by John Milton

Translated by Charles R. Sumner from



English translation transcribed and introduced by Norman Elliott Anderson

for The Sexual Ethics Anthology




Table of Contents

Links to page numbers
Chapter X (beginning of text)
Tree of knowledge of good and evil
Law of nature contrasted with positive right
The Sabbath
Marriage and the superior rights of the husband
Marriage defined
On not accounting the holy and lawful as sinful
Passages used by those who deny the lawfulness of polygamy
One flesh and plurality (Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5)
Wife's sister (Leviticus 18:18)
Polygamy of kings (Deuteronomy 17:17)
One woman (Malachi 2:15)
One flesh and adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:5)
His own wife (1 Corinthians 7:2)
Power over the body (1 Corinthians 7:4)
Passages admitting the lawfulness of polygamy
Exodus 21:10
Deuteronomy 17:17
2 Samuel 12:8
Psalm 45:9
Canticles = Song of Songs 6:8-10
2 Chronicles 24:2-3
Ezekiel 23:4
1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6
Hebrews 13:4
Examples of holy polygamists
Province of God to make marriage prosperous and happy
Interreligious marriage
Form of marriage
End of marriage
Marriage not prohibited to ministers of the church
Marriage not indissoluble (Matthew 19:5)
God joining together (Matthew 19:6) and compulsion
Hardness of hearts (Matthew 19:8)
Deuteronomy 24:1 and Matthew 19:3
Exodus 21:1-4, 10-11
Deuteronomy 21:13-14
Deuteronomy 24:1; Proverbs 30:21; Ecclesiastes 9:9; Malachi 2:16
Ezra 10:3; Nehemiah 13:23, 30; Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4
Deuteronomy 22:19, 29
Concluding comments on hardness of heart, including a comment on 1 Corinthians 6.6 and civil law
Before and after the Fall (Matthew 19:8)
Divorce permitted for fornication understood in a wide sense (Matthew 19:9)
Deuteronomy 24:1
Judges 19:2
1 Corinthians 7:15; 1 Timothy 5:8
Divine Law, Gospel, and civil law
Understanding of the Disciples (Matthew 19:10)
Summation of the argument regarding divorce
Feedback opportunity


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Links to Page Numbers in the Columbia University Press edition




































De Doctrina Christiana was discovered in November 1823 at the Public Record Office, London, by Robert Lemon (1779-1835), Deputy Keeper of His Majesty's State Papers. Two years later, the Anglican churchman, Charles R. Sumner (1790-1874), published both the Latin text1 and, separately, an English translation under the title, A Treatise of Christian Doctrine.2 The translation was slightly revised by Sumner for volumes four and five (1853) of The Prose Works of John Milton,3 in Bohn's Standard Library. Subsequently Sumner's translation was edited by James Holly Hanford and Waldo Hilary Dunn for volumes 14-17 (1933-1934) of the Columbia University Press edition of The Works of John Milton.4 Both of these editions have proved useful in the preparation of the present text.

It is supposed that De Doctrina was begun around 1645 and completed between 1658 and 1660.5 Its attribution to John Milton (1608-1674), author of Paradise Lost, has been questioned but has nevertheless been generally accepted.6

With regard to marriage and sexuality, De Doctrina is most notable for its advocacy, within the Christian tradition, of the legitimacy of polygamy or, more specifically, polygyny, that is, having more than one wife at the same time.

Prior to the discovery of the manuscript, Milton's views on polygyny were only suspected, the chief clue in his literary writings being an apparent allusion in his History of Britain to Julius Caesar, Gallic War 5.14, on the marital patterns of the Britons. To quote Milton:

"Where as other nations used a liberty not unnatural for one man to have many wives, the Britons altogether as licentious, but more absurd and preposterous in their license, had one or many wives in common among ten or twelve husbands; and those for the most part incestuously."7

Although seemingly balanced against the phrase "more absurd and preposterous in their license," the clue here would be in the phrase "not unnatural" as applied to polygyny; for it contrasts with what Milton had written earlier in the same work regarding possessing a wife in common, which he said is "absurdly against nature." Admittedly there is some ambiguity in the earlier passage, for he may be referring to incest. The passage, which has as its subject the Druids, reads more fully:

"Nor restrained they the people under them from a lewd, adulterous, and incestuous life, ten or twelve men, absurdly against nature, possessing one woman as their common wife, though of nearest kin, mother, daughter, or sister; progenitors not to be gloried in."8

Certain questions naturally arise when Milton's remarks on polygamy in The History of Britian are contrasted with those in De Doctrina. In De Doctrina, polygyny is spoken of without any sense of its being absurd or licentious. Quite the contrary. (See below, pages B226 and B237.) Could it be that Milton's views on the matter had evolved between 1648, the presumed date of the writing of this portion of The History of Britian and 1660, the presumed date of the completion of De Doctrina? If so, why did Milton not revise his remarks for the 1670 publication of the history? Was he practicing misdirection?

Another possible clue as to Milton's views on polygyny in his literary writings is an oblique allusion to the polygyny of the Patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible in Paradise Lost, which was written at about the same time as De Doctrina:

Haile wedded Love ...
Farr be it, that I should write thee sin or blame,
Or think thee unbefitting holiest place,
Perpetual Fountain of Domestic sweets,
Whose bed is undefil'd and chaste pronounc't,
Present, or past, as Saints and Patriarchs us'd.9

Here there is only approval for the marital practices of the Patriarchs.

Among other clues: Milton made notes on polygyny in his Commonplace Book.10 And in 1682, Johan Leyser, who had conversed with many luminaries on the subject, listed Milton as a fellow sympathizer with the practice of polygyny.11 So, apart from possible misdirection in The History of Britain, the clues point to an intellectual openness to polygyny on Milton's part.

With regard to marriage and sexuality De Doctrina is notable also for its presentation of Milton's views on divorce. His advocacy of liberalized divorce laws was already well known from his divorce tracts, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), The Judgement of Martin Bucer, concerning Divorce (1644), Tetrachordon (1645), and Colasterion (1645). Here, so to speak, is more grist for the mill.

Below appears Sumner's English translation of Book 1, Chapter 10 of De Doctrina, the principal chapter which treats of marriage. Marriage is certainly discussed elsewhere in the work.12 Most notably divorce and polygamy are substantively mentioned in Book 2, chapter 2:

"it is obvious how preposterously they interpret the law, who hold that usury, divorce, polygamy, and the like, were conceded to the hard-heartedness of the Jews as venial infirmities, or as evils which were to be abated or regulated by law; whereas the law can no more concede or tolerate the smallest degree of moral evil, than a good man can voluntarily choose it."13

Two paginations are given. Page numbers prefixed by the letter B follow the Bohn edition, volume four (1853). Page numbers prefixed by the letter C follow the Columbia University Press edition, volume 15 (1933), which provides the Latin text on the left, even-numbered pages and the English translation on the right, odd-numbered pages. Here only the English translation is provided. The text was copied from the Columbia University Press edition and then adjusted to conform to the Bohn edition. Corrections to the Bohn edition are given in square brackets, and its editorial notes have been omitted.14

Separately posted are remarks on Milton's treatment of polygamy from an 1826 review, by William Ellery Channing, of A Treatise on Christian Doctrine.


1. Joannis Miltoni Angli De Doctrina Christiana Libri Duo Posthumi, quos ex schedis manuscriptis deprompsit et typis mandari primus curavit Carolus Richardus Sumner (Cantabrigiæ: Typis Academicis excudit J. Smith, 1825). Hereafter referred to as De Doctrina.

2. A Treatise of Christian Doctrine, compiled from the Holy Scriptures alone, by John Milton; translated from the original by Charles R. Sumner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, by J. Smith for C. Knight, 1825). American edition "from the London edition": A Treatise on Christian doctrine, compiled from the Holy Scriptures alone, by John Milton; translated from the original by Charles R. Sumner (Boston: Cummings, Hilliard, and Co. - Richardson and Lord - Charles Ewer - Crocker and Brewster - Timothy Bedlington - R. P. and C. Williams, 1825).

3. The Prose Works of John Milton . . ., with a preface, preliminary remarks, and notes, by J. A. St. John (London: H. G. Bohn, [1848]-1853), in Bohn's Standard Library. Hereafter referred to simply as Bohn.

4. The Works of John Milton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931-1938). Hereafter referred to simply as Columbia.

5. For discussion, consult "A Survey of Milton's Prose Works," [by] John T. Shawcross, in: Achievements of the Left Hand: Essays on the Prose of John Milton, edited by Michael Lieb and John T. Shawcross (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, c1974): pages [291]-391, specifically 366-369.

6. For a detailed analysis of the question of authorship readily accessible online, see "Milton and De Doctrina Christiana," [by] Gordon Campbell [and others] (1996 Oct. 5) at The Milton Quarterly site. The url is: A copy of the first page of the manuscript of De Doctrina may be viewed at the same site:

7. The History of Britain, That Part Especially Now Call'd England, from the First Traditional Beginning, Continu'd to the Norman Conquest, collected out of the antientest and best authours thereof by John Milton (London: J[ohn]. M[acock]. for James Allestry, 1670), Book 2. In Bohn 5:224 = Columbia 10:87, lines 12-17.

8. Bohn 5:198 = Columbia 10:51, lines 6-10.

9. Paradise Lost, Book 4, lines 750, 758-762; in Columbia 2, part 1:133. Other references to polygamy include:

An argument could be made, but probably not carried, that Milton is alluding to the rabbinic legend of Adam's two wives, Lilith and Eve, in Paradise Regained, Book 2, line 134: "though Adam by his wives allurement fell"; however, the common editorial adjustment of "wives" to "wife's" reflects a far more probable interpretation.

10. Milton's Commonplace Book, in Columbia 18 (1938); see under:

11. For the story of Leyser's listing, see After Polygamy Was Made a Sin: The Social History of Christian Polygamy, [by] John Cairncross (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974): pp. 82-85, 127. Cairncross discusses Milton's sympathies with polygamy on pp. 126-136 and 139.

12. De Doctrina, Book 1, chapter 27 (Bohn 4:394 = Columbia 16:143); Book 1, chapter 28 (Bohn 4:421-423 = Columbia 16:215-219); Book 2, chapter 1 (Bohn 5:7 = Columbia 17:17); Book 2, chapter 12 (Bohn 5:112-113 = Columbia 17:291-293); and Book 2, chapter 15 (Bohn 5:135-137 = Columbia 17:349-353).

13. Bohn 5:14 = Columbia 17:39, lines 9-15.

14. Some of Sumner's notes betray disagreement with Milton's views, for example this one which appears at the end of the paragraphs on polygamy (Bohn 4:237, note 4):

"The subject of Jewish polygamy has been discussed by Selden in his Uxor Hebraica, and Michaelis on the Laws of Moses, Book iii, Chap. 5. The arguments advanced by Paley against the practice seem quite unanswerable. See his Moral Philosophy, Book iii, Part 3. Chap. vi. Compare also Lightfoot's Works, VIII.480."




The Providence of God as regards mankind, relates to man either in his state of rectitude, or since his fall.

With regard to that which relates to man in his state of rectitude, God, having placed him in the garden of Eden, and furnished him with whatever was calculated to make life happy, commanded him, as a test of his obedience, to refrain from eating of the single tree of knowledge of good and evil, under penalty of death if he should disregard the injunction. Gen. i.28. "subdue the earth, and have dominion--." ii.15-17. "he put him into the garden of Eden . . . . of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but in the day that thou eatest of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt surely die."

This is sometimes called "the covenant of works," though [B221] it does not appear from any passage of Scripture to have been either a covenant, or of works. No works whatever were required of Adam; a particular act only was forbidden. It was necessary that something should be forbidden or commanded as a test of fidelity, and that an act in its own nature indifferent, in order that man's obedience might be thereby [C115] manifested. For since it was the disposition of man to do what was right, as a being naturally good and holy, it was not necessary that he should be bound by the obligation of a covenant to perform that to which he was of himself inclined; nor would he have given any proof of obedience by the performance of works to which he was led by a natural impulse, independently of the divine command. Not to mention, that no command, whether proceeding from God or from a magistrate, can properly be called a covenant, even where rewards and punishments are attached to it; but rather an exercise of jurisdiction.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil was not a sacrament, as it is generally called; for a sacrament is a thing to be used, not abstained from: but a pledge, as it were, and memorial of obedience.

It was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil from the event; for since Adam tasted it, we not only know evil, but we know good only by means of evil. For it is by evil [B222] that virtue is chiefly exercised, and shines with greater brightness.

The tree of life, in my opinion, ought not to be considered so much a sacrament, as a symbol of eternal life, or rather perhaps the nutriment by which that life is sustained. Gen. iii.22. "lest he take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever." Rev. ii.7. "to him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the tree of life."

Seeing, however, that man was made in the image of God, and had the whole law of nature so implanted and innate in him, that he needed no precept to enforce its observance, it [C117] follows, that if he received any additional commands, whether respecting the tree of knowledge, or the institution of marriage, these commands formed no part of the law of nature, which is sufficient of itself to teach whatever is agreeable to right reason, that is to say, whatever is intrinsically good. Such commands therefore must have been founded on what is called positive right, whereby God, or any one invested with lawful power, commands or forbids what is in itself neither good nor bad, and what therefore would not have been obligatory on any one, had there been no law to enjoin or prohibit it. With regard to the Sabbath, it is clear that God hallowed it to himself, and dedicated it to rest, in remembrance of the consummation of his work; Gen. ii.2, 3. Exod. xxxi.17. Whether its institution was ever made known to Adam, or whether any commandment relative to its observance was given previous to the delivery of the law on Mount Sinai, much less whether any such was given before the fall of man, cannot be ascertained, Scripture being silent [B223] on the subject. The most probable supposition is, that Moses, who seems to have written the book of Genesis much later than the promulgation of the law, inserted this sentence from the fourth commandment, into what appeared a suitable place for it; where an opportunity was afforded for reminding the Israelites, by a natural and easy transition, of the reason assigned by God, many ages after the event itself, for his command with regard to the observance of the Sabbath by the covenanted people. An instance of a similar insertion occurs Exod. xvi.33, 34. "Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and [C119] put an omer full of manna therein . . . . so Aaron laid it up;" which, however, did not take place till long afterwards. The injunction respecting the celebration of the Sabbath in the wilderness, Exod. xvi. a short time previous to the delivery of the law, namely, that no one should go out to gather manna on the seventh morning, because God had said that he would not rain it from heaven on that day, seems rather to have been intended as a preparatory notice, the groundwork, as it were, of a law for the Israelites, to be delivered shortly afterwards in a clearer manner; they having been previously ignorant of the mode of observing the Sabbath. Compare v[erse].5. with v[erses].22-30. For the rulers of the congregation, who ought to have been better acquainted than the rest with the commandment of the Sabbath, if any such institution then existed, wondered why the people gathered twice as much on the sixth day, and appealed to Moses; who then, as if announcing something new, proclaimed to them that the morrow would be the Sabbath. After which, as if he had already related in what manner the Sabbath was for the first time observed, he proceeds, v[erse].30. "so the people rested on the seventh day."

That the Israelites had not so much as heard of the Sabbath before this time, seems to be confirmed by several passages of the prophets. Ezek. xx.10-12. "I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness; and I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments. . . . . moreover also I gave them my [B224] sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that [C121] I am Jehovah that sanctify them." Neh. ix.13, 14. "thou camest down also upon Mount Sinai . . . . and gavest them right judgments . . . . and madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant." This subject, however, will come again under discussion, Book II. Chap. vii.

With regard to marriage, that it was instituted, if not commanded, at the creation, is clear, and that it consisted in the mutual love, society, help, and comfort of the husband and wife, though with a reservation of superior rights to the husband. Gen. ii.18. "it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." 1 Cor. xi, 7-9. "for a man. . . . is the image of the glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man: for the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man; neither was the man created for the [B225] woman, but the woman for the man." The power of the husband was even increased after the fall. Gen. iii.16. "thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Therefore the word baal [romanized] in the Hebrew signifies both husband and lord. Thus Sarah is represented as calling her husband Abraham lord, 1 Pet. iii.6. 1 Tim. ii.12-14. "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence: for Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression."

Marriage, therefore, is a most intimate connection of man with woman, ordained by God, for the purpose either of the procreation of children, or of the relief and solace of life. [C123] Hence it is said, Gen. ii.24. "therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." This is neither a law nor a commandment, but an effect or natural consequence of that most intimate union which would have existed between them in the perfect state of man; nor is the passage intended to serve any other purpose, than to account for the origin of families.

In the definition which I have given, I have not said, in compliance with the common opinion, of one man with one woman, lest I should by implication charge the holy patriarchs and pillars of our faith, Abraham, and the others who had more than one wife at the same time, with habitual fornication and adultery; and lest I should be forced to exclude from the sanctuary of God as spurious, the holy offspring which sprang from them, yea, the whole of the sons of Israel, for whom the sanctuary itself was made. For it is said, Deut. xxiii.2. "a bastard shall not enter into the congregation of Jehovah, even to his tenth generation." Either therefore polygamy is a true marriage, or all children born in that [B226] state are spurious; which would include the whole race of Jacob, the twelve holy tribes chosen by God. But as such an assertion would be absurd in the extreme, not to say impious, and as it is the height of injustice, as well as an example of most dangerous tendency in religion, to account as sin what is not such in reality; it appears to me, that, so far from the question respecting the lawfulness of polygamy being trivial, it is of the highest importance that it should be decided.

Those who deny its lawfulness, attempt to prove their [C125] position from Gen. ii.24. "a man shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh," compared with Matt. xxix[i.e. xix].5. "they twain shall be one flesh." A man shall cleave, they say, to his wife, not to his wives, and they twain, and no more, shall be one flesh. This is certainly ingenious; and I therefore subjoin the passage in Exod. xx.17. "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox nor his ass:" whence it would follow that no one had more than a single house, a single man-servant, a single maid-servant, a single ox or ass. It would be ridiculous to argue, that it is not said houses, but house, not man-servants, but man-servant, not even neighbours, but neighbour; as if it were not the general custom, in laying down commandments of this kind, to use the singular number, not in a numerical sense, but as designating the species of the thing intended. With regard to the phrase, they twain, and not more, shall be one flesh, it is to be observed, first, that the context refers to the husband and that wife only whom he was seeking to divorce, without intending any allusion to [B227] the number of his wives, whether one or more. Secondly, marriage is in the nature of a relation; and to one relation there can be no more than two parties. In the same sense therefore as if a man has many sons, his paternal relation towards them all is manifold, but towards each individually is single and complete in itself; by parity of reasoning, if a man has many wives, the relation which he bears to each will not be less perfect in itself, nor will the husband be less one flesh with each of them, than if he had only one wife. Thus it might be [C127] properly said of Abraham, with regard to Sarah and Hagar respectively, these twain were one flesh. And with good reason; for whoever consorts with harlots, however many in number, is still said to be one flesh with each; 1 Cor. vi.16. "what, know ye not, that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh." The expression may therefore be applied as properly to the husband who has many wives, as to him who has only one. Hence it follows that the commandment in question (though in fact it is no commandment at all, as has been shown) contains nothing against polygamy, either in the way of direct prohibition or implied censure; unless we are to suppose that the law of God, as delivered by Moses, was at variance with his prior declarations; or that, though the passage in question had been frequently looked into by a multitude of priests, and Levites, and prophets, men of all ranks, of holiest lives and most acceptable to God, the fury of their passions was such as to hurry them by a blind impulse into habitual fornication; for to this supposition are we reduced, if there be anything in the present precept which renders polygamy incompatible with lawful marriage.

Another text from which the unlawfulness of polygamy is maintained, is Lev. xviii.18. "neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, besides the other in her life time." Here Junius translates the passage mulierem unam ad alteram, instead of mulierem ad sororem suam, in order that from this forced and inadmissible interpretation he may elicit an argument against polygamy. In [C129] drawing up a law, as in composing a definition, it is necessary that the most exact and appropriate words should be used, and that they should be interpreted not in their metaphorical, but in their proper signification. He says, indeed, that the [B228] same words are found in the same sense in other passages. This is true; but it is only where the context precludes the possibility of any ambiguity, as in Gen. xxvi.31. juraverunt vir fratri suo, that is, alteri, they sware one to another. No one would infer from this passage that Isaac was the brother of Abimelech; nor would any one, on the other hand, entertain a doubt that the passage in Leviticus was intended as a prohibition against taking a wife to her sister; particularly as the preceding verses of this chapter treat of the degrees of affinity to which intermarriage is forbidden. Moreover, this would be to uncover her nakedness, the evil against which the law in question was intended to guard; whereas the caution would be unnecessary in the case of taking another wife not related or allied to the former; for no nakedness would be thereby uncovered. Lastly, why is the clause in her life time added? For there could be no doubt of its being lawful after her death to marry another who was neither related nor allied to her, though it might be questionable whether it were lawful to marry a wife's sister. It is objected, that marriage with a wife's sister is forbidden by analogy in the sixteenth verse, and that therefore a second prohibition was unnecessary. I answer, first, that there is in reality no analogy between the two passages; for that by marrying a brother's wife, the brother's nakedness is uncovered; whereas by [C131] marrying a wife's sister, it is not a sister's nakedness, but only that of a kinswoman by marriage, which is uncovered. Besides, if nothing were to be prohibited which had been before prohibited by analogy, why is marriage with a mother forbidden, when marriage with a father had been already declared unlawful? or why marriage with a mother's sister, when marriage with a father's sister had been prohibited? If this reasoning be allowed, it follows that more than half the laws relating to incest are unnecessary. Lastly, considering that the prevention of enmity is alleged as the principal motive for the law before us, it is obvious, that if the intention had been to condemn polygamy, reasons of a much stronger kind might have been urged from the nature of the original institution, as was done in the ordinance of the Sabbath.

[B229] A third passage which is advanced, Deut. xvii.17. is so far from condemning polygamy, either in a king, or in any one else, that it expressly allows it; and only imposes the same restraints upon this condition which are laid upon the multiplication of horses, or the accumulation of treasure; as will appear from the seventeenth and eighteenth verses.

Except the three passages which are thus irrelevantly adduced, not a trace appears of the interdiction of polygamy throughout the whole law; nor even in any of the prophets, who were at once the rigid interpreters of the law, and the habitual reprovers of the vices of the people. The only shadow of an exception occurs in a passage of Malachi, the last of the prophets, which some consider as decisive against polygamy. It would be indeed a late and postliminous enactment, if that [C133] were for the first time prohibited after the Babylonish captivity which ought to have been prohibited many ages before. For if it had been really a sin, how could it have escaped the reprehension of so many prophets who preceded him? We may safely conclude that if polygamy be not forbidden in the law, neither is it forbidden here; for Malachi was not the author of a new law. Let us however see the words themselves as translated by Junius, ii.15. Nonne unum effecit? quamvis reliqui spiritus ipsi essent: quid autem unum? It would be rash and unreasonable indeed, if, on the authority of so obscure a passage, which has been tortured and twisted by different interpreters into such a variety of meanings, we were to form a conclusion on so momentous a subject, and to impose it upon others as an article of faith. But whatever be the signification of the words nonne unum effecit, what do they prove? are we, for the sake of drawing an inference against polygamy, to understand the phrase thus--did not he make one woman? But the gender, and even the case, are at variance with this interpretation; for nearly all the other commentators render the [B230] words as follows: annon unus fecit? et residuum spiritus ipsi? et quid ille unus? We ought not therefore to draw any conclusion from a passage like the present in behalf of a doctrine which is either not mentioned elsewhere, or only in doubtful terms; but rather conclude that the prophet's design was to reprove a practice which the whole of Scripture concurs in reproving, and which forms the principal subject of the very chapter in question, v[erses].11-16. namely, marriage with the daughter of a strange god; a [C135] corruption very prevalent among the Jews of that time, as we learn from Ezra and Nehemiah.

With regard to the words of Christ, Matt. v.32. and xix.5 the passage from Gen. ii.24. is repeated not for the purpose of condemning polygamy, but of reproving the unrestrained liberty of divorce, which is a very different thing; nor can the words be made to apply to any other subject without evident violence to their meaning. For the argument which is deduced from Matt. v.32. that if a man who marries another after putting away his first wife, committeth adultery, much more must he commit adultery who retains the first and marries another, ought itself to be repudiated as an illegitimate conclusion. For in the first place, it is the [B231] divine precepts themselves that are obligatory, not the consequences deduced from them by human reasoning; for what appears a reasonable inference to one individual, may not be equally obvious to another of not inferior discernment. Secondly, he who puts away his wife and marries another, is not said to commit adultery because he marries another, but because in consequence of his marriage with another he does not retain his former wife, to whom also he owed the performance of conjugal duties; whence it is expressly said, Mark x.11. "he committeth adultery against her." That he is in a condition to perform his conjugal duties to the one, after having taken another to her, is shewn by God himself, Exod. xxi.10. "if he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish." It cannot be supposed that the divine forethought intended to provide for adultery.

[C137] Nor is it allowable to argue, from 1 Cor. vii.2. "let every man have his own wife," that therefore none should have more than one; for the meaning of the precept is that every man should have his own wife to himself, not that he should have but one wife. That bishops and elders should have no more than one wife is explicitly enjoined 1 Tim. iii.2. and Tit. i.6. "he must be the husband of one wife," in order probably that they may discharge with greater diligence the ecclesiastical duties which they have undertaken. The command itself, however, is a sufficient proof that polygamy was not forbidden to the rest, and that it was common in the church at that time.

Lastly, in answer to what is urged from 1 Cor. vii.4. "likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife," it is easy to reply, as was done above, that the word wife in this passage is used with reference to the species, and not to the number. Nor can the power of the wife [B232] over the body of her husband be different now from what it was under the law, where it is called 'onatah [from 'onah; corrected and romanized], Exod. xxi.10. which signifies "her stated times," expressed by St. Paul in the present chapter by the phrase, "her due benevolence." With regard to what is due, the Hebrew word is sufficiently explicit.

On the other hand, the following passages clearly admit the lawfulness of polygamy. Exod. xxi.10. "if he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish." Deut. xvii.17. "neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away." Would [C139] the law have been so loosely worded, if it had not been allowable to take more wives than one at the same time? Who would venture to subjoin as an inference from this language, therefore let him have one only? In such case, since it is said in the preceding verse, "he shall not multiply horses to himself," it would be necessary to subjoin there also, therefore he shall have one horse only. Nor do we want any proof to assure us, that the first institution of marriage was intended to bind the prince equally with the people; if therefore it permits only one wife, it permits no more even to the prince. But the reason given for the law is this, that his heart turn not away; a danger which would arise if he were to marry many, and especially strange women, as Solomon afterwards did. Now if the present law had been intended merely as a confirmation and vindication of the primary institution of marriage, nothing could have been more appropriate than to have recited the institution itself in this place, and not to have advanced that reason alone which has been mentioned.

Let us hear the words of God himself, the author of the law, and the best interpreter of his own will. 2 Sam. xii.8. "I gave thee thy master's wives into thy bosom. . . . and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things." Here there can be no [B233] subterfuge; God gave him wives, he gave them to the man whom he loved, as one among a number of great benefits; he would have given him more, if these had not been enough. Besides, the very argument which God uses towards David, is of more force when applied to the gift of wives, than to any other,-- [C141] thou oughtest at least to have abstained from the wife of another person, not so much because I had given thee thy master's house, or thy master's kingdom, as because I had given thee the wives of the king. Beza indeed objects, that David herein committed incest, namely, with the wives of his father-in-law. But he had forgotten what is indicated by Esther ii.12, 13. that the kings of Israel had two houses for the women, one appointed for the virgins, the other for the concubines, and that it was the former and not the latter which were given to David. This appears also from 1 Kings i.4. "the king knew her not." Cantic. vi.8. "there are fourscore concubines, and virgins without number." At the same time, it might be said with perfect propriety that God had given him his master's wives, even supposing that he had only given him as many in number and of the same description, though not the very same; even as he gave him, not indeed the identical house and retinue of his master, but one equally magnificent and royal.

It is not wonderful, therefore, that what the authority of the law, and the voice of God himself has sanctioned, should be alluded to by the holy prophets in their inspired hymns as a thing lawful and honorable. Psal. xlv.9. (which is entitled A song of loves) "kings' daughters were among thy honorable women." v[erse].14. "the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee." Nay, the words of this very song are quoted by the apostle to the Hebrews, i.8. "unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God,["] &c. as the words wherein God the Father himself addresses the Son, and [B234] in [C143] which his divinity is asserted more clearly than in any other passage. Would it have been proper for God the Father to speak by the mouth of harlots, and to manifest his holy Son to mankind as God in the amatory songs of adulteresses? Thus also in Cantic. vi.8-10. the queens and concubines are evidently mentioned with honor, and are all without distinction considered worthy of celebrating the praises of the bride: "there are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number . . . . the daughters saw her and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her." Nor must we omit 2 Chron. xxiv.2, 3. "Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest: and Jehoiada took for him two wives." For the two clauses are not placed in contrast, or disjoined from each other, but it is said in one and the same connection that under the guidance of Jehoiada he did that which was right, and that by the authority of the same individual he married two wives. This is contrary to the usual practice in the eulogies of the kings, where, if anything blamable be subjoined, it is expressly excepted from the present character: 1 Kings xv.5. "save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite." v[erses].11, 14. "and Aza [i.e. Asa] did that which was right. . . . but the high places were not removed: nevertheless Aza's [i.e. Asa's] heart was perfect." Since therefore the right conduct of Joash is mentioned in unqualified terms, in conjunction with his double marriage, it is evident that the latter was not considered matter of censure; for the sacred historian would not have neglected so suitable an opportunity of making the customary [C145] exception, if there had really been anything which deserved disapprobation.

Moreover, God himself, in an allegorical fiction, Ezek. xxiii.4. represents himself as having espoused two wives, Aholah and Aholibah; a mode of speaking which he would by no means have employed, especially at such length, even in a parable, nor indeed have taken on himself such a character at all, if the practice which it implied had been intrinsically dishonorable or shameful.

On what grounds, however, can a practice be considered dishonorable or shameful, which is prohibited to no one even under the gospel? for that dispensation annuls none of [B235] the merely civil regulations which existed previous to its introduction. It is only enjoined that elders and deacons should be chosen from such as were husbands of one wife, 1 Tim. iii.2. and Tit. i.6. This implies, not that to be the husband of more than one wife would be a sin, for then the restriction would have been equally imposed on all; but that, in proportion as they were less entangled in domestic affairs, they would be more at leisure for the business of the church. Since therefore polygamy is interdicted in this passage to the ministers of the church alone, and that not on account of any sinfulness in the practice, and since none of the other members are precluded from it either here or elsewhere, it follows that it was permitted, as abovesaid, to all the remaining members of the church, and that it was adopted by many without offence.

Lastly, I argue as follows from Heb. xiii.4. Polygamy is either marriage, or fornication, or adultery; the apostle [C147] recognizes no fourth state. Reverence for so many patriarchs who were polygamists will, I trust, deter any one from considering it as fornication or adultery; for "whoremongers and adulterers God will judge;" whereas the patriarchs were the objects of his especial favor, as he himself testifies. If then polygamy be marriage properly so called, it is also lawful and honorable, according to the same apostle: "marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled."

It appears to me sufficiently established by the above arguments that polygamy is allowed by the law of God; lest however any doubt should remain, I will subjoin abundant examples of men whose holiness renders them fit patterns for imitation, and who are among the lights of our faith. Foremost I place Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and of the holy seed, Gen. xvi.1, &c. Jacob, chap. xxx. and, if I mistake not, Moses, Num. xii.1. "for he had married [a Cushite, Marginal Translation, or] an Ethiopian woman." It is not likely that the wife of Moses, who had been so often spoken of before by her proper name of Zipporah, should now be called by the new title of a Cushite; or that the anger of [B236] Aaron and Miriam should at this time be suddenly kindled, because Moses forty years before had married Zipporah; nor would they have acted thus scornfully towards one whom the whole house of Israel had gone out to meet on her arrival with her father Jethro. If then he married the Cushite during the lifetime of Zipporah, his conduct in this particular received the express approbation of God himself, who moreover punished with severity the unnatural opposition of [C149] Aaron and his sister. Next I place Gideon, that signal example of faith and piety, Judg. viii.30, 31. and Elkanah, a rigid Levite, the father of Samuel; who was so far from believing himself less acceptable to God on account of his double marriage, that he took with him his two wives every year to the sacrifices and annual worship, into the immediate presence of God; nor was he therefore reproved, but went home blessed with Samuel, a child of excellent promise, 1 Sam. ii.10. Passing over several other examples, though illustrious, such as Caleb, 1 Chron. ii.46, 48. vii.1. 4. the sons of Issachar, in number "six and thirty thousand men, for they had many wives and sons," contrary to the modern European practice, where in many places the land is suffered to remain uncultivated for want of population; and also Manasseh, the son of Joseph, 1 Chron. vii.14. I come to the prophet David, whom God loved beyond all men, and who took two wives, besides Michal; and this not in a time of pride and prosperity, but when he was almost bowed down by adversity, and when, as we learn from many of the psalms, he was entirely occupied in the study of the word of God and in the right regulation of his conduct. 1 Sam. xxv.42, 43. and afterwards, 2 Sam. v.12, 13. "David perceived that Jehovah had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake: and David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem." Such were the motives, such the honorable and holy thoughts whereby he was influenced, namely, by the consideration of God's kindness towards him for his people's sake. His heavenly and prophetic [C151] understanding saw not in that primitive institution what we in our blindness fancy we discern so clearly; nor did he hesitate to proclaim in the supreme council of the nation the pure and honorable motives to which, as he trusted, his children born in polygamy owed their existence. 1 Chron. [B237] xxviii.5. "of all my sons, for Jehovah hath given me many sons, he hath chosen," &c. I say nothing of Solomon, notwithstanding his wisdom, because he seems to have exceeded due bounds; although it is not objected to him that he had taken many wives, but that he had married strange women; 1 Kings xi.1. Neh. xiii.26. His son Rehoboam desired many wives, not in the time of his iniquity, but during the three years in which he is said to have walked in the way of David, 2 Chron. xi.17, 21, 23. Of Joash mention has already been made; who was induced to take two wives, not by licentious passion, or the wanton desires incident to uncontrolled power, but by the sanction and advice of a most wise and holy man, Jehoiada the priest. Who can believe, either that so many men of the highest character should have sinned through ignorance for so many ages; or that their hearts should have been so hardened; or that God should have tolerated such conduct in his people? Let therefore the rule received among theologians have the same weight here as in other cases: "The practice of the saints is the best interpretation of the commandments."

It is the peculiar province of God to make marriage prosperous and happy. Prov. xix.14. "a prudent wife is from Jehovah." xviii.22. "whoso findeth a wife, findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of Jehovah."

[C153] The consent of parents, if living, should not be wanting. Exod. xxii.17. "if his father utterly refuse to give [B238] her unto him--." Deut. vii.3. "thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son." Jer. xxix.6. "take wives for your sons." But the mutual consent of the parties themselves is naturally the first and most important requisite; for there can be no love or good will, and consequently no marriage, without mutual consent.

In order that marriage may be valid, the consent must be free from every kind of fraud, especially in respect of chastity. Deut. xxii.20, 21, 23. It will be obvious to every sensible person that maturity of age is requisite.

The degrees of affinity which constitute incest are to be determined by the law of God, Lev. xviii. Deut. xxvii. and not by ecclesiastical canons or legal decrees. We are moreover to interpret the text in its plain and obvious meaning, without attempting to elicit more from it than it really contains. To be wise beyond this point, savors of superstitious folly, and a spurious preciseness.

It is also necessary that the parties should be of one mind in matters of religion. Under the law this precept was understood as applying to marriages already contracted, as well as to those in contemplation. Exod. xxxiv. 15, 16. Deut. vii.3, 4. compared with Ezra x.11, &c. and Neh. xiii.23, 30. A similar provision was made under the gospel for preventing the contraction of any marriage where a difference of religious opinion might exist: 1 Cor. vii.39. "she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord." 2 Cor. vi.14. "be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." [C155] But if the marriage be already contracted, it is not to be dissolved, while any hope remains of doing good to the unbeliever. [B239] 1 Cor. vii.12. For the rest, what kind of issue generally follows such marriages may be seen in the case of the antediluvian world, Gen. vi. of Solomon, 1 Kings xi.1, &c. of Ahab, xxi.25. of Jehoshaphat, who gave his son Jehoram a wife of the daughters of Ahab, 2 Kings viii.

The form of marriage consists in the mutual exercise of benevolence, love, help, and solace between the espoused parties, as the institution itself, or its definition, indicates.

The end of marriage is nearly the same with the form. Its proper fruit is the procreation of children; but since Adam's fall, the provision of a remedy against incontinency has become in some degree a secondary end. 1 Cor. vii.2. Hence marriage is not a command binding on all, but only on those who are unable to live with chastity out of this state. Matt. xix.11. "all men cannot receive this saying."

Marriage is honorable in itself, and prohibited to no order of men; wherefore the Papists act contrary to religion in excluding the ministers of the church from this rite. Heb. xiii.4. "marriage is honorable in all." Gen. ii.24. 1 Cor. [B240] ix.5. "have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles?" 1 Tim. iii.2. "a bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife." v[erse].4. "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection."

Marriage, by its definition, is an union of the most intimate nature; but not indissoluble or indivisible, as some contend on the ground of its being subjoined, Matt. xix.5. "they two [C157] shall be one flesh." These words, properly considered, do not imply that marriage is absolutely indissoluble, but only that it ought not to be lightly dissolved. For it is upon the institution itself, and the due observance of all its parts, that what follows respecting the indissolubility of marriage depends, whether the words be considered in the light of a command, or of a natural consequence. Hence it is said, "for this cause shall a man leave father and mother . . . . and they two shall be one flesh;" that is to say, if, according to the nature of the institution as laid down in the preceding verses, Gen. ii.18, 20. the wife be an help meet for the husband; or in other words, if good will, love, help, comfort, fidelity, remain unshaken on both sides, which, according to universal acknowledgment, is the essential form of marriage. But if the essential form be dissolved, it follows that the marriage itself is virtually dissolved.

Great stress, however, is laid upon an expression in the next verse; "what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." What it is that God has joined together, the institution of marriage itself declares. God has joined only what admits of union, what is suitable, what is good, what [B241] is honorable; he has not made provision for unnatural and monstrous associations, pregnant only with dishonor, with misery, with hatred, and with calamity. It is not God who forms such unions but violence, or rashness, or error, or the influence of some evil genius. Why then should it be unlawful to deliver ourselves from so pressing an intestine evil? Further, our doctrine does not separate those whom God has joined [C159] together in the spirit of his sacred institution, but only those whom God has himself separated by the authority of his equally sacred law; an authority which ought to have the same force with us now, as with his people of old. As to Christian perfection, the promotion of which is urged by some as an argument for the indissolubility of marriage, that perfection is not to be forced upon us by compulsion and penal laws, but must be produced, if at all, by exhortation and Christian admonition. Then only can man be properly [B242] said to dissolve a marriage lawfully contracted, when, adding to the divine ordinance what the ordinance itself does not contain, he separates, under pretense of religion, whomsoever it suits his purpose. For it ought to be remembered that God in his just, and pure, and holy law, has not only permitted divorce on a variety of grounds, but has even ratified it in some cases, and enjoined it in others, under the severest penalties, Exod. xxi.4. 10, 11. Deut. xxi.14. xxiv.1. Ezra x.3. Neh. xiii.23, 30.

But this, it is objected, was "because of the hardness of their hearts," Matt. xix.8. I reply, that these words of Christ, though a very appropriate answer to the Pharisees who tempted him, were never meant as a general explanation of the question of divorce. His intention was, as usual, to repress the arrogance of the Pharisees, and elude their snares; for his answer was only addressed to those who taught from Deut. xxiv.1. that it was lawful to put away a wife for any cause whatever, provided a bill of divorcement were given. This is evident from the former part of the same chapter, v[erse].3. "is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" not [C161] for the sole reason allowed by Moses, namely, if "some uncleanness were found in her," which might convert love into hatred; but because it had become a common practice to give bills of divorce, under the pretence of uncleanness, without just cause; an abuse which, since the law was unable to restrain it, he thought it advisable to tolerate, notwithstanding the hardness of heart which it implied, rather than to prevent the dissolution of [B243] unfortunate marriages, considering that the balance of earthly happiness or misery rested principally on this institution.

For, if we examine the several causes of divorce enumerated in the law, we shall find that wherever divorce was permitted, it was not in compliance with the hardness of the human heart, but on grounds of the highest equity and justice. The first passage is Exod. xxi.1-4. "these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them: if thou buy an Hebrew servant. . . . in the seventh year he shall go out free for nothing. . . . if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him: if his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself." Nothing could be more just than this law, which, so far from conceding anything to the hardness of their hearts, rather restrained it; inasmuch as, while it provided against the possibility of any Hebrew, at whatever price he might have been purchased, remaining more than seven years in bondage, it at the same time established the claim of the master as prior to that of the husband. Again, v[erses].10, 11. "if he take him [C163] another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish: and if he do not these three unto her, then shall [B244] she go out free without money.["] This law is remarkable for its consummate humanity and equity; for while it does not permit the husband to put away his wife through the mere hardness of his heart, it allows the wife to leave her husband on the most reasonable of all grounds, that of inhumanity and unkindness. Again, Deut. xxi.13, 14. it was permitted by the right of war, both to take a female captive to wife, and to divorce her afterwards; but it was not conceded to the hardness of their hearts, that she should be subsequently sold, or that the master should derive any profit from the possession of her person as a slave.

The third passage is Deut. xxiv.1. "when a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor 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." There is no room here for the charge of hardness of heart, supposing the cause alleged to be a true, and not a fictitious one. For since, as is evident from the institution itself, God gave a wife to man at the beginning to the intent that she should be his help and solace and delight, if, as often happens, she should eventually prove to be rather a source of sorrow, of disgrace, of ruin, of torment, of calamity, why should we think that we are displeasing God by divorcing such a one? I should attribute hardness of heart rather to him who retained her, than to him who sent her away under such circumstances; [C165] and not I alone, but Solomon himself, or rather the Spirit of God itself speaking by the mouth of Solomon, Prov. xxx.21, 23. "for three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear; for an odious woman when she is married--." On the contrary, Eccles. ix.9. "live joyfully with the wife whom [B245] thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee;" the wife therefore "which he hath given thee" is she "whom thou lovest," not she whom thou hatest: and thus Mal. ii.16. "whoever hateth," or, "because he hateth, let him dismiss her," as all before Junius explain the passage. God therefore appears to have enacted this law by the mouth of Moses, and reiterated it by that of the prophet, with the view, not of giving scope to the hard-heartedness of the husband, but of rescuing the unhappy wife from its influence, wherever the case required it. For there is no hard-heartedness in dismissing honorably and freely her whose own fault it is that she is not loved. That one who is not beloved, who is, on the contrary, deservedly neglected, and an object of dislike and hatred; that a wife thus situated should be retained, in pursuance of a most vexatious law, under a yoke of the heaviest slavery (for such is marriage without love) to one who entertains for her neither attachment nor friendship, would indeed be a hardship more cruel than any divorce whatever. [B246] God therefore gave laws of divorce, in their proper use most equitable and humane; he even extended the benefit of them to those whom he knew would abuse them through the hardness of their hearts, thinking it better to bear with the obduracy of the wicked, than to [C167] refrain from alleviating the misery of the righteous, or suffer the institution itself to be subverted, which, from a divine blessing, was in danger of becoming the bitterest of all calamities.

The next two passages, Ezra x.3 and Neh. xiii.23, 30. do not merely tolerate divorce on account of the people's hardness of heart, but positively command it for the most sacred religious reasons. On what authority did these prophets found their precept? They were not the promulgators of a new law; the law of Moses alone could be their warrant. But the law of Moses nowhere commands the dissolution of marriages of this kind; it only forbids the contracting of such: Exod. xxxiv.15, 16. Deut. vii.3, 4. whence they argued, that the marriage which ought never to have been contracted, ought, if contracted, to be dissolved. So groundless is the vulgar maxim, that what ought not to have been done, is valid when done.

Marriage therefore gives place to religion; it gives place, as has been seen, to the right of the master; and the right of a husband, as appears from the passages of Scripture above quoted, as well as from the whole tenor of the civil law, and the custom of nations in general, is nearly the same as that of the master. It gives way, finally, to irresistible antipathies, and to that natural aversion with which we turn from whatever is unclean; but it is nowhere represented as giving way to hardness of heart, if this latter motive be really alleged as the sole or [B247] principal reason for enacting the law. This appears still more evidently from Deut. xxii.19. "because he hath brought up an evil name upon a [C169] virgin of Israel, she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days;" and v[erse].29. "she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days." Now if the law of Moses did not give way to his hardness of heart who was desirous of putting away the virgin whom he had humbled, or to his who was willing to put away the wife against whom he had brought up an evil report, why should we imagine that it would give way to his alone who was averse from uncleanness, supposing that such aversion could properly be included under the definition of hardness of heart? Christ therefore reproves the hardness of heart of those who abused this law, that is, of the Pharisees and others, when he says [Matt. xix.8], "on account of the hardness of your hearts he permitted you to put away your wives;" but he does not abrogate the law itself, or the legitimate use of it; for he says that Moses permitted it on account of the hardness of their hearts, not that he permitted it wrongfully or improperly. In this sense almost the whole of the civil law might be said to have been given on account of the hardness of their hearts; whence St. Paul reproves the brethren, 1 Cor. vi.6. because they had recourse to it, though no one argues from hence that the civil law is, or ought to be abrogated. How much less then can any one who understands the spirit of the Gospel believe, that this latter denies what the law did not scruple to concede, either as a matter of right or of indulgence, to the infirmity of human nature?

The clause of the eighth verse [Matt. xix], "from the beginning it was not so," means nothing more than what is more clearly [C171] intimated above in the fourth verse, "he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female;" namely, that marriage in its original institution was not capable of being dissolved even by death, for sin and death were not then in existence. If however the purpose of the institution should be violated by the offence of either, it was obvious that death, the consequence of that offence, must in the course of things [B248] dissolve the bond; and reason taught them that separation must frequently take place even before that period. No age or record, since the fall of man, gives a tradition of any other beginning in which it was not so. In the earliest ages of our faith, Abraham himself, the father of the faithful, put away his contentious and turbulent wife Hagar by the command of God, Gen. xxi.10, 12, 14.

Christ himself, v[erse].9. permitted divorce for the cause of fornication; which could not have been, if those whom God had once joined in the bands of matrimony were never afterwards to be disunited. According to the idiom of the eastern languages, however, the word fornication signifies, not adultery only, but either what is called any unclean thing, or a defect in some particular which might justly be required in a wife, Deut. xxiv.1. (as Selden was the first to prove by numerous testimonies in his Uxor Hebræa) or it signifies whatever is found to be irreconcilably at variance with love, or fidelity, or help, or society, that is, with the objects of the original institution; as Selden proves, and as I have myself shewn in another [B249] treatise from several texts of Scripture.* For it would have been absurd, when the Pharisees asked, whether [C173] it was allowable to put away a wife for every cause, to answer, that it was not lawful except in case of adultery, when it was well known already to be not only lawful but necessary to put away an adulteress, and that not by divorce, but by death. Fornication, therefore, must be here understood in a much wider sense than that of simple adultery, as is clear from many passages of Scripture, and particularly from Judg. xix.2. "his concubine played the whore against him;" not by committing adultery, for in that case she would not have dared to flee to her father's house, but by refractory behavior towards her husband. Nor could St. Paul have allowed divorce in consequence of the departure of an unbeliever, unless this also were a species of fornication. It does not affect the question, that the case alluded to is that of a heathen; since whoever deserts her family "is worse than an infidel," 1 Tim. v.8. Nor could anything be more natural, or more agreeable to the original institution, than that the bond which had been formed by love, and the [B250] hope of mutual assistance through life, and honorable motives, should be dissolved by hatred and implacable enmity, and disgraceful conduct on either side. For man, therefore, in his state of innocence in Paradise, previously to the entrance of sin into the world, God ordained that marriage should be indissoluble; after the fall, in compliance with the alteration of circumstances, and to prevent the innocent from being exposed to perpetual injury from the wicked, he permitted its dissolution; and this permission forms part of the law of nature and of Moses, and is not disallowed by Christ. Thus every covenant, when originally [C175] concluded, is intended to be perpetual and indissoluble, however soon it may be broken by the bad faith of one of the parties; nor has any good reason yet been given why marriage should differ in this respect from all other compacts; especially since the apostle has pronounced that "a brother or a sister is not under bondage," not merely in case of desertion, but in such cases, that is, in all cases that produce an unworthy bondage. 1 Cor. vii.15. "a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God hath called us in peace, or to peace;" he has not therefore called us to the end that we should be harassed with constant discord and vexations; for the object of our call is peace and liberty, not marriage, much less perpetual discord and the slavish bondage of an unhappy union, which the apostle declares to be above all things unworthy of a free man and a Christian. It is not to be supposed that Christ would [B251] expunge from the Mosaic law any enactment which could afford scope for the exercise of mercy towards the wretched and afflicted, or that his declaration on the present occasion was intended to have the force of a judicial decree, ordaining new and severer regulations on the subject; but that, having exposed the abuses of the law, he proceeded after his usual manner to lay down a more perfect rule of conduct, disclaiming on this, as on all other occasions, the office of a judge, and inculcating truth by simple admonition, not by compulsory decrees. It is therefore a most flagrant error to convert a gospel precept into a civil statute, and enforce it by legal penalties.

It may perhaps be asked, if the disciples understood Christ [C177] as promulgating nothing new or more severe than the existing law on the subject of divorce, how it happened that they were so little satisfied with his explanation, as to say, v[erse].10. "if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry?" I answer, that it is no wonder if the disciples, who had imbibed the doctrines of their time, thought and felt like the Pharisees with regard to divorce; so that the declaration of our Lord, that it was not lawful to put away a wife for every cause, only having given her a writing of divorcement, must have appeared to them a new and hard saying.

The whole argument may be summed up in brief as follows. It is universally admitted that marriage may lawfully be dissolved, if the prime end and form of the [B252] institution be violated; which is generally alleged as the reason why Christ allowed divorce in cases of adultery only. But the prime end and form of marriage, as almost all acknowledge, is not the nuptial bed, but conjugal love, and mutual assistance through life; for that must be regarded as the prime end and form of a rite, which is alone specified in the original institution. Mention is there made of the pleasures of society, which are incompatible with the isolation consequent upon aversion, and of conjugal assistance, which is afforded by love alone; not of the nuptial bed, or of the production of offspring, which may take place even without love: from whence it is evident that conjugal affection is of more importance and higher excellence than the nuptial bed itself, and more worthy to be considered as the prime end and form of the institution. No one can surely be so base and sensual as to deny this. The very [C179] cause which renders the pollution of the marriage bed so heavy a calamity, is, that in its consequences it interrupts peace and affection; much more therefore must the perpetual interruption of peace and affection by mutual differences and unkindness be a sufficient reason for granting the liberty of divorce. And that it is such, Christ himself declares in the above passage; for it is certain, and has been proved already, that fornication signifies, not so much adultery, as the constant enmity, faithlessness, and disobedience of the wife, arising from the manifest and palpable alienation of the mind, rather than of the body. Not to mention, that the common, though false interpretation, by which adultery is made the sole ground of divorce, so far from vindicating the law, does in effect abrogate it; for it was ordained by the law of Moses, not that an adulteress should be put away, but that she should be brought to judgment, and punished with death.



* The author refers to another treatise he has written. This could be a reference to The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1644): Book 2, chapter 18 (Bohn 3:255-258 = Columbia 3); or to Tetrachordon (1645): on Matthew 5:32 (Bohn 3:394-398 = Columbia 4:177-182).


Begun, May 4, 2000; posted, July 4, 2000; last modified, January 20, 2004

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