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but use their eyes; for when is it that God may be said to join? when the parties and their friends consent? No, surely, for that may concur to lewdest ends. Or is it when church rites are finished? Neither; for the efficacy of those depends upon the presupposed fitness of either party. Perhaps after carnal knowledge. Least of all; for that may join persons whom neither law nor nature dares join. It is left, that only then when the minds are fitly disposed and enabled to maintain a cheerful conversation, to the solace and love of each other, according as God intended and promised in the very first foundation of matrimony, 'I will make him a help meet for him;' for surely what God intended and promised, that only can be thought to be his joining, and not the contrary. So likewise the apostle witnesseth, 1 Corinthians, vii. 15, that in marriage God hath called us to peace.' And doubtless in what respect he hath called us to marriage, in that also he hath joined us. The rest, whom either disproportion or deadness of spirit, or something distasteful and averse in the immutable bent of nature renders conjugal, error may have joined, but God never joined against the meaning of his own ordinance. And if he joined them not, then is there no power above their own consent to hinder them from unjoining, when they cannot reap the soberest ends of being together in any tolerable sort. Neither can it be said properly that such twain were ever divorced, but only parted from each other, as two persons unconjunctive and unmarriable together. But if, whom God hath made a fit help, frowardness or private injuries hath made unfit, that being the secret of marriage, God can better judge than man, neither is man indeed fit or able to decide this matter. However it be, undoubtedly a peaceful divorce is a less evil, and less in scandal than hateful, hardhearted,
and destructive continuance of marriage in the judgment of Moses and of Christ, that justifies him in choosing the less evil; which if it were an honest and civil prudence in the law, what is there in the gospel forbidding such a kind of legal wisdom, though we should admit the common expositors?
Christ's Manner of Teaching. St Paul adds to this Matter of Divorce without Command, to show the Matter to be of Equity, not of Rigor. That the Bondage of a Christian may be as much, and his Peace as little, in some other Marriages besides idolatrous. If those Arguments therefore be good in that one Case, why not in those other? Therefore the Apostle himself adds iv rois toloútois.
THUS at length we see both by this [*] and other places, that there is scarce any one saying in the gospel but must be read with limitations and distinctions to be rightly understood; for Christ gives no full comments or continued discourses, but, as Demetrius the rhetorician phrases it, speaks oft in monosyllables, like a master scattering the heavenly grain of his doctrine like pearls here and there, which requires a skilful and laborious gatherer, who must compare the words he finds with other precepts, with the end of every ordinance, and with the general analogy of evangelic doctrine. Otherwise many particular sayings would be but strange repugnant riddles, and the church would offend in granting divorce for frigidity,
[* Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornicacation, and shall marry another, committeth adultery."]
which is not here excepted with adultery, but by them added. And this was it, undoubtedly, which gave reason to St Paul of his own authority, as he professes, and without command from the Lord, to enlarge the seeming construction of those places in the gospel, by adding a case wherein a person deserted, which is something less than divorced, may lawfully marry again. And having declared his opinion in one case, he leaves a further liberty for christian prudence to determine in cases of like importance, using words so plain as not to be shifted off, that a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases ; adding also, that God hath called us to peace,' in marriage.
Now if it be plain that a Christian may be brought into unworthy bondage, and his religious peace not only interrupted now and then, but perpetually and finally hindered in wedlock, by misyoking with a diversity of nature as well as of religion, the reasons of St Paul cannot be made special to that one case of infidelity, but are of equal moment to a divorce, wherever christian liberty and peace are without fault equally obstructed, that the ordinance which God gave to our comfort may not be pinned upon us to our undeserved thraldom, to be cooped up as it were in mockery of wedlock, to a perpetual betrothed loneliness and discontent, if nothing worse ensue ; there being nought else of marriage left between such, but a displeasing and forced remedy against the sting of a brute desire; which fleshly accustoming without the soul's union and commixture of intellectual delight, as it is rather a soiling than a fulfilling of marriage rites, so is it enough to abase the mettle of a generous spirit, and sinks him to a low and vulgar pitch of endeavour in all his actions, or, which is worse, leaves him in a despairing plight of abject and hard
ened thoughts; which condition rather than a good man should fall into, a man useful in the service of God and mankind, Christ himself hath taught us to dispense with the most sacred ordinance of his worship, even for a bodily healing to dispense with that holy and speculative rest of sabbath; much more then with the erroneous observance of an ill knotted marriage, for the sustaining of an overcharged faith and perseverance.
The Meaning of St Paul, that 'Charity believeth all things.' What is to be said to the License which is vainly feared will grow hereby. What to those who never have done prescribing Patience in this Case. The Papist most severe against Divorce, yet most easy to all License. Of all the Miseries in Marriage God is to be cleared, and the Faults to be laid on Man's unjust Laws.
AND though bad causes would take license by this pretext, if that cannot be remedied, upon their conscience be it who shall so do. This was that hardness of heart, and abuse of a good law, which Moses was content to suffer, rather than good men should not have it at all to use needfully. And he who to run after one lost sheep left ninetynine of his own flock at random in the wilderness, would little perplex his thoughts for the obduring of nine hundred and ninety such as will daily take worse liberties, whether they have permission or not. To conclude, as without charity God hath given no commandment to men, so without it neither can men rightly believe any commandment given. For every act of true faith, as well that whereby we believe the law, as that whereby we endeavour the law, is wrought in us by charity,
according to that in the divine hymn of St Paul, 1 Corinthians, xiii. 'Charity believeth all things;' not as if she were so credulous, which is the exposition hitherto current, for that were a trivial praise, but to teach us that charity is the high governess of our belief, and that we cannot safely assent to any precept written in the Bible, but as charity commends it to us; which agrees with that of the same apostle to the Ephesians, iv. 14, 15, where he tells us, that the way to get a sure, undoubted knowledge of things, is to hold that for truth which accords most with charity, whose unerring guidance and conduct having followed as a loadstar, with all diligence and fidelity, in this question, I trust, through the help of that illuminating Spirit which hath favored me, to have done no every day's work, in asserting, after many the words of Christ, with other scriptures of great concernment, from burdensome and remorseless obscurity, tangled with manifold repugnances, to their native lustre and consent between each other; hereby also dissolving tedious and Gordian difficulties, which have hitherto molested the church of God, and are now decided, not with the sword of Alexander, but with the immaculate hands of charity, to the unspeakable good of Christendom.
And let the extreme literalist sit down now, and revolve whether this in all necessity be not the due result of our Saviour's words, or if he persist to be otherwise opinioned, let him well advise, lest thinking to gripe fast the gospel, he be found instead with the canon law in his fist; whose boisterous edicts, tyrannizing the blessed ordinance of marriage into the quality of a most unnatural and unchristianly yoke, have given the flesh this advantage to hate it, and turn aside, ofttimes unwillingly, to all dissolute uncleanness, even till punishment itself is weary of, and overcome