety; and who then may not for that cause better divorce, than tarry to be deserted? or these grave sayings of St. Ambrose are but knacks.
Jerom on the 19th of Matthew explains, that for the cause of fornication, or the “suspicion thereof, a man may freely divorce.” What can breed that suspicion, but sundry faults leading that way? By Jerom’s consent therefore divorce is free not only for actual adultery, but for any cause that may incline a wise man to the just suspicion thereof.
Austin also must be remembered among those who hold, that this instance of fornication gives equal inference to other faults equally hateful, for which to divorce: and therefore in his books to Pollentius he disputes, “that infidelity, as being a greater sin than adultery, ought so much the rather cause a divorce.” And on the sermon on the mount, under the name of fornication, will have “idolatry, or any harmful superstition,” contained, which are not thought to disturb matrimony so directly as some other obstinacies and disaffections, more against the daily duties of that covenant, and in the Eastern tongues not unfrequently called fornication, as hath been shown. “Hence is understood,” saith he, “that not only for bodily fornication, but for that which draws the mind from God’s law, and foully corrupts it, a man may without fault put away his wife, and a wife her husband; because the Lord excepts the cause of fornication, which fornication we are constrained to interpret in a general sense.” And in the first book of his “Retractations,” chap. 16, he retracts not this his opinion, but commends it to serious consideration; and explains that he counted not there all sin to be fornication, but the more detestable sort of sins. The cause of fornication therefore is not in this discourse newly interpreted to signify other faults infringing the duties of wedlock, besides adultery.
Lastly, the council of Agatha in the year 506, Can. 25, decreed, that “if laymen who divorced without some great fault, or giving no probable cause, therefore divorced, that they might marry some unlawful person, or some other man’s, if before the provincial bishops were made acquainted, or judgment passed, they presumed this, excommunication was the penalty.” Whence it follows, that if the cause of divorce were some great offence, or that they gave probable causes for what they did, and did not therefore divorce, that they might presume with some unlawful person, or what was another man’s, the censure of church in those days did not touch them.
Thus having alleged enough to show, after what manner the primitive church for above 500 years understood our Saviour’s words touching divorce, I shall now, with a labour less dispersed, and sooner dispatched, bring under view what the civil law of those times constituted about this matter: I say the civil law, which is the honour of every true civilian to stand for, rather than to count that for law, which the pontifical canon had enthralled them to, and instead of interpreting a generous and elegant law, made them the drudges of a blockish Rubric.
Theodosius and Valentinian, pious emperors both, ordained that, “as by consent lawful marriages were made, so by consent, but not without the bill of divorce, they might be dissolved; and to dissolve was the more difficult, only in favour of the children.” We see the wisdom and piety of that age, one of the purest and learnedest since Christ, conceived no hinderance in the words of our Saviour, but that a divorce, mutually consented, might be suffered by the law, especially if there were no children, or if there were, careful provision was made. And further saith that law, (supposing there wanted the consent of either,) “We design the causes of divorce by this most wholesome law; for as we forbid the dissolving of marriage without just cause, so we desire that a husband or a wife distressed by some adverse necessity, should be freed though by an unhappy, yet a necessary relief.” What dram of wisdom or religion (for charity is the truest religion) could there be in that knowing age, which is not virtually summed up in this most just law? As for those other Christian emperors, from Constantine the first of them, finding the Roman law in this point so answerable to the Moasic, it might be the likeliest cause why they altered nothing to restraint; but if aught, rather to liberty, for the help and consideration of the weaker sex, according as the gospel seems to make the wife more equal to her husband in these conjugal respects, than the law of Moses doth. Therefore “if a man were absent from his wife four years, and in that space not heard of, though gone to war in the service of the empire,” she might divorce, and marry another, by the edict of Constantine to Dalmatius, Cod. l. 5, tit. 17. And this was an age of the church, both ancient and cried up still for the most flourishing in knowledge and pious government since the apostles. But to return to this law of Theodosius, with this observation by the way, that still as the church corrupted, as the clergy grew more ignorant, and yet more usurping on the magistrate, who also now declined, so still divorce grew more restrained; though certainly if better times permitted the thing that worse times restrained, it would not weakly argue that the permission was better, and the restraint worse. This law therefore of Theodosius, wiser in this than the most of his successors, though no wiser than God and Moses, reduced the causes of divorce to a certain number, which by the judicial law of God, and all recorded humanity, were left before to the breast of each husband, provided that the dismiss was not without reasonable conditions to the wife. But this was a restraint not yet come to extremes. For besides adultery, and that not only actual, but suspected by many signs there set down, any fault equally punishable with adultery, or equally infamous, might be the cause of a divorce. Which informs us how the wisest of those sages understood that place in the gospel, whereby not the pilfering of a benevolence was considered as the main and only breach of wedlock, as is now thought, but the breach of love and peace, a more holy union than that of the flesh; and the dignity of an honest person was regarded not to be held in bondage with one whose ignominy was infectious. To this purpose was constituted Cod. l. 5, tit. 17, and Authent. collat. 4, tit. i. Novell. 22, where Justinian added three causes more. In the 117 Novell. most of the same causes are allowed, but the liberty of divorcing by consent is repealed; but by whom? by Justinian, not a wiser, not a more religious emperor than either of the former, but noted by judicious writers for his fickle head in making and unmaking laws; and how Procopius, a good historian, and a counsellor of state then living, deciphers him in his other actions, I willingly omit. Nor was the church then in better case, but had the corruption of a hundred declining years swept on it, when the statute of “Consent” was called in; which, as I said, gives us every way more reason to suspect this restraint, more than that liberty: which therefore in the reign of Justin, the succeeding emperor, was recalled, Novell. 140, and established with a preface more wise and Christianly than for those times, declaring the necessity to restore that Theodosian law, if no other means of reconcilement could be found. And by whom this law was abrogated, or how long after, I do not find; but that those other causes remained in force as long as the Greek empire subsisted, and were assented to by that church, is to be read in the canons and edicts compared by Photius the patriarch, with the avertiments of Balsamon and Matthæus Monachus thereon.
But long before those days, Leo, the son of Basilius Macedo, reigning about the year 886, and for his excellent wisdom surnamed the “Philosopher,” constituted, “that in case of madness, the husband might divorce after three years, the wife after five.” Constit. Leon. 111, 112. This declares how he expounded our Saviour, and derived his reasons from the institution, which in his preface with great eloquence are set down; whereof a passage or two may give some proof, though better not divided from the rest. “There is not,” saith he, “a thing more necessary to preserve mankind, than the help given him from his own rib; both God and nature so teaching us: which doing so, it was requisite that the providence of law, or if any other care be to the good of man, should teach and ordain those things which are to the help and comfort of married persons, and confirm the end of marriage purposed in the beginning, not those things which afflict and bring perpetual misery to them.” Then answers the objection, that they are one flesh; “If matrimony had held so as God ordained it, he were wicked that would dissolve it. But if we respect this in matrimony, that it be contracted to the good of both, how shall he, who for some great evil feared, persuades not to marry though contracted, not persuade to unmarry, if after marriage a calamity befall? Should we bid beware lest any fall into an evil, and leave him helpless who by human error is fallen therein? This were as if we should use remedies to prevent a disease, but let the sick die without remedy.” The rest will be worth reading in the author.
And thus we have the judgment first of primitive fathers; next of the imperial law not disallowed by the universal church in ages of her best authority; and lastly, of the whole Greek church and civil state, incorporating their canons and edicts together, that divorce was lawful for other causes equivalent to adultery, contained under the word fornication. So that the exposition of our Saviour’s sentence here alleged hath all these ancient and great asserters; is therefore neither new nor licentious, as some would persuade the commonalty; although it be nearer truth that nothing is more new than those teachers themselves, and nothing more licentious than some known to be, whose hypocrisy yet shames not to take offence at this doctrine for license; whenas indeed they fear it would remove license, and leave them but few companions.
That the pope’s canon law, encroaching upon civil magistracy, abolished all divorce even for adultery. What the reformed divines have recovered; and that the famousest of them have taught according to the assertion of this book.
But in these western parts of the empire, it will appear almost unquestionable, that the cited law of Theodosius and Valentinian stood in force until the blindest and corruptest times of popedom displaced it. For, that the volumes of Justinian never came into Italy, or beyond Illyricum, is the opinion of good antiquaries. And that only manuscript thereof found in Apulia, by Lotharius the Saxon, and given to the states of Pisa, for their aid at sea against the Normans of Sicily, was received as a rarity not to be matched. And although the Goths, and after them the Lombards and Franks, who overrun the most of Europe, except this island, (unless we make our Saxons and Normans a limb of them,) brought in their own customs, yet that they followed the Roman laws in their contracts in marriages, Agathias the historian is alleged. And other testimonies relate, that Alaricus and Theodoric, their kings, writ their statutes out of this Theodosian code, which hath the recited law of divorce. Nevertheless, while the monarchs of Christendom were yet barbarous, and but half-christian, the popes took this advantage of their weak superstition, to raise a corpulent law out of the canons and decretals of audacious priests; and presumed also to set this in the front: “That the constitutions of princes are not above the constitutions of clergy, but beneath them.” Using this very instance of divorce, as the first prop of their tyranny; by a false consequence drawn from a passage of Ambrose upon Luke, where he saith, though “man’s law grant it, yet God’s law prohibits it:” whence Gregory the pope, writing to Theoctista, infers that ecclesiastical courts cannot be dissolved by the magistrate. A fair conclusion from a double error. First, in saying that the divine law prohibited divorce: (for what will he make of Moses?) Next, supposing that it did, how will it follow, that whatever Christ forbids in his evangelic precepts, should be hauled into a judicial constraint against the pattern of a divine law? Certainly the gospel came not to enact such compulsions. In the mean while we may note here, that the restraint of divorce was one of the first fair seeming pleas which the pope had, to step into secular authority, and with his antichristian rigour to abolish the permissive law of Christian princes conforming to a sacred lawgiver. Which if we consider, this papal and unjust restriction of divorce need not be so dear to us, since the plausible restraining of that was in a manner the first loosening of Antichrist, and, as it were, the substance of his eldest horn. Nor do we less remarkably owe the first means of his fall here in England, to the contemning of that restraint by Henry the VIII., whose divorce he opposed. Yet was not that rigour executed anciently in spiritual courts, until Alexander the IIId, who trod upon the neck of Frederic Barbarossa the emperor, and summoned our Henry IId into Normandy, about the death of Becket. He it was, that the worthy author may be known, who first actually repealed the imperial law of divorce, and decreed this tyrannous decree, that matrimony for no cause should be dissolved, though for many causes it might separate; as may be seen Decret. Gregor. l. 4, tit. 19, and in other places of the canonical tomes. The main good of which invention, wherein it consists, who can tell? but that it hath one virtue incomparable, to fill all Christendom with whoredoms and adulteries, beyond the art of Balaams, or of devils. Yet neither can these, though so perverse, but acknowledge that the words of Christ, under the name of fornication, allow putting away for other causes than adultery, both from “bed and board,” but not from the “bond;” their only reason is, because marriage they believe to be a “sacrament.” But our divines, who would seem long since to have renounced that reason, have so forgot themselves as yet to hold the absurdity, which but for that reason, unless there be some mystery of Satan in it, perhaps the papist would not hold. It is true, we grant divorce for actual and proved adultery, and not for less than many tedious and unrepairable years of desertion, wherein a man shall lose all his hope of posterity, which great and holy men have bewailed, ere he can be righted; and then perhaps on the confines of his old age, when all is not worth the while. But grant this were seasonably done; what are these two cases to many other, which afflict the state of marriage as bad, and yet find no redress? What hath the soul of man deserved, if it be in the way of salvation, that it should be mortgaged thus, and may not redeem itself according to conscience out of the hands of such ignorant and slothful teachers as these, who are neither able nor mindful to give due tendance to that precious cure which they rashly undertake; nor have in them the noble goodness to consider these distresses and accidents of man’s life, but are bent rather to fill their mouths with tithe and oblation? Yet if they can learn to follow, as well as they can seek to be followed, I shall direct them to a fair number of renowned men, worthy to be their leaders, who will commend to them a doctrine in this point wiser than their own; and if they be not impatient, it will be the same doctrine which this treatise hath defended.
Wickliff, that Englishman honoured of God to be the first preacher of a general reformation to all Europe, was not in this thing better taught of God, than to teach among his chiefest recoveries of truth, “that divorce is lawful to the Christian for many other causes equal to adultery.” This book indeed, through the poverty of our libraries, I am forced to cite from “Arnisæus of Halberstad on the Rite of Marriage,” who cites it from Corrasius of Toulouse, c. 4, Cent. Sect., and he from Wickliff, l. 4, Dial. c. 21. So much the sorrier, for that I never looked into an author cited by his adversary upon this occasion, but found him more conducible to the question than his quotation rendered him.
Next, Luther, how great a servant of God! in his book of “Conjugal Life” quoted by Gerard out of the Dutch, allows divorce for the obstinate denial of conjugal duty; and “that a man may send away a proud Vashti, and marry an Esther in her stead.” It seems, if this example shall not be impertinent, that Luther meant not only the refusal of benovelence, but a stubborn denial of any main conjugal duty; or if he did not, it will be evinced from what he allows. For out of question, with men that are not barbarous, love, and peace, and fitness, will be yielded as essential to marriage as corporal benevolence. “Though I give my body to be burnt,” saith St. Paul, “and have not charity, it profits me nothing.” So, though the body prostitute itself to whom the mind affords no other love or peace, but constant malice and vexation, can this bodily benevolence deserve to be called a marriage between Christians and rational creatures?
Melancthon, the third great luminary of reformation, in his book “Concerning Marriage,” grants divorce for cruel usage, and danger of life, urging the authority of that Theodosian law, which he esteems written with the grave deliberation of godly men; “and that they who reject this law, and think it disagreeing from the gospel, understand not the difference of law and gospel; that the magistrate ought not only to defend life, but to succour the weak conscience; lest, broke with grief and indignation, it relinquish prayer, and turn to some unlawful thing.” What if this heavy plight of despair arise from other discontents in wedlock, which may go to the soul of a good man more than the danger of his life, or cruel using, which a man cannot be liable to? suppose it be ingrateful usage, suppose it be perpetual spite and disobedience, suppose a hatred; shall not the magistrate free him from this disquiet which interrupts his prayers, and disturbs the course of his service to God and his country all as much, and brings him such a misery, as that he more desires to leave his life, than fears to loose it? Shall not this equally concern the office of civil protection, and much more the charity of a true church, to remedy?
Erasmus, who for learning was the wonder of his age, both in his Notes on Matthew, and on the first to the Corinthians, in a large and eloquent discourse, and in his answer to Phimostomus, a papist, maintains (and no protestant then living contradicted him) that the words of Christ comprehend many other causes of divorce under the name of fornication.
Bucer, (whom our famous Dr. Rainolds was wont to prefer before Calvin,) in his comment on Matthew, and in his second book “of the Kingdom of Christ,” treats of divorce at large, to the same effect as is written in “the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce” lately published, and the translation is extant: whom, lest I should be thought to have wrested to mine own purpose, take something more out of his 49th chapter, which I then for brevity omitted. “It will be the duty of pious princes, and all who govern church or commonwealth, if any, whether husband or wife, shall affirm their want of such, who either will or can tolerably perform the necessary duties of married life, to grant that they may seek them such, and marry them; if they make it appear that such they have not.” This book he wrote here in England, where he lived the greatest admired man; and this he dedicated to Edward the VIth.
Fagius, ranked among the famous divines of Germany, whom Frederic, at that time the Palatine, sent for to be the reformer of his dominion, and whom afterwards England sought to, and obtained of him to come and teach her, differs not in this opinion from Bucer, as his notes on the Chaldee Paraphrast well testify.
The whole church of Strasburgh in her most flourishing time, when Zellius, Hedio, Capito, and other great divines, taught there, and those two renowned magistrates, Farrerus and Sturmius, governed that commonwealth and academy to the admiration of all Germany, hath thus in the 21st article: “We teach, that if according to the word of God, yea, or against it, divorces happen, to do according to God’s word, Deut. xxiv. 1; Matt. xix.; 1 Cor. vii.; and the observation of the primitive church, and the Christian constitution of pious Cæsars.”
Peter Martyr seems in word our easy adversary, but is indeed for us: toward which, though it be something when he saith of this opinion, “that it is not wicked, and can hardly be refuted,” this which follows is much more; “I speak not here” saith he, “of natural impediments, which may so happen, that the matrimony can no longer hold:” but adding, that he often wondered “how the ancient and most Christian emperors established those laws of divorce, and neither Ambrose, who had such influence upon the laws of Theodosius, nor any of those holy fathers found fault, nor any of the churches, why the magistrates of this day should be so loth to constitute the same. Perhaps they fear an inundation of divorces, which is not likely; whenas we read not either among the Hebrews, Greeks, or Romans, that they were much frequent where they were most permitted. If they judge Christian men worse than Jews or pagans, they both injure that name, and by this reason will be constrained to grant divorces the rather; because it was permitted as a remedy of evil, for who would remove the medicine, while the disease is yet so rife?” This being read both in “his Commonplaces,” and on the first to the Corinthians, with what we shall relate more of him yet ere the end, sets him absolutely on this side. Not to insist that in both these, and other places of his commentaries, he grants divorce not only for desertion, but for the seducement and scandalous demeanour of an heretical consort.
Musculus, a divine of no obscure fame, distinguishes between the religious and the civil determination of divorce; and leaving the civil wholly to the lawyers, pronounces a conscionable divorce for impotence not only natural, but accidental, if it be durable. His equity it seems, can enlarge the words of Christ to one cause more than adultery; why may not the reason of another man, as wise, enlarge them to another cause?
Gualter of Zuric, a well-known judicious commentator, in his homilies on Matthew, allows divorce for “leprosy, or any other cause which renders unfit for wedlock,” and calls this rather “a nullity of marriage than a divorce.” And who, that is not himself a mere body, can restrain all the unfitness of marriage only to a corporeal defect?
Hemingius, an author highly esteemed, and his works printed at Geneva, writing of divorce, confesses that learned men “vary in this question, some granting three causes thereof, some five, others many more;” he himself gives us six, “adultery, desertion, inability, error, evil usage, and impiety,” using argument “that Christ under one special contains the whole kind, and under the name and example of fornication, he includes other causes equipollent.” This discourse he wrote at the request of many who had the judging of these causes in Denmark and Norway, who by all likelihood followed his advice.
Hunnius, a doctor of Wittenberg, well known both in divinity and other arts, on the 19th of Matt. affirms, “That the exception of fornication expressed by our Saviour, excludes not other causes equalling adultery, or destructive to the substantials of matrimony; but was opposed to the custom of the Jews, who made divorce for every light cause.”
Felix Bidenbachius, an eminent divine in the duchy of Wirtemberg, affirms, “That the obstinate refusal of conjugal due is a lawful cause of divorce;” and gives an instance, “that the consistory of that state so judged.”
Gerard cites Harbardus, an author not unknown, and Arnisæus cites Wigandus, both yielding divorce in case of cruel usage; and another author, who testifies to “have seen, in a dukedom of Germany, marriages disjointed for some implacable enmities arising.”
Beza, one of the strictest against divorce, denies it not “for danger of life from a heretic, or importunate solicitation to do aught against religion:” and counts it “all one whether the heretic desert, or would stay upon intolerable conditions.” But this decision, well examined, will be found of no solidity. For Beza would be asked why, if God so strictly exact our stay in any kind of wedlock, we had not better stay and hazard a murdering for religion at the hand of a wife or husband as he and others enjoin us to stay and venture it for all other causes but that? and why a man’s life is not as well and warrantably saved by divorcing from an orthodox murderer, as an heretical? Again, if desertion be confessed by him to consist not only in the forsaking, but in the unsufferable conditions of staying, man may as well deduce the lawfulness of divorcing from any intolerable conditions, (if his grant be good, that we may divorce thereupon from a heretic,) as he can deduce it lawful to divorce from any deserter, by finding it lawful to divorce from a deserting infidel. For this is plain, if St. Paul’s permission to divorce an infidel deserter infer it lawful for any malicious desertion, then doth Beza’s definition of a deserter transfer itself with like facility from the cause of religion, to the cause of malice, and proves it as good to divorce from him who intolerably stays, as from him who purposely departs; and leaves it as lawful to depart from him who urgently requires a wicked thing, though professing the same religion, as from him who urges a heathenish or superstitious compliance in a different faith. For if there be such necessity of our abiding, we ought rather to abide the utmost for religion, than for any other cause; seeing both the cause of our stay is pretended our religion to marriage, and the cause of our suffering is supposed our constant marriage to religion. Beza therefore, by his own definition of a deserter, justifies a divorce from any wicked or intolerable conditions rather in the same religion than in a different.
Aretius, a famous divine of Bern, approves many causes of divorce in his “Problems,” and adds, “that the laws and consistories of Switzerland approve them also.” As first, “adultery, and that not actual only, but intentional;” alleging Matthew v. “Whosoever looketh to lust, hath committed adultery already in his heart. Whereby,” saith he, “our Saviour shows, that the breach of matrimony may be not only by outward act, but by the heart and desire; when that hath once possessed, it renders the conversation intolerable, and commonly the fact follows.” Other causes to the number of nine or ten, consenting in most with the imperial laws, may be read in the author himself, who avers them “to be grave and weighty.” All these are men of name in divinity; and to these, if need were, might be added more. Nor have the civilians been also blinded by the canon, as not to avouch the justice of those old permissions touching divorce.
Alciat of Milain, a man of extraordinary wisdom and learning, in the sixth book of his “Parerga,” defends those imperial laws, “not repuguant to the gospel,” as the church then interpreted. “For,” saith he, “the ancients understood him separate by man, whom passions and corrupt affections divorced, not if the provincial bishops first heard the matter, and judged as the council of Agatha declares:” and on some part of the Code he names Isidorus Hispalensis, the first computer of canons, “to be in the same mind.” And in the former place gives his opinion, “that divorce might be more lawfully permitted than usury.”
Corasius, recorded by Helvicus among the famous lawyers, hath been already cited of the same judgment.
Wesembechius, a much-named civilian, in his comment on this law defends it, and affirms, “That our Saviour excluded not other faults equal to adultery; and that the word fornication signifies larger among the Hebrews than with us, comprehending every fault, which alienates from him to whom obedience is due, and that the primitive church interpreted so.”
Grotius, yet living, and of prime note among learned men, retires plainly from the canon to the ancient civility, yea, to the Mosaic law, “as being most just and undeceivable.” On the 5th of Matth. he saith, “That Christ made no civil laws, but taught us how to use law: that the law sent not a husband to the judge about this matter of divorce, but left him to his own conscience: that Christ therefore cannot be thought to send him; that adultery may be judged by a vehement suspicion; that the exception of adultery seems an example of other like offences;” proves it “from the manner of speech, the maxims of law, the reason of charity, and common equity.”
These authorities, without long search, I had to produce, all excellent men, some of them such as many ages had brought forth none greater: almost the meanest of them might deserve to obtain credit in a singularity; what might not then all of them joined in an opinion so consonant to reason? For although some speak of this cause, others of that, why divorce may be, yet all agreeing in the necessary enlargement of that textual straitness, leave the matter to equity, not to literal bondage; and so the opinion closes. Nor could I have wanted more testimonies, had the cause needed a more solicitous inquiry. But herein the satisfaction of others hath been studied, not the gaining of more assurance to mine own persuasion: although authorities contributing reason withal be a good confirmation and a welcome. But God (I solemnly attest him!) withheld from my knowledge the consenting judgment of these men so late, until they could not be my instructors, but only my unexpected witnesses to partial men, that in this work I had not given the worst experiment of an industry joined with integrity, and the free utterance, though of an unpopular truth. Which yet to the people of England may, if God so please, prove a memorable informing; certainly a benefit which was intended them long since by men of highest repute for wisdom and piety, Bucer and Erasmus. Only this one authority more, whether in place, or out of place, I am not to omit; which if any can think a small one, I must be patient, it is no smaller than the whole assembled authority of England both church and state; and in those times which are on record for the purest and sincerest that ever shone yet on the reformation of this island, the time of Edward the Sixth. That worthy prince, having utterly abolished the canon law out of his dominions, as his father did before him, appointed by full vote of parliament a committee of two-and-thirty chosen men, divines and lawyers, of whom Cranmer the archbishop, Peter Martyr, and Walter Haddon, (not without the assistance of Sir John Cheeke the king’s tutor, a man at that time counted the learnedest of Englishmen, and for piety not inferior,) were the chief, to frame anew some ecclesiastical laws, that might be instead of what was abrogated. The work with great diligence was finished, and with as great approbation of that reforming age was received; and had been doubtless, as the learned preface thereof testifies, established by act of parliament, had not the good king’s death, so soon ensuing, arrested the further growth of religion also, from that season to this. Those laws, thus founded on the memorable wisdom and piety of that religious parliament and synod, allow divorce and second marriage, “not only for adultery or desertion, but for any capital enmity or plot laid against the other’s life, and likewise for evil and fierce usage:” nay, the twelfth chapter of that title by plain consequence declares, “that lesser contentions, if they be perpetual, may obtain divorce:” which is all one really with the position by me held in the former treatise published on this argument, herein only differing, that there the cause of perpetual strife was put for example in the unchangeable discord of some natures; but in these laws intended us by the best of our ancestors, the effect of continual strife is determined no unjust plea of divorce, whether the cause be natural or wilful. Whereby the wariness and deliberation, from which that discourse proceeded, will appear, and that God hath aided us to make no bad conclusion of this point; seeing the opinion, which of late hath undergone ill censures among the vulgar, hath now proved to have done no violence to Scripture, unless all these famous authors alleged have done the like; nor hath affirmed aught more than what indeed the most nominated fathers of the church, both ancient and modern, are unexpectedly found affirming; the laws of God’s peculiar people, and of primitive Christendom found to have practised, reformed churches and states to have imitated, and especially the most pious churchtimes of this kingdom to have framed and published, and, but for sad hinderances in the sudden change of religion, had enacted by the parliament. Henceforth let them, who condemn the assertion of this book for new and licentious, be sorry; lest, while they think to be of the graver sort, and take on them to be teachers, they expose themselves rather to be pledged up and down by men who intimately know them, to the discovery and contempt of their ignorance and presumption.
[* ]The first edition has judicial, but as that word may not be so universally understood in this place as judaical, (though the meaning of both be here the same,) we have therefore inserted the latter word in the text.