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§ 11. The Seventh Commandment.

This commandment, as we learn from our Lord’s exposition of it, given in his sermon on the mount, forbids all impurity in thought, speech, and behaviour. As the social organization of society is founded on the distinction of the sexes, and as the well-being of the state and the purity and prosperity of the Church rest on the sanctity of the family relation, it is of the last importance that the normal, or divinely constituted relation of the sexes be preserved in its integrity.


Among the important questions to be considered under the head of this commandment, the first is, Whether the Bible teaches that there is any special virtue in a life of celibacy? This is really a question, whether there was an error in the creation of man.

1. The very fact that God created man, male and female, declaring that it was not good for either to be alone, and constituted marriage in paradise, should be decisive on this subject. The 369doctrine which degrades marriage by making it a less holy state, has its foundation in Manicheeism or Gnosticism. It assumes that evil is essentially connected with matter; that sin has its seat and source in the body; that holiness is attainable only through asceticism and “neglecting of the body;” that because the “vita angelica” is a higher form of life than that of men here on earth, therefore marriage is a degradation. The doctrine of the Romish Church on this subject, therefore, is thoroughly anti-Christian. It rests on principles derived from the philosophy of the heathen. It presupposes that God is not the author of matter; and that He did not make man pure, when He invested him with a body.

2. Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures marriage is represented as the normal state of man. The command to our first parents before the fall was, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” Without marriage the purpose of God in regard to our world could not be carried out; it is, therefore, contradictory to the Scriptures to assume that marriage is less holy, or less acceptable to God than celibacy. To be unmarried, was regarded under the old dispensation as a calamity and a disgrace. (Judges xi. 37; Ps. lxxviii. 63; Is. iv. 1; xiii. 12.) The highest earthly destiny of a woman, according to the Old Testament Scriptures, which are the word of God, was not to be a nun, but to be the mistress of a family, and a mother of children. (Gen. xxx. 1; Ps. cxiii. 9; cxxvii. 3; cxxviii. 3, 4; Prov. xviii. 22; xxxi. 10, 28.)

3. The same high estimate of marriage, characterizes the teachings of the New Testament. Marriage is declared to be “honourable in all.” (Heb. xiii. 4.) Paul says, ” Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” (1 Cor. vii. 2.) In 1 Timothy v. 14, he says: “I will, that the younger women marry.” In 1 Timothy iv. 3, “forbidding to marry” is included among the doctrines of devils. As the truth comes from the Holy Spirit, so false doctrines, according to the Apostle’s mode of thinking, come from Satan, and his agents, the demons; they are “the seducing spirits” spoken of in the same verse.328328Calvin in his comment on this verse says: “Non multo post Apostoli mortem exorti sunt Encratitæ (qui nomen sibi a continentia indiderunt) Taciani; Cathari; Montanus cum sua secta, et tandem Manichæi, qui ab esu carnium et conjugio abhorrerent, et tanquam res profanas damnarent. . . . . Excipiunt [Papistæ] se Encratitis et Manichæis esse dissimiles, quia non simpliciter usum conjugii et carnium interdicunt, sed certis tantum diebus cogunt ad carnis abstinentiam, solos autem monachos et sacerdotes cum monialibus ad votum cœlibatus cogunt. Verum hæc. . . . . nimis frivola est excusatio. Nam sanctimoniam nihilo minus in his rebus locant; deinde falsum et adulterinum Dei cultum instituunt: postrema conscientias alligant necessitati, a qua debebant esse liberæ.” Edit. Berlin, 1831. Our Lord more than once (Matt. xix. 5; Mark x. 7) 370quotes and enforces the original law given in Genesis ii. 24, that man shall “leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” The same passage is quoted by the Apostle as containing a great and symbolical truth. (Eph. v. 31.) It is thus taught that the marriage relation is the most intimate and sacred that can exist on earth, to which all other human relations must be sacrificed. We accordingly find that from the beginning, with rare exceptions, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, confessors, and martyrs, have been married men. If marriage was not a degradation to them, surely it cannot be to monks and priests.

The strongest proof of the sanctity of the marriage relation in the sight of God, is to be found in the fact that both in the Old and in the New Testaments, it is made the symbol of the relation between God and his people. “Thy Maker is thy husband,” are the words of God, and contain a world of truth, of grace, and of love. The departure of the people from God, is illustrated by a reference to a wife forsaking her husband; while God’s forbearance, tenderness, and love, area compared to those of a faithful husband to his wife. “As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” (Is. lxii. 5.) In the New Testament, this reference to the marriage relation, to illustrate the union between Christ and the Church, is frequent and instructive. The Church is called “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife.” (Rev. xxi. 9.) And the consummation of the work of salvation is set forth as the marriage, or the marriage-supper of the Lamb. (Rev. xix. 7 , 9.) In Ephesians v. 22-33, the union between husbands and wives, and the duties thence resulting, are set forth as so analogous to the union between Christ and his Church, that in some cases it is hard to determine to which union the language of the Apostle is to be applied. It is a matter of astonishment, in view of all these facts, that marriage has so extensively and persistently been regarded as something degrading, and celibacy or perpetual virginity as a special and peculiar virtue. No more striking evidence of the influence of a false philosophy in perverting the minds of even good men, is afforded in the whole history of the Church. Even the Reformers did not escape altogether from its influence. They often speak of marriage as the less of two evils; not as in itself a good; and not as the normal and appropriate state in which men and women should live, as designed 371by God in the very constitution of their nature, and as the best adapted to the exercise and development of all social and Christian virtues. Thus Calvin says: “Unde constat et aliam quamlibet, extra conjugium, societatem coram ipso [Deo] maledictam esse; et illam ipsam conjugalem in necessitatis remedium esse ordinatam, ne in effrenem libidinem proruamus. . . . . Jam quum per naturæ conditionem et accensa post lapsum libidine, mulieris consortio bis obnoxii simus, nisi quos singulari gratia Deus inde exemit; videant singuli quid sibi datum sit. Virginitas, fateor, virtus est non contemnenda: sed quoniam aliis negata est, allis nonnisi ad tempus concessa, qui ab incontinentia vexantur, et superiores in certamine esse nequeunt ad matrimonii subsidium se conferant, ut ita in suæ vocationis gradu castitatem colant.329329Institutio, II. viii. 41, 42; edit. Berlin, 1834, vol. i. pp. 264. 265. That is, virginity is a virtue. Celibacy is a higher state than marriage. Those who cannot live in that state, should descend to the lower platform of married life. With such dregs of Manichean philosophy was the pure truth of the Bible contaminated, even as held by the most illustrious Reformers.

4. The teaching of Scripture as to the sanctity of marriage is confirmed by the experience of the world. It is only in the marriage state that some of the purest, most disinterested, and most elevated principles of our nature are called into exercise. All that concerns filial piety, and parental and especially maternal affection, depends on marriage for its very existence. Yet on the purifying and restraining influence of these affections the well-being of human society is in a large measure dependent. It is in the bosom of the family that there is a constant call for acts of kindness, of sell-denial, of forbearance, and of love. The family, therefore, is the sphere the best adapted for the development of all the social virtues; and it may be safely said that there is far more of moral excellence and of true religion to be found in Christian households, than in the desolate homes of priests, or in the gloomy cells of monks and nuns. A man with his children or grandchildren on his knees, is an object of higher reverence than any emaciated anchorite in his cave.

5. Our Lord teaches that a tree is known by its fruits. There has been no more prolific source of evil to the Church than the unscriptural notion of the special virtue of virginity and the enforced celibacy of the clergy and monastic vows, to which that action has given rise. This is the teaching of history. On this point the testimony of Romanists as well as of Protestants is decisive 372and overwhelming. It may be admitted that the Catholic clergy in this and in some other countries are as decorous in their lives, as the clergy of other denominations, without invalidating the testimony of history as to the evils of vows of celibacy.

Protestants, while asserting the sanctity of marriage and denying the superior virtue of a life of celibacy, do not deny that there are times and circumstances in which celibacy is a virtue: i.e., that a man may perform a virtuous act in resolving never to marry. The Church often has work to do, for which single men are the only proper agents. The cares of a family, in other words, would unfit a man for the execution of the task assigned. This, however, does not suppose that celibacy is in itself a virtue. It may also happen that a rich man may be called upon to undertake a work which would necessitate his disencumbering himself of the care of his estate, and subjecting himself to a life of poverty. The same is true of the state. In fact military service, for the great majority of the rank and file of an army, is an estate of forced celibacy so long as the service continues. And even with regard to the officers, the liberty to marry is very much restricted in the standing armies of Europe. There are times when marriage is inexpedient. Our Lord in foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem said, “Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days.” It is the part of wisdom to escape such woes. When Christians had no security for life or home; when they were liable to be torn away from their families, or to have all means of providing for their wants taken out of their hands, it was better for them not to marry. It is in reference to such times and circumstances that the words of Christ, in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, were uttered, and the advice of the Apostle, in the seventh chapter of First Corinthians was given. The Pharisees asked our Lord whether a man could put away his wife at pleasure. He referred them to the original institution of marriage, as showing that it was intended to be an indissoluble connection. His disciples said, In that case it is better that a man should not marry. Our Lord replied: Whether it is better for a man to marry or not, is not a question for every man to decide for himself. “That the unmarried state is better, is a saying not for every one, and indeed only for such as it is divinely intended for.”330330Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on The Old and New Testament. Matthew xix. 11. By Rev. Robert Jamieson, St. Paul’s, Glasgow, Scotland; Rev. A. R. Fausset, A. M., St. Cuthbert, York, England; and the Rev. David Brown, D. D., Aberdeen, Scotland, Hartford, Conn. 1871. That is, those to whom the requisite 373grace is given, “Omnes hujus dicti capaces esse negans, significat electionem non esse positam in manu nostra, acsi de re nobis subjecta esset consultatio. Si quis utile sibi esse putat uxore carere, atque ita nullo examine habito, cœlibatus legem sibi edicit, longe fallitur. Deus enim, qui pronuntiavit bonum esse, ut viro adjutrix sit mulier, contempti sui ordinis pœnam exiget: quia nimium sibi arrogant mortales, dum se a cœlesti vocatione eximere tentant. Porro non esse omnibus liberum, eligere utrum libuerit, inde probat Christus, quia speciale sit continentiæ donum: nam quum dicit, non omnes esse capaces, sed quibus datum est, clare demonstrat non omnibus esse datum.331331Calvin on Matthew xix. 10, 11, in N. T. Comment. Berlin, 1838, vol. ii. p. 159. Although Calvin sometimes speaks disparagingly of marriage, at other times, especially when writing against the Papists, he vindicates its sanctity. Thus in connection with the passage quoted above, he says: “Si conjugium instituit Deus in communem humani generis salutem, licet quædem minus grata secum trahat, non ideo protinus spernendum est. Discamus ergo, si quid in Dei beneficiis nobis non arridet, non tam lauti esse ac morosi, quin reverenter illis utamur. Præsertim nobis in sancto conjugio cavenda est hæc pravitas: nam quia multis molestiis implicitum est, semper conatus est Satan odio et infamia gravare, ut homines ab eo subduceret. Et Hieronymus nimis luculentum maligni perversique ingenii specimen in eo edidit, quod non tantum calumniis exagitat sacrum illum et divinum vitæ ordinem, sed quascunque potest ex profanis auctoribus λοιδορίας accumulat, quæ ejus honestatem determent.” Ibid. p. 158. Those to whom it is given to lead an unmarried life, as our Lord teaches (Matt. xix. 10), are not only those who by their natural constitution are unfit for the marriage state, but those whom God calls to special service in his Church and whom He fits for that work.

The doctrine which Paul teaches on this subject is perfectly coincident with the teachings of our Lord. He recognizes marriage as a divine institution; as in itself good; as the normal and proper state in which men and women should live; but as it is necessarily attended by many cares and distractions, it was expedient in times of trouble, to remain unmarried. This is the purport of Paul’s teachings in First Corinthians ii. No one of the sacred writers, whether in the Old or in the New Testament, so exalts and glorifies marriage as does this Apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians. He, therefore, is not the man, guided as he was in all his teachings by the Spirit of God, to depreciate or undervalue it, as only the less of two evils. It is a positive good: the union of two human persons to supplement and complement the one the other in a way which is necessary to the perfection or full development of both. The wife is to her husband what the Church is to Christ. Nothing higher than this can possibly be said.



No one can read the Epistles of Paul, especially those to the Ephesians and Colossians, without seeing clear indications of the prevalence, even in the apostolic churches, of the principles of that philosophy which held that matter was contaminating; and which inculcated asceticism as the most efficacious means of the purification of the soul. This doctrine had already been adopted and reduced to practice by the Essenes among the Jews. Farther East, under a somewhat different form, it had prevailed for ages before the Christian era, and still maintains its ground. According to the Brahminical philosophy the individuality of man depends on the body. Complete emancipation from the body, therefore, secures the merging of the finite into the infinite. The drop is lost in the ocean, and this is the highest and ultimate destiny of man. It is not therefore to be wondered at, that the early fathers came more or less under the influence of these principles, or that asceticism gained so rapidly and maintained so long its ascendancy in the Church. The depreciation of the divine institution of marriage, and the exaltation of virginity into the first place among Christian virtues, was the natural and necessary consequence of this spirit. Ignatius called voluntary virgins “the jewels of Christ.” Justin Martyr desired celibacy to prevail to the “greatest possible extent.” Tatian regarded marriage as inconsistent with spiritual worship. Origen “disabled himself in his youth” and regarded marriage as a pollution. Hieracas made “virginity a condition of salvation.” Tertullian denounced second marriage as criminal, and represented celibacy as the ideal of Christian life, not only for the clergy, but also for the laity. Second marriage was early prohibited so far as the clergy were concerned, and soon came in their case the prohibition of marriage altogether. The Apostolical Constitutions prohibited priests from contracting marriage after consecration. The Council of Ancyra, A.D. 314, allowed deacons to marry, provided they stipulated for the privilege before ordination. The Council of Elvira, A.D. 305, forbade the continuance of the marriage relation (according to the common interpretation of its canons) to bishops, presbyters, and deacons on pain of deposition.332332See Schaff, History of the Christian Church, New York, 1867, vol. i., §§ 91, 96. Jerome was fanatical in his denunciation of marriage; and even Augustine was carried away by the spirit of the age. In answer to the objection that if men acted on his principles the world would be depopulated, he answered 375So much the better, for in that case Christ would come the sooner.333333Augustine, De Bono Conjugali, 10; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1837, vol. vi. p. 551, c. Siricius, Bishop of Rome A.D. 385, decided that marriage was inconsistent with the clerical office; and was followed in this view by his successors. Great opposition, however, was experienced in enforcing celibacy, and it required all the energy of Gregory VII. to have the decisions of councils carried into effect. Ultimately, however, the rule, so far as the clergy are concerned, was acquiesced in, and received the authoritative sanction of the Council of Trent. That Council decided,334334Sess. xxiv., canon 10; Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, p. 91.Si quis dixerit, statum conjugalem anteponendum esse statui virginitatis, vel cœlibatus, et non esse melius, et beatius manere in virginitate aut cœlibatu, quam jungi matrimonio: anathema sit.” On this assumed higher virtue of celibacy, in the preceding canon it was ordered: “Si quis dixerit, clericos in sacris ordinibus constitutos, vel regulares, castitatem solemniter professos, posse matrimonium contrahere, contractumque validum esse, non obstante lege ecclesiastica, vel voto: et oppositum nil aliud esse, quam damnare matrimonium; posseque omnes contrahere matrimonium, qui non sentiunt se castitatis, etiam si eam voterint, habere donum; anathema sit; cum Deus id recte petentibus non deneget, nec patiatur nos supra id, quod possumus, tentari.

Although the doctrine that virginity, as the Roman Catechism expresses it, “summopere commendatur,” as being better, and more perfect and holy than a state of marriage, is made the ostensible ground of the enforced celibacy of the clergy, it is manifest that hierarchical reasons had much to do in making the Romish Church so strenuous in insisting that its clergy should be unmarried. This Gregory VII. avows when he says,335335Epist. lib. iii. p. 7.Non liberari potest ecclesia a servitute laicorum, nisi liberentur clerici ab uxoribus.” And Melancthon felt authorized to say in reference to the celibacy of the clergy in the Church of Rome, “Una est vera et sola causa tuendi cœlibatus, ut opes commodius administrentur et splendor ordinis retineatur.336336See Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, Art. “Cölibat.”

As the Reformation was a return to the Scriptures as the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and as in the Scriptures marriage is exalted as a holy state, and no preeminence in excellence is assigned to celibacy or virginity; and as the Reformers denied the authority of the Church to make laws to bind the conscience or to curtail the liberty with which Christ had made his people 376free, Protestants pronounced with one voice against the obligation of monastic vows and of the celibacy of the clergy.

The Greek Church petrified at an early date. It assumed the form which it still retains, before the doctrine of the special sanctity of celibacy had gained ascendancy. It abides therefore by the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, and of Trullo, A.D. 692, which permitted marriage to priests and deacons. Those Greeks who are in communion with the Church of Rome enjoy the same liberty. Benedict XIV. declared in reference to them, “Etsi expetendum quam maxime esset, ut Græci, qui sunt in sacris ordinibus constituti, castitatem non secus ac Latini servarent. Nihilominus, ut eorum clerici, subdiaconi, diaconi et presbyteri uxores in eorum ministerio retineant, dummodo ante sacros ordines, virgines, non viduas, neque corruptas duxerint, Romana non prohibet Ecclesia. Eos autem, qui viduam vel corruptam duxerunt, vel ad secunda vota, prima uxore mortua, convolarunt, ad subdiaconatum, diaconatum et presbyteratum promoveri omnino prohibemus.337337Bulla, lvii. § 7, 26; Magn. Bull. Rom., Luxemburg, 1752, vol. xvi. p. 100, b. The controversies in the Church on this subject are detailed by the leading modern ecclesiastical historians, as Neander, Gieseler, and Schaff. The merits of the question are discussed in numerous separate treatises, as well as in such books as Burnet’s Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Jeremy Taylor’s Ductor Dubitantium (III. iv. Works, London, 1828, vol. xiii. pp. 549-616), Elliott’s Delineation of Romanism, Thiersch’s Vorlesungen über Katholicemus und Protestantismus, 2d edit. Erlangen, 1848. In the Russian Church the priests are required to be married men; but second marriages are forthem prohibited. The bishops are chosen from the monks and must be unmarried.

Marriage a Divine Institution.

Marriage is a divine institution. (1.) Because founded on the nature of man as constituted by God. He made man male and female, and ordained marriage as the indispensable condition of the continuance of the race. (2.) Marriage was instituted before the existence of civil society, and therefore cannot in its essential nature be a civil institution. As Adam and Eve were man led not in virtue of any civil law, or by the intervention of a civil magistrate, so any man and woman cast together on a desert island, could lawfully take each other as husband and wife, It is a degradation of the institution to make it a mere civil contract. (3.) God commanded men to marry, when He commanded them to increase, and multiply and replenish the earth. (4.) God in his word has prescribed the duties belonging to the marriage relation; He has made known his will as to the parties 377who may lawfully be united in marriage; He has determined the continuance of the relation; and the causes which alone justify its dissolution. These matters are not subject to the will of the parties, or to the authority of the State. (5.) The vow of mutual fidelity made by husband and wife, is not made exclusively by each one to the other, but by each to God. When a man connects himself with a Christian Church he enters into covenant with his brethren in the Lord; mutual obligations are assumed; but nevertheless the covenant is made with God. He joins the Church in obedience to the will of God; he promises to regulate his faith and practice by the divine word; and the vow of fidelity is made to God. It is the same in marriage. It is a voluntary, mutual compact between husband and wife. They promise to be faithful to each other; but nevertheless they act in obedience to God, and promise to Him that they will live together as man and wife, according to his word. Any violation of the compact is, therefore, a violation of a vow made to God.

Marriage is not a sacrament in the sense in which baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacraments, nor in the sense of the Romish Church; but it is none the less a sacred institution. Its solemnization is an office of religion. It should, therefore, be entered upon with due solemnity and in the fear of God; and should be celebrated, i.e., the ceremony should be performed by a minister of Christ. He alone is authorized to see to it that the law of God is adhered to; and he alone can receive and register the marriage vows as made to God. The civil magistrate can only witness it as a civil contract, and it is consequently to ignore its religious character and sanction to have it celebrated by a civil officer. As the essence of the marriage contract is the mutual compact of the parties in the sight of God and in the presence of witnesses, it is not absolutely necessary that it should be celebrated by a minister of religion or even by a civil magistrate. It may be lawfully solemnized, as among the Quakers, without the intervention of either. Nevertheless as it is of the greatest importance that the religious nature of the institution should be kept in view, it is incumbent on Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, to insist that it should be solemnized as a religious service.

Marriage as a Civil Institution.

As a man’s being a servant of God and bound to make his word the rule of his faith and practice, is not inconsistent with his 378being a servant of the state, and bound to render obedience to its laws; so it is not inconsistent with the fact that marriage is an ordinance of God, that it should be, in another aspect, a civil institution. It is so implicated in the social and civil relations of men that it of necessity comes under the cognizance of the state. It is therefore a civil institution. (1.) In so far as it is, and must be, recognized and enforced by the state. (2.) It imposes civil obligations which the state has the right to enforce. The husband is bound to sustain his wife, for example, and he is constrained by the civil law to the performance of this duty. (3.) Marriage also involves, on both sides, rights to property; and the claims of children born in wedlock to the property of their parents. All these questions concerning property fall legitimately under the control of the civil law. In many countries not only property, but rank, title, and political prerogatives are implicated with the question of marriage. (4.) It belongs to the state, therefore, as the guardian of these rights, to determine what marriages are lawful and what unlawful; how the contract is to be solemnized and authenticated; and what shall be its legal consequences. All these laws Christians are bound to obey, so far as obedience to them is consistent with a good conscience.

The legitimate power of the state in all these matters is limited by the revealed will of God. It can make nothing an impediment to marriage which the Scriptures do not declare to be a bar to that union. It can make nothing a ground of dissolving the marriage contract which the Bible does not make a valid ground of divorce. And the state can attach none other than civil pains and penalty to the violation of its laws concerning marriage. This is only saying that a Christian government is bound to respect the conscientious convictions of the people. It is a violation of the principles of civil and religious liberty for the state to make its will paramount to the will of God. Plain as this principle seems to be, it is nevertheless constantly disregarded in almost all Christian nations, whether Catholic or Protestant. In England, for example, it is still the law, that no member of the royal family can marry without the consent of the reigning sovereign. If this meant nothing more than that any member of the royal family thus marrying, should forfeit for himself and his children all right of succession to the crown, it might be all right. But the real meaning is that such a marriage is null and void that parties otherwise lawfully married and whom God has joined together as man and wife, are not man and wife. This is to 379bring the law of man and the law of God into direct collision, and make the human supersede the divine. In Prussia a subordinate officer of the army cannot marry without the consent of his commander. If he should marry without that consent, it might be right to make him throw up his commission; but to say that his wife is not a wife, is not only untrue, but it is a monstrous injustice and cruelty. In England, until of late years, no marriage was valid unless solemnized in church, within canonical hours, and by a man in priest’s orders. This law was designed specially for the protection of heiresses from the wiles of fortune-hunters. It might be just to determine that no marriage not thus solemnized should convey any right to property; but to say that parties married five minutes after twelve o’clock, noon, are not married at all, whereas had the ceremony been performed ten minutes sooner, they would be truly man and wife, shocks the conscience and common sense of men. So in this country before the abolition of slavery, according to the laws of our Southern States, no slave could marry. A young white man married a young woman, whom no one in the community supposed had a drop of African blood in her veins. It was proved, however, that she was a slave. Her husband purchased her, manumitted her, repudiated her, married another woman, and was received into the communion of a Presbyterian Church. The law of God was thus regarded as a mere nullity.338338This however was in accordance with the canonical law, which made error as to the condition of one of the parties, as bond or free, a ground of annulling the marriage contract. Stahl, De Matrimonio Rescindendo. Berlin, 1841. Canon Leg. cap. 2, 4, x., de conjugio servorum, 4, 9. See Göschen in Herzog’s Encyklopädie, art. “Ehe.” This is still the doctrine of the Romish Church. See Dens, Tractatus de Matrimonio; Theologia, edit. Dublin, 1832, vol. vii. N. 72, p. 199. See also Commentaries on the Law of Marriage and Divorce, by Joel Prentiss Bishop. 4th edit., Boston, 1864, vol. i. chap. x. § 154-163.

Because marriage is in some of its aspects a civil institution, to be regulated within certain limits, by the civil law, men have treated it as though it were a mere business engagement. They ignore its character as a divine institution, regulated and controlled by divine laws. Civil legislatures should remember that they can no more annul the laws of God than the laws of nature. If they pronounce those not to be married who, by the divine law, are married; or if they separate those whom God hath joined together, their laws are absolute nullities at the bar of conscience and in the sight of God.



Marriage is a compact between one man and one woman to live together, as man and wife, until separated by death. According to this definition, first, the marriage relation can subsist only between one man and one woman; secondly, the union is permanent, i.e., it can be dissolved only by the death of one or both of the parties, except for reasons specified in the word of God; and thirdly, the death of one of the parties dissolves the union, so that it is lawful for the survivor to marry again.

As to the first of these points, or that the Scriptural doctrine of marriage is opposed to and condemns polygamy, it is to be remarked, —

1. That such has been the doctrine of the Christian Church in all ages and in every part of the world. There has never been a church calling itself Christian which tolerated a plurality cf wives among its members. There could hardly be a stronger proof than this fact that such is the law of Christ. It is morally certain that the whole Church cannot have mistaken, on such a subject as this, the mind and will of its divine Head and Master.

2. Marriage as originally constituted and ordained by God was between one man and one woman. And the language of Adam when he received Eve from the hands of her Maker, proves that such was the essential nature of the relation: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. . . . . Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. ii. 23, 24.) Or, as our Lord quotes and expounds the passage, “They twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.” (Mark x. 8.) “The two,” and no more than two, become one. This was not only the language of unfallen Adam in Paradise, but the language of God uttered through the lips of Adam, as appears not only from the circumstances of the case, but also from our Lord’s attributing to them divine authority, as He evidently does in the passage just quoted. Thus the law of marriage as originally instituted by God, required that the union should be between one man and one woman. This law could be changed only by the authority by which it was originally enacted. Delitzsch remarks on this passage:339339Die Genesis, Leipzig, 1852, p. 114. “In these words not only the deepest spiritual union, but a union comprehending the whole nature of man, an all comprehending personal communion, is represented 381as the essence of marriage; and monogamy is set forth as its natural and divinely appointed form.”

3. Although this original law was partially disregarded in later times it was never abrogated. Polygamy and divorce were in a measure tolerated under the Mosaic law, yet in all ages among the Hebrews, monogamy was the rule, and polygamy the exception, as it was among other civilized nations of antiquity. Polygamy first appears among the descendants of Cain. (Gen. iv. 19.) Noah and his sons had each but one wife. Abraham had but one wife, until the impatience of Sarah for children led him to take Hagar as a concubine. The same rule of marriage was observed by the prophets as a class. Polygamy was confined in a great measure to kings and princes. There was also an honourable distinction made between the wife and the concubine. The former retained her preeminence as the head of the family. Numerous passages of the Old Testament go to prove that monogamy was considered as the law of marriage, from which plurality of wives was a departure. Throughout the Proverbs, for example, it is the blessing of a good wife, not of wives, that is continually set forth. (Prov. xii. 4; xix. 14; xxxi. 10 ff.) The apocryphal books contain clear evidence that after the exile monogamy was almost universal among the Jews; and it may be inferred from such passages as Luke i. 5; Acts v. 1, and many others, that the same was true at the time of the advent of Christ.

With regard to the toleration of polygamy under the Mosaic law, it is to be remembered that the seventh commandment belongs to the same category as the sixth and eighth. These laws are not founded on the essential nature of God, and therefore are not immutable. They are founded on the permanent relations of men in their present state of existence. From this it follows, (1.) That they bind men only in their present state. The laws of property and marriage can have no application, so far as we know, to the future world, where men shall be as angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. (2.) These laws being founded on the permanent and natural relations of men, cannot be set aside by human authority, because those relations are not subject to the will or ordinance of men. (3.) They may however be dispensed with by God. He commanded the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians and to dispossess the Canaanites, but this does not prove that one nation may, of its own motion, seize on the inheritance of another people. If God, therefore, at any time said to any people granted permission to practise polygamy, then 382so long as that permission lasted and for those to whom it was given, polygamy was lawful, and at all other times and for all other persons it was unlawful. This principle is clearly recognized in what our Saviour teaches concerning divorce. It was permitted the Jews under the Mosaic law to put away their wives; as soon as that law was abolished, the right of divorce ceased.

4. Monogamy, however, does not rest exclusively on the original institution of marriage, or upon the general drift of the Old Testament teaching, but mainly on the clearly revealed will of Christ. His will is the supreme law for all Christians, and rightfully for all men. When the Pharisees came to Him and asked Him whether a man could lawfully put away his wife, He answered, that marriage as instituted by God was an indissoluble union between one man and one woman; and, therefore, that those whom God had joined together no man could put asunder. This is the doctrine clearly taught in Matthew xix. 4-9; Mark x. 4-9; Luke xvi. 18; Matthew v. 32. In these passages our Lord expressly declares that if a man marries while his first wife is living he commits adultery. The exception which Christ himself makes to this rule, will be considered under the head of divorce.

The Apostle teaches the same doctrine in Romans vii. 2, 3: “The woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” The doctrine of this passage is that marriage is a compact between one man and one woman, which can be dissolved only by the death of one of the parties. So in 1 Corinthians vii. 2: “Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband,” it is taken for granted that, in the Christian Church, a plurality of wives is as much out of the question as a plurality of husbands. This assumption runs through the whole New Testament. We not only never read of a Christian’s having two or more wives; but whenever the duty of the marriage relation is spoken of, it is always of the husband to his wife, and of the wife to her husband. In the judgment, therefore, of the whole Christian Church, marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman to live together as husband and wife until separated by death.


5. This Scriptural law is confirmed by the providential law which secures the numerical equality of the sexes. Had polygamy been according to the divine purpose, we should naturally expect that more women would be born than men. But the reverse is the fact. There are more men than women born into the world. The excess, however, is only sufficient to provide for the greater peril to life to which men are exposed. The law of providence is the numerical equality of the sexes; and this is a clear intimation of the will of God that every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. Such being the will of God, as revealed both in his word and in his providence, everything which tends to counteract it must be evil in its nature and consequences. The doctrine which depreciated marriage, and made celibacy a virtue, flooded the Church with corruption. And everything in our modern civilization and modes of living which renders marriage difficult, and consequently infrequent, is to be deprecated, and if possible removed. That every man should have his own wife and every woman her own husband, is the divinely appointed preventive of the “Social Evil” with all its unutterable horrors.340340The fact that men and women, who make the murder of infants a profession, are rolling in wealth, is enough to rouse any community from its false security. Every other preventive is human and worthless. Rather than that the present state of things should continue, it would be better to return to the old patriarchal usage, and let parents give their sons and daughters in marriage as soon as they attained the proper age, on the best terms they can.

6. As all the permanently obligatory laws of God are founded on the nature of his creatures, it follows that if He has ordained that marriage must be the union of one man and one woman, there must be a reason for this in the very constitution of man and in the nature of the marriage relation. That relation must be such that it cannot subsist between one and many; between one man and more than one woman. This is plain, first, from the nature of the love which it involves; and secondly, from the nature of the union which it constitutes. First, conjugal love is peculiar and exclusive. It can have but one object. As the love of a mother for a child is peculiar, and can have no other object than her own child, so the love of a husband can have no other object than his wife, and the love of a wife no other object than her husband. It is a love not only of complacency and delight, but also of possession, of property, and of rightful ownership. This is the reason why jealousy in man or woman is the fiercest of all 384human passions. It involves a sense of injury; of the violation of the most sacred rights; more sacred even than the rights of property or life. Conjugal love, therefore, cannot by possibility exist except between one man and one woman. Monogamy has its foundation in the very constitution of our nature. Polygamy is unnatural, and necessarily destructive of the normal, or divinely constituted relation between husband and wife.

Secondly, in another aspect, the union involved in marriage cannot exist except between one man and one woman. It is not merely a union of feeling and of interests. It is such a union as to produce, in some sense, identity. The two become one. Such is the declaration of our Lord. Husband and wife are one, in a sense which justified the Apostle in saying as he does, in Ephesians v. 30, that the wife is bone of her husband’s bone, and flesh of his flesh. She is his body. She is himself (v. 28). Such is this union that “Qui uxorem repudiat, quasi dimidiam sui partem a seipso avellit. Hoc autem minime patitur natura, ut corpus suum quisque discerpat.” What all this means it may be hard for us to understand. It is certain, — (1.) That it does not refer to anything material, or to any identification of substance. When Adam said of Eve, “This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,” he doubtless referred to her being formed out of his body. But as these words are used by the Apostle to express the relation of all wives to their husbands, they must be understood of something else than identity of substance. (2.) The oneness of man and wife, of which the Scriptures speak cannot be understood in any sense inconsistent with their distinct subsistence or personality. They may be very different in character and destiny. The one may be saved, the other lost. (3.) It is evident, however, that the meaning of the strong language of Scripture on this subject is not exhausted, by representing the marriage union as being merely one of affection; or by saying that the husband is the complement of the wife and the wife of the husband; that is, that the marriage relation is necessary to the completeness of our nature and to its full development in the present state of existence; that there are capacities, feelings, and virtues which are not otherwise or elsewhere called into exercise. All this may be true, but it is not the whole truth. (4.) There is, in a certain sense, a community of life between husband and wife. We are accustomed to say, and to say truly, that the life of parents is communicated to their children. Each nation and every historical family has a form of life by which it is distinguished. As, therefore, the 385life of a father and the life of his son are the same, in that the blood (i.e., the life) of the parent flows in the veins of his children; so in an analogous sense the life of the husband and wife is one. They have a common life, and that common or joint life is transmitted to their offspring. This is the doctrine of the early Church. The Apostolical Constitutions say:341341Lib. VI. cap. xiv.; Works of Clement of Rome, edit. Migne, Paris, 1857, vol. i. p. 245, c. ἡ γυνὴ κοινωνός ἐστι βίου, ἐνουμένη εἰς ἕν σῶμα ἐκ δύο παρὰ Θεοῦ.

The analogy which the Apostle traces out in Ephesians v. 22-33, between the conjugal relation and the union between Christ and his Church, brings out the Scriptural doctrine of marriage more clearly than perhaps any other passage in the Bible. No analogy is expected to answer in all respects, and no illustration borrowed from earthly relations can bring out all the fulness of the things of God. The relation, therefore, between a husband and his wife, is only an adumbration of the relation of Christ to his Church. Still there is an analogy between the two, (1.) As the Apostle teaches, the love of Christ to his Church is peculiar and exclusive. It is such as He has for no other class or body of rational creatures in the universe. So the love of the husband for his wife is peculiar and exclusive. It is such as he has for no other object; a love in which no one can participate. (2.) Christ’s love for his Church is self-sacrificing. He gave himself for it. He purchased the Church with his blood. So the husband should, and when true, does, in all things sacrifice himself for his wife. (3.) Christ and his Church are one; one in the sense that the Church is his body. So the husband and wife are in such a sense one, that a man in loving his wife loves himself. (4.) Christ’s life is communicated to the Church. As the life of the head is communicated to the members of the human body; and the life of the vine to the branches, so there is, in a mysterious sense, a community of life between Christ and his Church. In like manner, in a sense no less truly mysterious, there is a community of life between husband and wife.

From all this it follows that as it would be utterly incongruous and impossible that Christ should have two bodies, two brides, two churches, so it is no less incongruous and impossible that a man should have two wives. That is, the conjugal relation, as it is set forth in Scripture, cannot by possibility subsist, except between one man and one woman.



1. If such be the true doctrine of marriage, it follows, as just stated, that polygamy destroys its very nature. It is founded on a wrong view of the nature of woman; places her in a false and degrading position; dethrones and despoils her; and is productive of innumerable evils.

2. It follows that the marriage relation is permanent and indissoluble. A limb may be violently severed from the body, and lose all vital connection with it; and husband and wife may be thus violently separated, and their conjugal relation annulled; but in both cases the normal connection is permanent.

3. It follows that the state can neither constitute nor dissolve the marriage relation. It can no more free a husband or wife “a vinculo matrimonii,” than it can free a father “a vinculo paternitatis.” It may protect a child from the injustice or cruelty of its father, or even, for due cause, remove him from all parental control, and it may legislate about its property, but the natural bond between parents and children is beyond its control. So the state may legislate about marriage, and determine its accidents and legal consequences; it may decide who, in the sight of the law, shall be regarded as husband and wife, and when, or under what circumstances, the legal or civil rights and privileges arising out of the relation shall cease to be enforced; and it may protect the person and rights of the wife, and, if necessary, remove her from the control of her husband, but the conjugal bond it cannot dissolve. All decrees of divorce “a vinculo matrimonii,” issued by civil or ecclesiastical authorities, so far as the conscience is concerned, are perfectly inoperative, unless antecedently to such decree and by the law of God, the conjugal relation has ceased to exist.

4. It follows from the Scriptural doctrine of marriage that all laws are evil which tend to make those two whom God pronounces to be one; such laws, for example, as give to the wife the right to conduct business, contract debts, and sue and be sued, in her own name. This is attempting to correct one class of evils at the cost of incurring others a hundred-fold greater. The Word of God is the only sure guide of legislative action as well as of individual conduct.

5. It need hardly be remarked that it follows from the nature of marriage, that next to murder, adultery is the greatest of all social crimes, under the Old Dispensation it was punishable 387with death. And even now it is practically impossible to convict a husband of murder who kills the man who has committed adultery with his wife. This comes from human laws being in conflict with the laws of nature and of God. The law of God regards marriage as identifying a man and his wife; the laws of the state too often regard it as merely a civil contract, and give an injured husband no redress but a suit for damages for the pecuniary loss he has sustained by being deprived of the services of his wife. The penalty for adultery, to be in any due proportion to the magnitude of the crime, should be severe and degrading.

6. The relative duties of husband and wife arising out of their relation, may be expressed in a few comprehensive words. The husband is to love, protect, and cherish his wife as himself, i.e., as being to him another self. The duties of the wife are set forth in the time-honoured Christian formula, “love, honour, and obey.”

Converted Polygamists.

The question has been mooted, Whether a polygamist, when converted to Christianity, should be required to repudiate all his wives but one, as a condition of his admission into the Christian Church? The answer to this question has been sought from three sources: First, the Scriptural doctrine of marriage; secondly, the example of the Apostles when dealing with such cases; and thirdly, from a consideration of the effects which would follow from making monogamy an indispensable condition of admission to the Church.

As to the first point, it is admitted by all Christians, that it ie the law of God, the law of Christ, and consequently the law of the Christian Church that polygamy is sinful, being a violation of the original and permanently obligatory law of marriage. As every man who enters the Church professes to be a Christian, and as every Christian is bound to obey the law of Christ, it seems plain that no man should be received into the communion of the Church who does not conform to the law of Christ concerning marriage. The only question is, Whether Christ has made a special exception in favour of those who in the times of their ignorance, contracted the obligations of marriage with more than one woman? It is of course possible that such an exception might have been made. It would be analogous to the temporary suspension of the original law of marriage in favour of the hardhearted Jews. Has then such an exception been made? This is the second point to be considered. It concerns a matter of fact. 388Those who assume that such an exception has been made, are bound to produce the clearest evidence of the fact. This is necessary not only to satisfy the consciences of the parties concerned, but also to justify a departure from a plainly revealed law of God. It would be a very serious matter to set up in a heathen country, a church not conformed in this matter to the usual law of Christendom. Missionaries are sent forth to teach not only Christian doctrines but Christian morals. And the churches which they found, profess to be witnesses for Christ as to what He would have men to believe, and as to what He would have them to do. They ought not to be allowed to bear false testimony. It is certain that there is no clear and definite expression of the will of Christ, recorded in the New Testament, that the case contemplated should be an exception to the Scriptural law of marriage. There is no instance recorded in the New Testament, of the admission of a polygamist to the Christian Church. It has, indeed, been inferred from 1 Timothy iii. 2, where the Apostle says, a bishop must be “the husband of one wife,” that a private member of the Church might have more wives than one. But this is in itself a very precarious inference; and being inconsistent with Christ’s express prohibition, it is altogether inadmissible. The meaning of the passage has been much disputed. What the Apostle requires is that a bishop should be in all respects an exemplary man: not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; the husband of one wife, i.e., not a polygamist. This no more implies that other men may be polygamists, than his saying that a bishop must not be greedy of filthy lucre and not a brawler, implies that other men may be covetous or contentious. According to another and widely accepted interpreation of the passage in 1 Timothy iii. 2, and the corresponding passage in Titus i. 6, the injunction of the Apostle is that a man who has been married more than once, must not be appointed a bishop or presbyter. If this be the true meaning of the Apostle, his language affords still less ground for the argument drawn from it in favour of the lawfulness of polygamy in church members. If even second marriage was forbidden to presbyters, a fortiori must polygamy be regarded as inconsistent with the law of Christ.

This interpretation was very generally adopted in the early Church, during the Middle Ages, and by Romanists, and is sustained by many of the recent commentators. Bishop Ellicott decides in favour of this interpretation. His reasons are, — (1.) The 389opinion of the early writers and of some councils. (2.) The special respect paid among pagans to a woman who was “univira.” (3.) The propriety, in the case of ἐπίσκοποι and διάκονοι, of a greater temperance. (4.) And the manifestation of a greater sanctity (σεμνότης) of a single marriage, which he thinks is indicated even in Scripture (Luke ii. 36, 37). The objections to it are, In the first place, that it rests on an unscriptural view of marriage. According to the Bible, marriage is a better, higher, and holier, because the normal state, than celibacy. It was only in the interest of the doctrine of the peculiar sanctity of celibacy, that this interpretation was adopted by the fathers.

In the second place, it rests on the no less unscriptural assumption of the superior holiness of the clergy. No higher degree of moral purity is required of them than of other men, for the simple reason that every man is required to be perfectly holy in heart and life. The interpretation in question gained the stronger hold of the Church as the doctrine of “the grace of orders,” and of the priesthood of the clergy gained ascendancy. When the Reformation came and swept away these two doctrines, it removed the two principal supports of the interpretation in question. It is not to be admitted that there can be anything unholy in second marriages, which an infinitely holy God declares to be lawful (Rom. vii. 3), nor can it be conceded that the clergy are holier than other believers, seeing that the only priesthood in the Church on earth is the priesthood common to all believers.

In the third place, the interpretation which makes the Apostle interdict second marriages to bishops and deacons, is contrary to the natural meaning of the words. The parallel passage in Titus i. 5, 6, reads thus: “That thou shouldest, . . . . . ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, etc;” εἴ τις ἐστὶν . . . μιᾶς γυναικὸς, ἀνήρ, ‘if any one is at this present time the husband of one wife.’ It is the present state and character of the man that are to be taken into the account. He might before have been unmarried, or even a polygamist, but when ordained, he must, if married at all, be the husband of but one woman. “Qui sit: non autem, Qui fuerit,” says Calvin in his comment on 1 Timothy iii. 2. And on Titus i. 6 he says, “Qui defuncta uxore alteram jam cœlebs inducit, nihilominus unius uxoris maritus censeri debet. Non enim eligendum docet qui fuerit maritus unius uxoris, sed qui sit.” Whichever of these interpretations of 1 Timothy iii. 2, be adopted, whether we understand the Apostle to forbid that a 390polygamist, or that a man twice married, should be admitted to the ministry, in neither case does the passage give authority to receive a polygamist into the fellowship of the Church. Considering, then, that monogamy is the undoubted law of Christ; considering that we have no evidence that He made an exception in favour of heathen converts; and considering the great importance that churches, founded in heathen lands, should bear true witness of the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, it would seem clear that no man having more than one wife should be admitted to Christian fellowship.

The third aspect of this question concerns the effects of enforcing the Christian law of marriage in heathen lands. It is urged that this would result in great cruelty and injustice. For a man to cast off women whom he had engaged to protect and cherish, to abandon not only them but their children, it is said, cannot be reconciled with any right principle. To this it may be replied, (1.) That in many heathen countries it is not the husband who supports the wives, but the wives who support the husband. They are his slaves, and sustain him by their labour. There would be no great hardship in his setting them free. (2.) But when this is not the case, it does not follow that because a man ceases to regard several women as his wives, he should cease to provide for them, and for the welfare of his children. This in any event, as a Christian, he is bound to do.

It is also suggested, as a difficulty in this matter, that it is hard to determine which of his several wives a converted polygamist should retain. Some say, that it is the one first married; others say, that he should be allowed to make his own selection. If marriage among the heathen were what it is in Christian countries, there would be no room for doubt on this subject. Then the first contract would be the only binding one, and all the rest null and void. But in the Christian sense of the word there has been no marriage in any case. There has been no promise and vow of mutual fidelity. The relation of a heathen polygamist to the women of his harem, is more analogous to concubinage than to Christian marriage. The relation of a heathen polygamist to his numerous wives, is so different from the conjugal relation as contemplated in Scripture, as to render it at least doubtful whether the husband s obligation is exclusively, or preeminently, to the woman first chosen. This is a point of casuistry to which those who expect to labour in heathen countries should direct their attention. The Romish Church decides 391in favour of the first wife. The Roman Catechism342342II. viii. 17 (19, xxvi.); Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, vol. i. p. 458. says: “Atque ob eam rem fieri intelligimus, ut, si infidels quispiam, gentis suæ more et consuetudine, plures uxores duxisset, cum ad veram religionem conversus fuerit, jubeat eum Ecclesia ceteras omnes relinquere, ac priorem tantum justæ et legitimæ uxoris loco habere.


The questions which call for, at least a brief consideration, under this head are, (1.) What is divorce, and what are its legitimate effects? (2.) What are the Scriptural grounds of divorce? (3.) What are the Romish doctrine, and practice on this subject? (4.) What are the doctrine and practice of Protestant Churches and countries? (5.) What is the duty of the Church and of its officers in cases where the laws of the state on this subject are in conflict with the law of God? Works on civil and canon law, when treating of divorce, take a much wider range than this, but the points above indicated seem to include those of most interest and importance to the theologian.

Divorce; its Nature and Effects.

Divorce is not a mere separation, whether temporary or permanent, “a mensa et thoro.” It is not such a separation as leaves the parties in the relation of husband and wife, and simply relieves them from the obligation of their relative duties. Divorce annuls the “vinculum matrimonii,” so that the parties are no longer man and wife. They stand henceforth to each other in the same relation as they were before marriage. That this is the true idea of divorce is plain from the fact that under the old dispensation if a man put away his wife, she was at liberty to marry again. (Deut. xxiv. 1, 2.) This of course supposes that the marriage relation to her former husband was effectually dissolved. Our Lord teaches the same doctrine. The passages in the Gospels, referring to this subject, are Matthew v. 31, 32; xix. 3-9; Mark x. 2-12; and Luke xvi. 18. The simple meaning of these passages seems to be, that marriage is a permanent compact, which cannot be dissolved at the will of either of the parties. If, therefore, a man arbitrarily puts away his wife and marries another, he commits adultery. If he repudiates her on just grounds and marries another, he commits no offence. Our Lord makes the guilt of marrying after separation to depend on the ground of the separation. Saying, ‘that if a man puts 392away his wife for any cause save fornication, and marries another, he commits adultery’; is saying that ‘the offence is not committed if the specified ground of divorce exists.’ And this is saying that divorce, when justifiable, dissolves the marriage tie.

Although this seems so plainly to be the doctrine of the Scriptures, the opposite doctrine prevailed early in the Church, and soon gained the ascendancy. Augustine himself taught in his work “De Conjugiis Adulterinis,”343343Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1837, vol. vi. p. 658. and elsewhere, that neither of the parties after divorce could contract a new marriage. In his “Retractions,” however, he expresses doubt on the subject. It passed, however, into the canon law, and received the authoritative sanction of the Council of Trent, which says,344344Sess. xxiv. Canon 7; Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, vol. i. pp. 90, 91.Si quis dixerit, ecclesiam errare, cum docuit et docet, juxta evangelicam et apostolicam doctrinam, propter adulterium alterius conjugum matrimonii vinculum non posse dissolvi; et utrumque, vel etiam innocentem, qui causam adulterio non dedit, non posse, altero conjuge vivente, aliud matrimonium contrahere; mœcharique eum, qui, dimissa adultera, aliam duxerit, et eam, quæ, dimisso adultero, alii nupserit; anathema sit.” This is the necessary consequence of the doctrine, that the marriage relation can be dissolved only by death. The indisposition of the mediæval and Romish Church to admit of remarriages after divorce, is no doubt to be attributed in part to the low idea of the marriage state prevailing in the Latin Church. It had its ground, however, in the interpretation given to certain passages of Scripture. In Mark x. 11, 12, and in Luke xvi. 18, our Lord says without any qualification: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery.” This was taken as the law on the subject, without regard to what is said in Matthew v. 31, 32, and xix. 3-9. As, however, there is no doubt of the genuineness of the passages in Matthew, they cannot be overlooked. One expression of the will of Christ is as authoritative and as satisfactory as a thousand repetitions could make it. The exception stated in Matthew, therefore, must stand. The reason for the omission in Mark and Luke may be accounted for in different ways. It is said by some that the exception was of necessity understood from its very nature, whether mentioned or not. Or having been stated twice, its repetition was unnecessary. Or what perhaps is most probable, as our Lord was speaking 393to Pharisees, who held that a man might put away his wife when he pleased, it was enough to say that such divorces as they were accustomed to, did not dissolve the bonds of marriage, and that the parties remained as much man and wife as they were before. Under the Old Testament, divorce on the ground of adultery, was out of the question, because adultery was punished by death. And, therefore, it was only when Christ was laying down the law of his own kingdom, under which the death penalty for adultery was to be abolished, that it was necessary to make any reference to that crime.

It has been earnestly objected to the doctrine that adultery dissolves the marriage bond, that both parties, the guilty as well the innocent become free, and either may contract a new marriage. If this be so, it is said, that all that a man, who wishes to get rid of his wife, has to do, is to commit that offence. He will then be at liberty to marry whom he chooses. To this it might be a sufficient answer to say that the objection bears rather against the wisdom of the law, than against the fact that it is the law; or in other words, the objection is against the plain meaning of the words of Christ. But it is to be remembered, that adultery is a crime in the sight of man as well as in the sight of God, and as such it ought to be punished. Under the old dispensation it was punished by death; under the new, it may be punished by imprisonment, or by prohibition of any future marriage. Christ leaves the punishment of this, as of other crimes, to be determined by his disciples in their civil capacity. All He does is to teach what its effects are, “in foro conscientiæ,” as to the marriage bond.

Grounds of Divorce.

As already stated, marriage is an indissoluble compact between one man and one woman. It cannot be dissolved by any voluntary act of repudiation on the part of the contracting parties; nor by any act of the Church or State. “Those whom God has joined together, no man can put asunder.” The compact may, however, be dissolved, although by no legitimate act of man. It is dissolved by death. It is dissolved by adultery; and as Protestants teach, by wilful desertion. In other words, there are certain things which from their nature work a dissolution of the marriage bond. All the legitimate authority the state has in the premises is to take cognizance of the fact that the 394marriage is dissolved; officially to announce it, and to make suitable provision for the altered relation of the parties.

Under the preceding head it has already been shown that according to the plain teaching of our Saviour the marriage bond is annulled by the crime of adultery. The reason of this is, that the parties are no longer one, in the mysterious sense in which the Bible declares a man and his wife to be one.345345That the word πορνεία, as used in Matthew v. 32, and xix. 9, means adultery, there can be no reasonable doubt. Πορνεία is a general term including all unlawful cohabitation, as Theodoret on Romans i. 29 (edit. Halle, 1771) says, καλεῖ πορνείαν τὴν οὐ κατὰ γάμον γινομένην συνουσίαν; whereas μοιχεία is the same offence when committed by a married person. For the definite use of the word πορνεία, see 1 Corinthians v. 1. Tholuck discusses the meaning of this word as used in Matthew, at great length in his Bergpredigt, edit. Hamburg, 1845, pp. 225-230. The Apostle teaches on this subject the same doctrine that Christ had taught. The seventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians is devoted to the subject of marriage, in reference to which several questions had been proposed to him.

He first lays down the general principle, founded on the Word of God and the nature of man, that it is best that every man should have his own wife and every wife her own husband; but in view of the “present (or imminent) distress,” he advises his readers not to marry. He writes to the Corinthians as a man would write to an army about to enter on a most unequal conflict in an enemy’s country, and for a protracted period. He tells them: ‘This is no time for you to think of marriage. You have a right to marry. And in general it is best that all men should marry. But in your circumstances marriage can only lead to embarrassment and increase of suffering.’ This limitation of his advice not to marry, to men in the circumstances of those to whom the advice is given, is not only stated in so many words in verse 26, but it is the only way in which Paul can be reconciled with himself or with the general teaching of the Bible. It has already been remarked, that no one of the sacred writers speaks in more exalted terms of marriage than this Apostle. He represents it as a most ennobling spiritual union, which raises a man out of himself and makes him live for another; a union so elevated and refining as to render it a fit symbol of the union between Christ and his Church. Marriage, according to this Apostle, does for man in the sphere of nature, what union with Christ does for him in the sphere of grace.

Having thus given it as a matter of advice that it was best, under existing circumstances, for Christians not to marry, he 395proceeds to give directions to those who were already married. Of these here were two classes: first, those where both husband and wife were Christians; and secondly, those where one of the parties was a believer and the other an unbeliever, i.e., a Jew or a heathen. With regard to the former he says, that as according to the law of Christ the marriage is indissoluble, neither party had the right to repudiate the other. But if, in violation of the law of Christ, a wife had deserted her husband, she was bound either to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to her husband. The Apostle thus impliedly recognizes the principle that there may be causes which justify a woman’s leaving her husband, which do not justify a dissolution of the marriage bond.

With regard to those cases in which one of the parties was a Christian and the other an unbeliever, he teaches, first, that such marriages are lawful, and, therefore, ought not to be dissolved. But, secondly, that if the unbelieving partner depart, i.e., repudiates the marriage, the believing partner is not bound; i.e., is no longer bound by the marriage compact. This seems to be the plain meaning. If the unbelieving partner is willing to continue in the marriage relation, the believing party is bound; bound, that is, to be faithful to the marriage compact. If the unbeliever is not willing to remain, the believer in that case is not bound; i.e., bound by the marriage compact. In other words, the marriage is thereby dissolved. This passage is parallel to Romans vii. 2. The Apostle there says, a wife “is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.” So here he says, ‘A wife is bound to her husband if he is willing to remain with her; but if he deserts her, she is free from him.’ That is, wilful desertion annuls the marriage bond. This desertion, however, must be deliberate and final. This is implied in the whole context. The case contemplated is where the unbelieving husband refuses any longer to regard his believing partner as his wife.

This interpretation of the passage is given not only by the older Protestant interpreters, but also by the leading modern commentators, as De Wette, Meyer, Alford, and Wordsworth, and in the Confessions of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Even the Romanists take the same view. They hold, indeed, that among Christians marriage is absolutely indissoluble except by the death of one of the parties. But if one of the partners be an unbeliever, then they hold that desertion annuls the marriage contract. On this point Cornelius à Lapide, of Louvain and Rome, 396says, “Nota, Apostolum permittere hoc casu non tantum thori divortium sed etiam matrimonii; ita ut possit conjux fidelis aliud matrimonium inire.” Lapide refers to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Ambrose in support of this opinion.346346Comment. 1 Cor. vii. 15: edit. Venice, 1717. The Canon Law, under the title “Divortiis” teaches the same doctrine. Wordsworth’s comment on the passage is, “Although a Christian may not put away his wife, being an unbeliever, yet if the wife desert her husband (χωρίζεται) he may contract a second marriage.”

The Romanists indeed rest their sanction to remarriage in the case supposed, on the ground that there is an essential difference between marriage where one or both the parties are heathen, and marriage where both parties are Christians. This, however, makes no difference. Paul had just said that such unequal marriages were lawful and valid. Neither party could legitimately repudiate or leave the other. The ground of divorce indicated is not difference of religion, but desertion.

There is a middle ground taken by many, both ancients and moderns, in the interpretation of this passage. They admit that desertion justifies divorce, but not the remarriage of the party deserted. To this it may be objected, —

1. That this is inconsistent with the nature of divorce. We have already seen that divorce among the Jews, as explained by Christ, and as understood in the apostolic Church, was such a separation of man and wife as dissolved the marriage bond. This idea was expressed in the use of the words ἀπολύειν, ἀφιέναι, χωρίζειν and these are the words here used.

2. This interpretation is inconsistent with the context and with the design of the Apostle. Among the questions submitted to his decision, was this, ‘Is it lawful for a Christian to remain in the marriage relation with an unbeliever?’ Paul answers, ‘Yes; such marriages are lawful and valid. Therefore if the unbeliever is willing to continue the marriage relation, the believer remains bound; but if the unbeliever refuses to continue the marriage, the believer is no longer bound by it.’ To say that the believer is no longer bound to give up his or her religions which seems to be Neander’s idea, or is not bound to force himself or herself upon an unwilling partner, would be nothing to the point. No Christian could think himself bound to give up his religion, and no one could think it possible that married life could be continued without the consent of the parties. The question, in this sense, was not worth either asking or answering.


3. Desertion, from the nature of the offence, is a dissolution of the marriage bond. Why does death dissolve a marriage? It is because it is a final separation. So is desertion. Incompatibility of temper, cruelty, disease, crime, insanity, etc., which human laws often make grounds of divorce, are not inconsistent with the marriage relation. A woman may have a disagreeable, a cruel, or a wicked husband, but a man in his grave, or one who refuses to recognize her as his wife, cannot be her husband.

It is said, indeed, that this doctrine makes marriage depend on the option of the parties. Either may desert the other; and then the marriage is dissolved. The same objection was made to our Lord’s doctrine that adultery destroys the marriage bond. It was maid that if this be so, either party might dissolve the marriage, by committing that crime. As the objections are the same, the answer is the same. As adultery is a crime, so is desertion; and both should be punished. The question is not what these crimes deserve, but what are their legitimate effects, according to the Scriptures, on the marriage relation.

That desertion is a legitimate ground of divorce, was therefore, as before mentioned, the doctrine held by the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingle, and almost without exception by all the Protestant churches.347347See the elaborate article on “Ehe” in Herzog’s Encyklopädie, and President Woolsey’s recent Essay on Divorce, New York, 1869, chap. IV. President Woosley does not, for himself, understand 1 Corinthians vii. 15, to teach that desertion justifies divorce.

Doctrine of the Church of Rome.

Marriage is thus defined in the Roman Catechism: “Matrimonium est viri, et mulieris maritalis conjunctio inter legitimas personas, individuam vitæ consuetudinem retinens.” The clause “inter legitimas personas,” is explained by saying, “Qui a nuptiarum conjunctione legibus omnino exclusi sunt, ii matrimonium inire non possunt; neque, si ineant, ratum est, exempli enim gratia: qui intra quartum gradum propinquitate conjuncti sunt, puerque ante decimum quartum annum, aut puella ante duodecimum, quæ ætas legibus constituta est, ad matrimonii justa fœdera ineunda apti esse non possunt.” The clause, “Individuam vitæ consuetudinem retinens,” it is said, “indissolubilis vinculi naturam declarat quo vir, et uxor colligantur.”348348Catechismus, ex Decreto Concilii Tridentini, ad Parochos, Pii V. Pont. Max. Jussu editus, II. viii. quæst. 3; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 448.

Marriage is to be contemplated under two aspects. It is an institution founded in nature, and therefore exists wherever men 398exist. It is a lawful institution among the heathen as well as among Christians. But as it is an ordinance of God it has a character among those who know the true God and thus regard it, far higher than it has for those who are the worshippers of false gods. And, therefore, marriage, under the old dispensation, had a much higher character than it had among the heathen. Nevertheless, among Christians marriage is something far more sacred than it was under the Mosaic economy. Christ had raised it te the dignity of a sacrament.349349Catechismus Romanus, II. viii. quæst. 14, 16; Streitwolf, vol. i. pp. 454-457.

Marriage a Sacrament.

The word sacrament is one of vague and various meaning. Sometimes it means that which is sacred or consecrated; sometimes that which has, or is intended to have a sacred meaning; i.e., an external sign of some religious truth or grace; sometimes a divinely appointed external rite instituted to be a means of grace; and sometimes a divinely appointed external sign that contains and conveys the grace which it signifies. It is in this last sense that the word is used by Romanists; and it is in this sense they teach that marriage is a sacrament. The principal Scriptural authority for this doctrine they find in Ephesians v. 32, where, as they understand the passage, the words τὸ μυστήριον τοῦτο μέγα ἐστίν, rendered in the Vulgate, “Sacramentum hoc magnum est,” are spoken of marriage. According to this version and interpretation, the Apostle does indeed directly assert that marriage is a mystery. But (1.) The words do not refer to marriage, but to the mystical union between Christ and his people as appears from the Apostle’s own explanation in the following clause: “I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” The two subjects, the union of husband and wife and the union between Christ and his people, had been so combined and interwoven in the preceding verses, that it would have been difficult to determine to which the words, “This is a great mystery,” were intended to refer, had not the Apostle himself told us. But (2.) Even if the Apostle does say that the marriage union is a great mystery, which in one sense it clearly is, that would not prove that it is a sacrament. The word “mystery,” as used in the Bible, means something hidden or unknown; something which can be known only by divine revelation. Thus the Gospel itself is repeatedly said to be a mystery (Eph. iii. 3-9); the future conversion of the Jews is said to be a mystery (Rom. xi. 25); the incarnation is 399said to be the great mystery of godliness (1 Tim. iii. 16); and anything obscure or enigmatical is called a mystery (Rev. xvii. 6); thus the mystery of the seven candlesticks is their secret meaning. If, therefore, Paul says that marriage is a great mystery in the sense that no one can fully understand what is meant when God says that husband and wife are one, or even in the sense that marriage has a sacred import, that it is a symbol of a great religious truth, this is what all Protestants admit and what is clearly taught in Scripture. Paul had himself just set forth marriage as the great analogue of the mystical union of Christ and the Church. (3.) Admitting still further that marriage was properly called “sacramentum,” that would prove nothing to the purpose. That Latin word had not the sense attached to it by Romanists until long after the apostolic age. It has not that sense even in the Vulgate. In 1 Timothy iii. 16, the manifestation of God in the flesh is declared to be the “great mystery of godliness,” which the Vulgate translates “magnum pietatis sacramentum;” but Romanists do not hold that the incarnation is a sacrament in the ecclesiastical sense of that term. The Latin Church, however, having gradually come to attach to the word the idea of a divinely appointed rite or ceremony, which signifies, contains, and conveys grace, and finding, as the words were understood, marriage declared in Ephesians v. 32 to be a “sacramentum,” it came to teach that it was a sacrament in the same sense as baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Romanists then teach that marriage is a sacrament not merely because it is the sign or symbol of the union of Christ and his Church. The Roman Catechism says,350350II. viii. quæst. 15; Streitwolf, vol. i. pp. 455, 456. (1). That no one should doubt “quod scilicet viri, et mulieris conjunctio, cujus Deus auctor est, sanctissimi illius vinculi, quo Christus dominus cum Ecclesia conjungitur, sacramentum, id est, sacrum signum sit.” If this were all, no Protestant could object. (2). But Romanists teach that marriage is a sacrament because it not only signifies but also confers grace. The ceremony, including the consent of the parties, the benediction, and the intention of the priest, renders the bride and groom holy. It sanctifies them. “Ex opere operato,” it transforms mere natural human love into that holy spiritual affection which renders their union a fit emblem of the union of Christ and the Church. On this point the Council of Trent says:351351Sess. XXIV.; Ibid. vol. i. p. 89.Gratiam, vero, quæ naturalem illum amorem perficeret, 400et indissolubilem unitatem confirmaret, conjugesque sanctificaret, ipse Christus, venerabilium sacramentorum institutor, atque perfector, sua nobis passione promeruit.” It would be a great blessing if this were so. Facts, however, prove that the sacramental efficacy of matrimony no more so sanctifies husbands and wives as to make their mutual love like the holy love of Christ for his Church, than baptism confers (to those not opposing an obstacle) all the benefits, subjective and objective, of the redemption of Christ. If the sacramentarian theory were true, all Christians would be perfect and Christendom would be paradisaical.

Marriage between Christians, according to Romanists, is indissoluble. Neither adultery nor desertion justifies divorce. Death alone can sever the bond. It is not to be inferred from this, however, that marriage is a more sacred institution among Romanists than among Protestants. Any departure from Scriptural rules is sure to work evil. The denial that adultery destroys the marriage bond, leads naturally, and in fact has led, not only to render that crime more frequent, but also to unscriptural devices to remedy the injustice of forcing a husband or wife to maintain the conjugal relation with a guilty partner. One of these devices is the multiplication of the causes of separation “a mensa et thoro”; and another still more unscriptural, is the multiplying the reasons which render marriage null and void “ab initio.” No less than sixteen causes which render marriages null are enumerated by Romish theologians.352352   These sixteen causes are expressed in the following lines: — “Error, conditio, votum, cognatio, crimen, Cultus disparitas, vis, ordo, ligamen, honestas, Amens, affinis, si clandestinus et impos, Si mulier sit rapta, loco nec reddita tuto; Si impubes, ni forte potentia suppleat annos; Hæc socianda vetant connubia, facta retractant.”
   Dens, Theologia Moralis et Dogmatica, De Matrimonio, N. 70, edit. Dublin, 1832, vol. vii. p. 194.

The causes which justify separation without divorce, are vows, adultery, apostasy, and crimes. Under the last head they include cruelty and prodigality. If the parties had not been baptized, divorce “a vinculo” was allowed when one of the partners became a Romanist and the other refused to, and also for any serious crime. The whole matter is in the hands of the Church, which claims the right of making and unmaking impediments to marriage at pleasure. “Si quis dixerit Ecclesiam non potuisse constituere impedimenta, matrimonium dirimentia, vel in iis constituendis errasse; anathema sit.353353Council of Trent, Sess. XXIV. canon 4; Streitwolf, vol. i. p. 90. At one period the 401Church of Rome made consanguinity within the seventh degree an impediment to marriage; at present it forbids marriage within the fourth degree inclusive. “The old Catholic theory of marriage,” says President Woolsey, “was practically a failure in all its parts, in its ascetic frown on marriage, in its demand from the clergy of an abstinence not required from the Christian laity, in teaching that nothing but death could release the married pair from their obligations. When it sought for impracticable virtue, and forbade to some what God had allowed to all, it opened a fountain of vice with the smallest incitement to virtue.”354354Essay on Divorce, by Theodore D. Woolsey, D. D., LL. D., New York, 1869, p. 127.

Laws of Protestant Countries concerning Divorce.

It has already been shown that Protestants, making the Scriptures their guide, taught that the dissolution of the bond of marriage was allowable only for the two offences of adultery and wilful desertion. So far as the churches and their confessions are concerned, this is still the doctrine of almost all Protestant denominations. When, however, marriage came to be regarded as essentially a civil contract, it gradually fell under the jurisdiction of the state, and laws were passed varying in different countries, as legislators were influenced by mere views of justice or expediency. The legislation of all European nations was greatly influenced by the old Roman law; and, therefore, when marriage was removed from the exclusive jurisdiction of the Church, the laws concerning it were more or less adopted from the ancient code. The Roman laws concerning divorce were very lax. Mutual consent was, even after the Roman emperors became Christian, regarded as a sufficient reason for dissolving the bond of marriage. When the Church gained the ascendancy over the State, and the pope became the virtual legislator of Christendom, divorce for any reason was forbidden; and when and where the pope in his turn was dethroned, there was a general tendency to return to the laxity of the Roman legislation.


England was an exception to this rule. It discarded less of popish usages than any other Protestant nation. For a long time after the Reformation no special law concerning divorce was passed. The ecclesiastical courts could decree separation “a mensa et thoro,” but a full divorce “a vinculo” could be 402obtained only by a special act of Parliament. Under the reign of the present sovereign all such questions were removed from the ecclesiastical courts and remitted to a civil tribunal. That tribunal is authorized to grant judicial separation “a mensa et thoro” on the ground of adultery, or cruelty, or desertion without just cause for two years and upward; and dissolution of marriage on account of simple adultery on the part of the wife, or aggravated adultery on the part of the husband. Such divorce gives both parties liberty to contract a new marriage. “On the whole, with serious defects,” says President Woolsey, “it seems to us to be an excellent law. It does honour to the Christian country where it is in force, and it is certainly a great improvement on the former mode of regulating divorce in England.”355355Essay on Divorce, p. 178. It may be a good law in comparison with the lawlessness that preceded it, and in comparison with the lax legislation of other Protestant nations, but it is not good so far as it is not conformed to the Scriptures. The New Testament makes no such distinction as is made in this law, between adultery on the part of the wife and the same offence on the part of the husband. And it is not good in not allowing wilful desertion to be a legitimate ground of divorce, if, as Protestants almost universally believe, the Bible teaches the contrary.


In France the laws of the Romish Church were in force until the Revolution. That event threw everything into confusion, and the sanctity of marriage was in a great degree disregarded. Under the empire of the first Napoleon, the civil code allowed divorce, (1.) for simple adultery on the part of the wife; (2.) for aggravated adultery on the part of the husband; (3.) for outrages and cruelty; (4.) for the condemnation of either party to an infamous punishment; and (5.) for mutual persistent consent. The restoration of the Bourbons put an end to these laws and led to the entire prohibition of divorce.


Among the Protestants of Germany, the views of the Reformers, as a general thing, controlled the action of the several states on this subject until about the middle of the eighteenth century, when the laws of marriage were greatly relaxed. Göschen attributes this change in a great measure to the influence of Thomasius 403(† 1728), who regarded marriage as merely a civil institution designed for the purposes of the state, and which, therefore, might be set aside whenever it failed to answer the desired end.356356See his elaborate article on “Ehe” in Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, Stuttgart and Hamburg, 1855, vol. iii. p. 703. The present law of Prussia, although an improvement on the previous legislation, is far below the Scriptural standard. Besides adultery and wilful desertion, it makes many other offences grounds of divorce, for example, plots endangering the life or health of the other party; gross injuries; dangerous incompatibility of temper; crimes entailing an infamous punishment; habitual drunkenness and extravagance; and deliberate mutual consent, if there be no children fruit of the marriage to be dissolved.

The United States.

The laws of the several states of this Union on the subject of divorce vary from the extreme of strictness to the extreme of laxness. In South Carolina no divorce has ever been given. The effect of refusing to regard adultery as a dissolution of the marriage bond is, as proved by the experience of Catholic countries, to lead the people to regard that crime as a pardonable offence. It was indictable. In New York adultery is the only ground of divorce; but separation from bed and board is granted for cruelty, desertion, and refusal on the part of the husband to make provision for the support of the wife. In several of the other states, besides adultery and desertion, many other grounds are made sufficient to justify divorce; of these grounds the following are the principal: imprisonment, neglect to provide for the maintenance of the wife, habitual drunkenness, and cruelty. In some states the whole matter is left to the discretion of the courts. In the laws of Maine it is said that divorce “a vinculo” may be granted by any justice of the Supreme Court, “when in the exercise of a sound discretion, he deems it reasonable and proper, conducive to domestic harmony, and consistent with the peace and morality of society.” The law of Indiana says divorce may be granted for any cause for which the court deems it proper.357357Bishop, Marriage and Divorce, book VII. chap. xl. §§ 827 [542], 830 [544], 4th edit. Boston, 1864, vol. i. In Rhode Island to the enumeration of specific causes is added, “and for any other gross misbehaviour and wickedness in either of the parties, repugnant to and in violation of the marriage covenant.” In Connecticut the statute passed in 1849 allows divorce for “any such 404misconduct as permanently destroys the happiness of the petitioner and defeats the purpose of the conjugal relation.”358358See Woolsey, Essay on Divorce, New York, 1869, p. 205.

Duty of the Church and of its Officers.

There are certain principles bearing on this subject which will be generally conceded, (1.) Every legislative body is bound to conform its enactments to the moral law. This may be assumed as a self-evident proposition. (2.) Every Christian legislature is bound to conform its action to the laws of Christianity. By a Christian legislature is meant one which makes laws for a Christian people. It is not necessary that it should represent them as Christians, to be their agents in teaching, propagating, or enforcing the principles of the Christian religion. It is enough to constitute it a Christian legislature that the great body of its constituents who are bound to obey its laws are Christians. No one hesitates to say that Italy, Spain, and France are Catholic countries; or that England, Sweden, and Prussia are Protestant. As all the powers of legislatures are derived from the people, it is irrational to suppose that the people would delegate to their representatives authority to violate their religion. No legislature of a Christian state, therefore, can have the right to make laws inconsistent with the Christian religion. This principle, so reasonable and obvious, is conceded in the abstract. No state in this Union would dare to legalize adultery or bigamy. Before the Reformation all questions concerning marriage were under the jurisdiction of the Church; after that event they were, in Protestant countries, referred to the authorities of the state. “It never, however,” says Stahl, “entered the minds of the Reformers, to assert that marriage was purely a civil institution, to be determined by civil, and not religious laws, or that the testimony of the Church as to the divine laws of marriage was not a binding rule for the legislation of the state.”359359Die Philosophie des Rechts, Rechts- und Staatslehre, I. iii. 3. 1. § 69, 4th edit. Heidalberg, 1870, vol. ii. part 1, p. 441. And in still more general terms he declares that “What the Church as such [the body of Christians] testifies to be an unchangeable divine law, ‘jus divinum,’ and upholds within its sphere, is the impassable rule and limit for the legislation of a Christian state.”360360Ibid. § 68; p. 435.

3. No act of any human legislature contrary to the moral law can bind any man, and no such act contrary to the law of Christ can bind any Christian. If, therefore, a human tribunal annuls 405a marriage for any reason other than those assigned in the Bible, the marriage is not thereby dissolved. In the judgment of Christians it remains in full force; and they are bound so to regard it. And on the other hand, if the state pronounces a marriage valid, which the Bible declares to be invalid, in the view of Christians it is invalid. There is no help for this. Christians cannot give up their convictions; nor can they renounce their allegiance to Christ. This state of conflict between the laws and the conscience of the people, is the necessary consequence, if a body making laws for a Christian people disregards an authority which the people recognize as divine.

4. The laws of many of the states of this Union, on the matter of divorce, are unscriptural and immoral. If the former, they are the latter in the view of all who believe in the divine authority of the Bible. If the Scriptures be the only infallible rule of faith and practice, they contain the only standard of right and wrong. The moral law is not something self-imposed. It is not what any man or body of men may think right or expedient. It is the revealed will of God as to human conduct; and whatever is contrary to that will is morally wrong. If this be so, then there can be no doubt that the divorce laws of many of our states are immoral. They contravene the law of God. They annul marriages for other reasons than those allowed in Scripture, and even, in some cases, at the discretion of the courts. They pronounce persons not to be man and wife, who by the law of God are man and wife. They pronounce those to be legally married, whose union Christ declares to be adulterous. That is, they legalize adultery. This is a conclusion which cannot be avoided, except by denying either the authority of the Bible, or that it legislates on the subject of marriage. If marriage were a mere civil compact, with regard to which the Scriptures gave no special directions, it might be regulated by the state according to its news of wisdom or expediency. But if it be an ordinance of God; if He has revealed his will as to who may, and who may not intermarry, and who, when married, may or may not be released from the marriage bond, then the state has no more right to alter these laws than it has to alter the decalogue, and to legalize idolatry or blasphemy. There is no use in covering this matter over. It is wrong to regard anti-Christian laws as matters of small importance.

The action of the state in this matter is not merely negative. It does not simply overlook or refuse to punish the violation of 406the Scriptural law of divorce, but it intervenes by its positive action, and declares that certain parties are not man and wife, between whom, according to the law of God, the bond of marriage still subsists. It condemns bigamy, but it sanctions what the Bible pronounces bigamy. The law of the state and the law of God, in this regard, are so opposed to each other, that he who obeys the one violates the other.

5. As the Church and its officers are under the highest obligations to obey the law of Christ, it follows that where the action of the state conflicts with that law, such action must be disregarded. If a person be divorced on other than Scriptural grounds and marries again, such person cannot consistently be received to the fellowship of the Church. If a minister be called upon to solemnize the marriage of a person improperly divorced, he cannot, in consistency with his allegiance to Christ, perform the service. This conflict between the civil and divine law is a great evil, and has often, especially in Prussia, given rise to great difficulty.

As all denominations of Christians, Romanists and Protestants, are of one mind on this subject, it is matter of astonishment that these objectionable divorce laws are allowed to stand on the statute-books of so many of our states. This fact proves either that public attention has not to a sufficient degree been called to the subject, or that the public conscience is lamentably blinded or seared. The remedy is with the Church, which is the witness of God on earth, bound to testify to his truth and to uphold his law. If Christians, in their individual capacity and in their Church courts, would unite in their efforts to arouse and guide public sentiment on this subject, there is little doubt that these objectionable laws would be repealed.

The Social Evil.

This is not a subject to be discussed in these pages; a few remarks, however, in reference to it may not be out of place.

1. It is obviously Utopian to expect that all violations of the seventh commandment can be prevented, any more than that the laws against theft or falsehood should never be disregarded.

2. The history of the world shows that the instinct which leads to the evil in question can never be kept within proper limits, except by moral principle, or by marriage.

3. To these two means of correction, therefore, the efforts of the friends of virtue should be principally directed. There can 407be no efficient moral culture without religious training. If we would reform our fellow-men, we must bring and keep them from the beginning to the end of their lives under the influence of the truth and ordinances of God; to accomplish this work is the duty assigned to the Church. Besides this general moral culture, there is needed special effort to produce a proper public sentiment with regard to this special evil. So long as the seventh commandment can be violated without any serious loss of self-respect or of public confidence, one of the strongest barriers against vice is broken down. If loss of character as certainly followed a breach of the seventh commandment, as it follows theft or perjury, the evil would be to a good degree abated. This is already the fact with regard to certain classes. It is so with regard to women; and it is so in the case of the clergy. If a minister of the gospel be guilty of this offence, he is as certainly and effectually ruined as he would be by the commission of any other crime short of murder. The same moral law, however, binds all men. Theft in the case of one man is, in its essential character, just what it is in the case of any other man.

4. The divinely appointed preventive of the social evil is laid down in 1 Corinthians vii. 2: “Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” That there are serious difficulties, in the present state of society, in the way of frequent and early marriages, cannot be denied. The principal of these is no doubt the expensive style of living generally adopted. Young people find it impossible to commence life with the conveniences and luxuries to which they have been accustomed in their fathers houses, and therefore marriage is neglected or postponed. With regard to the poorer classes, provision might be made to endow young women of good character, so as to enable them to begin their married life in comfort. Arrangements may also be made in various ways to lessen the expense of family living. The end to be accomplished is to facilitate marriage. Those who are so happy as to find in a dictum of Scripture the ultimate reason and the highest motive, may see the end to be attained, although, as in the present case, they are obliged to leave the means of its accomplishment to experts in social science.

Prohibited Marriages.

That certain marriages are prohibited is almost the universal judgment of mankind. Among the ancient Persians and Egyptians, indeed, the nearest relations were allowed to intermarry 408and in the corrupt period of the Roman Empire, equal laxness more or less prevailed. These isolated facts do not invalidate the argument from the general judgment of mankind. What all men think to be wrong, must be wrong. This unanimity cannot be accounted for, except by assuming that the judgment in which men thus agree is founded on the constitution of their nature, and that constitution is the work of God. There are cases, therefore, in which the “vox populi” is the “vox Dei.”

The Ground or Reason of such Prohibitions.

The reason why mankind so generally condemn the intermarriage of near relations cannot be physical. Physiology is not taught by instinct. It is, therefore, not only an unworthy, but is an altogether unsatisfactory assumption, that such marriages are forbidden because they tend to the deterioration of the race. The fact assumed may, or may not be true; but if admitted, it is utterly insufficient to account for the condemnatory judgment in question.

The two most natural and obvious reasons why the intermarriage of near relations is forbidden are, first, that the natural affection which relatives have for each other is incompatible with conjugal love. They cannot coexist. The latter is a violation and destruction of the former. This reason need only be stated. It requires no illustration. These natural affections are not only healthful, but in the higher grades of relationship, even sacred. The second ground for such prohibitions is a regard to domestic purity. When persons are so nearly related to each other as to justify their living together as one family, they should be sacred one to the other. If this were not the case, evil could hardly fail to occur, when young people grow up in the familiarity of domestic life. The slightest inspection of the details of the law as laid down in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus, shows that his principle underlies many of its specifications.

J. D. Michaelis, in his work on the law of Moses, makes this the only reason for the Levitical prohibitions. He goes to the extreme of denying that “nearness of kin” is in itself any bar to marriage. His views had great influence, not only on public opinion, but even on legislation in Germany. That influence, however, passed away when a deeper moral and religious feeling gained ascendancy.361361Commentaries on the Laws of Moses. By Sir John David Michaelis, Professor of Philosophy in the University of Göttingen. Translated by Alexander Smith, D. D., London, 1814, vol. ii. arts. 104-108, pp. 54-76.


Augustine’s Theory.

Augustine advanced a theory on this subject, which still has its earnest advocates. He held that the design of all these prohibitory laws was to widen the circle of the social affections. Brothers and sisters are bound together by mutual love. Should they intermarry the circle is not extended. If they choose husbands and wives from among strangers, a larger number of persons are included in the bonds of mutual love. “Habita est ratio rectissima charitatis, ut homines quibus esset utilis atque honesta concordia, diversarum necessitudinum vinculis necterentur; nec unus in uno multas haberet, sed singulæ spargerentur in singulos; ac sic ad socialem vitam diligentius colligandam plurimæ plurimos obtinerent.” Thus it would come to pass, “Ut unus homo haberet alteram sororem, alteram uxorem, alteram consobrinam, alterum patrem, alterum avunculum, alterum socerum, alteram matrem, alteram amitam, alteram socrum: atque ita se non in paucitate coarctatum, sed latius atque numerosius propinquitatibus crebris vinculum sociale diffunderet.362362De Civitate Dei, XV. xvi. 1: Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1838, vol. vii. pp. 633, 634.

A writer in Hengstenberg’s “Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung,” adopts and elaborately vindicates this theory. He endeavours to show that it answers all the criteria by which any theory on the subject should be tested. These marriages are called “abominations;” and he asks, Is it not shameful that the benevolent ordinance of God for extending the circle of the social affections should be counteracted? They are called “confusion,” because they unite those whom God commands to remain separate. It also accounts for the propriety of the intermarriage of brothers and sisters in the family of Adam; for in the beginning the circle of affection did not admit of being enlarged. It even meets the case if the Levirate law which bound a man to marry the childless widow of his brother. The law which forbids the marriage of relations, holds only where the relationship is close. There must, therefore, be cases just on the line beyond which relationship is no bar to marriage. And with regard to those just within the line, there must be considerations which sometimes outweigh the objections to a given marriage. That God dispensed with the law forbidding the marriage of a man with his brother’s widow, when the brother died without children, this German writer regards as impossible. “Evil,” he says, “may be tolerated, 410but not commanded.” He adds that it provokes a smile (man muss es naiv nennen) that Gerhard finds an analogy between the case in question and the permission given to the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians.363363Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung, June 1840, pp. 369-416; see p. 378. It is probable that the venerable Gerhard would smile at the writer’s criticisms. In the first place, God can no more allow evil than He can command it. An act otherwise evil, ceases to be so when He either allows (i.e., sanctions) it, or commands it. If He commands a man to be put to deaths it ceases to be murder to put him to death. There are two principles of morality generally accepted and clearly Scriptural; one of which is, that any of those moral laws which are founded, not on the immutable nature of God, but upon the relations of men in the present state of existence, may be set aside by the divine law-giver whenever it seems good in his sight; just as God under the old dispensation set aside the original monogamic law of marriage. Polygamy was not sinful as long as God permitted it. The same principle is involved in the words of Christ, God loves mercy and not sacrifice. When two laws conflict, the weaker yields to the stronger. It is wrong to labour on the Sabbath, but any amount of labour on that day becomes a duty, if necessary to save life. In the case of the Levirate law, the prohibition to marry a brother’s widow, yielded to what under the Mosaic economy was regarded as a higher obligation, that is, to perpetuate the family. To die childless was considered one of the greatest calamities.

The question, however, concerning the rationale of these laws is one of minor importance. We may not be able to see exactly in all cases why certain things are forbidden. The fact that they are forbidden should satisfy the reason and the conscience. The two important questions in connection with this subject, to be considered, are, first, is the Levitical law respecting prohibited marriages still in force? and, second, how is that law to be interpreted, and what marriages does it forbid?

Is the Levitical Law of Marriage still in force?

1. It is a strong à priori argument in favour of an affirmative answer to that question, that it always has been regarded as obligatory by the whole Christian Church.

2. The reason assigned for the prohibition contained in that law, has no special reference to the Jews. It is not found is their peculiar circumstances, nor in the design of God in selecting 411them to be depositaries of his truth to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. The reason assigned “is nearness of kin.” This reason has as much force at one time as at another, for all nations as for any one nation. There was nothing peculiar in the relation in which Hebrew parents and children, Hebrew brothers and sisters, and Hebrew uncles and nieces, stood, which was the ground of these prohibitions. That ground was the nearness of the relationship itself as it exists in every and in all ages. There is, therefore, in the sight of God, a permanent reason why near relations ought not to intermarry.

3. If the Levitical law be not still in force, we have no divine law on the subject. Then there is no such sin as incest. It is an offence only against the civil law, and a sin against God only in so far as it is sinful to violate the law of the state. But this is contrary to the universal judgment of men, at least of Christian men. For parents and children, brothers and sisters, to intermarry is universally considered as sin against God, irrespective of any human prohibition. But if a sin against God, it must be forbidden in his Word, or we must give up the fundamental principle of Protestantism, that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of our faith and practice. As such marriages are nowhere in the Bible forbidden except in the Levitical law, if that law does not forbid them, the Bible does not forbid them.

4. The judgments of God are denounced against the heathen nations for permitting the marriages which the Levitical law forbids. In Leviticus xviii. 8, it is said, “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.” This is the introduction to the law of prohibited marriages, containing the specification of the “ordinances” of the Egyptians and Canaanites, which the people of God were forbidden to follow. And in the twenty-seventh verse of the same chapter, at the close of these specifications, it is said, “All these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is deified.” Again, in ch. xx. 23, still in reference to these marriages, it is said, “Ye shall not walk in the manners of the nations which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.” This is a clear proof that these laws were binding, not on the Jews alone, but upon all people and at all times.

5. The continued obligation of the Levitical law on this subject 412is also recognized in the New Testament. This recognition as involved in the constant reference to the law of Moses as the law of God. If in any of its parts or specifications it is no longer obligatory, that is to be proved. It contains much which we learn from the New Testament was designed simply to keep the Hebrews a distinct people; much which was typical; much which was a shadow of things to come, and which passed away when the substance was revealed. It contained, however, much which was moral and of permanent obligation. If God gives a law to men, those who deny its perpetual obligation are bound to prove it. The presumption is that it continues in force until the contrary is proved. It must be hard to prove that laws founded on the permanent social relations of men were intended to be temporary.

Besides this general consideration, we find specific recognitions of the continued obligation of the Levitical law in the New Testament. John the Baptist, as recorded in Mark vi. 18 and Matthew xiv. 4, said to Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip’s wife. It matters not, as to the argument, whether Philip was living or not. The offence charged was not that he had taken another man’s wife, but that he had taken his brother’s wife. It may be objected to this argument that during the ministry of John the Baptist the law of Moses was still in force. This Gerhard denies, who argues from Matthew xi. 13, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John, that the Baptist’s ministry belongs to the new dispensation.364364Loci Theologici, XXVI. v. ii. 2. 1. 1. § 129, edit. Tübingen, 1776, vol. xv. p. 285. Gerhard subjects the whole subject of prohibited marriages to a protracted discussion. This may be doubted. Nevertheless John expressed the moral sentiment of his age; and the record of the fact referred to by the Evangelists whose Gospels were written after the Christian Church was fully organized, is given in a form which involves a sanction of the judgment which the Baptist had expressed against the marriage of Herod with his brother’s wife. It is also to be remembered that the Herodian family was Idumean, and therefore, that a merely Jewish law would have no natural authority over them.

The Apostle Paul, moreover, in 1 Corinthians v. 1, speaks of a man’s marrying his step-mother as an unheard of offence. That this was a case of marriage and not of adultery is plain because the phrase γυναῖκα ἔχειν is never used in the New Testament except of marriage. This, therefore, is a clear recognition of the 413continued obligation of the law forbidding marriage between near relations, whether the relationship was by consanguinity or affinity.

6. The Bible everywhere enforces those laws which have their foundation in the natural constitution of men. That this Levitical law is a divine authentication of a law of nature, may be inferred from the fact that with rare exceptions the intermarriage of near relations is forbidden among all nations. Paul says that the marriage of a man with his step-mother was unheard of among the heathen; i.e., it was forbidden and abhorred. Cicero exclaims, “Nuoit genero socrus. . . . . O mulieris incredibile et præter hanc unam in omni vita inauditum!365365Pro A. Cluentio, V. vi. (14, 15); Works, edit. Leipzig, 1850, p. 374, b. Beza says, It must not be overlooked that the civil laws of the Romans agree completely in reference to this subject with the divine law. They seemed to have copied from it.366366Beza, De Repudiis et Divortiis, Tractationes Theologicæ, edit. Eustathius Vignon, 1582, vol. ii. p. 52.

No Christian Church doubts the continued obligation of any of the laws of the Pentateuch, of which it can be said that the reason assigned for their enactment is the permanent relations of men; that the heathen are condemned for their violation; and that the New Testament refers to them as still in force: and which heathen nations under the guidance of natural conscience have enacted.

How is the Levitical Law to be interpreted?

Admitting the Levitical law of marriage to be still in force, the next question is, How is it to be interpreted? Is it to be understood as specifying the degrees of relation, whether of consanguinity or of affinity, within which intermarriage is forbidden? or, is it to be viewed as an enumeration of particular cases, so that no case not specifically mentioned is to be included in the prohibition?

The former of these rules of interpretation is the one generally adopted; for the following reasons: —

1. The language of the law itself. It begins with a general prohibition of marriage between those who are near of kin. Nearness of kindred is made the ground of the prohibition. The specifications which follow are intended to show what degree of nearness of kindred works a prohibition. This reason applies to many cases not particularly mentioned in Leviticus xvii. or elsewhere. 414The law would seem to be applicable to all cases in which the divinely assigned reason for its enactment is found to exist.

2. The design of the law, as we have seen, is twofold: first, to keep sacred those relationships which naturally give rise to feelings and affections which are inconsistent with the marriage relation; and secondly, the preservation of domestic purity. As the natural affections are due partly to the very constitution of our nature, and partly to the familiarity and constancy of intercourse, and the interchange of kindly offices, it is natural that in the enumeration of the prohibited cases regard should be had, in the selection, to those in which this familiarity of intercourse, at the time the law was enacted, actually prevailed. In the East the family is organized on different principles from those on which it is organized in the West. Among the early Oriental nations especially, the males of a family with their wives remained together; while the daughters, being given in marriage, went away and were amalgamated with the families of their husbands. Hence it would happen that relatives by the father’s side would be intimate associates, while those of the same degree on the mother’s side might be perfect strangers. A law, therefore, constructed on the principle of prohibiting marriage between parties so related as to be already in the bonds of natural affection and who were domesticated in the same family circle, would deal principally in specifications of relationships on the father’s side. It would not follow, however, from this fact, that relations of the same grade of kindred might freely intermarry, simply because they were not specified in the enumeration. The law in its principle applies to all cases, whether enumerated or not, in which the nearness of kin is the source of natural affection, and in which it leads to and justifies intimate association.

3. Another consideration in favour of the principle of interpretation usually adopted, is, that the opposite rule would introduce the greatest inconsistencies into the law. The law forbids marriage between those near of kin; and, according to this rule, it goes on alternately permitting and forbidding marriages where the relationship is precisely the same. Thus, a man cannot marry the daughter of his son; but a woman may marry the son of her daughter; a man cannot marry the widow of his father’s brother, but he may marry the widow of his mother’s brother; a woman cannot marry two brothers, but a man may marry two sisters. These inconsistencies might be intelligible if the law were a temporary and local enactment, designed for a transient 415state of society; but they are utterly unaccountable if the law be one of permanent and universal obligation. A rule of interpretation which brings uniformity and consistency into these enactments of Scripture, is certainly to be preferred to one which renders them confused and inconsistent.

Prohibited Degrees.

The cases specifically mentioned are: 1. Mother. 2. Stepmother. 3. Grand-daughter. 4. Sister and half-sister, “born at home or born abroad,” i.e., legitimate or illegitimate. 5. Aunt on the father’s side. 6. Maternal aunt. 7. The wife of a father’s brother. 8. Daughter-in-law. 9. Brother’s wife. 10. A woman and her daughter. 11. A wife’s grand-daughter. 12. Two sisters at the same time.

The meaning of Leviticus xviii. 18, has been much disputed. The question is, Whether the words אִשָׁה אֶל־אֲתֹתָהּ, “a woman to her sister,” are to be understood in their idiomatic sense, “one to another,” so that the law forbids bigamy, the taking of one wife to another during her lifetime; or, Whether they are to be taken literally, so that this law forbids a man’s marrying the sister of his wife while the latter is living. It is certain that the words in question have in several places the idiomatic sense ascribed to them. In Exodus xxvi. 3, “Five curtains shall be coupled together one to another,” literally, “a woman to her sister;” so in verse 5, the loops take hold, “a woman and her sister;” ver. 6, the taches of gold unite the curtains, “a woman and her sister.” Also in ver. 17. Thus also in Ezekiel i. 9, it is said, “their wings were joined one to another,” “a woman to her sister;” and again in ch. iii. 13. The words therefore admit of the rendering given in the margin of the English version. But it is objected to this interpretation in this case: (1.) That the words in question never mean “one to another,” except when preceded by a plural noun; which is not the case in Leviticus xviii. 18. (2.) If this explanation be adopted, the passage contains an explicit prohibition of polygamy, which the law of Moses permitted. (3.) It is unnatural to take the words “wife” and “sister” in a sense different from that in which they are used throughout the chapter. (4) The ancient versions agree with the rendering given in the text of the English Bible. The Septuagint has γυναῖκα ἐπ ἀδελφῇ αὐτῆς; the Vulgate, “sororem uxoris tuæ.”

In this interpretation the modern commentators almost without exception agree. Thus Maurer renders the passage: “‘Uxorem 416ad (i.e., præter) sororem ejus ne ducito,’ i.e., Nolli præter tuam conjugem aliam insuper uxorem ducere, quæ illius soror est.367367Commentarius Grammaticus Criticus in Vetus Testamentum, Leipzig, 1835, vol. i. p. 51. Baumgarten’s comment is: “From the fact that the prohibition of the marriage of a wife’s sister is expressly conditioned on the life of the former, we must infer with the Rabbins, that after the death of the wife this marriage is permitted. True, the degree of affinity is here the same as in ver. 16, but there the relationship is on the male, here on the female side; this makes a difference, because under the Old Testament the woman had not attained to the same degree of personality and independence as the man.”368368Theologischer Commentar zum Pentateuch, Kiel, 1844, vol. i. part 2, p. 204. Rosenmüller says: “Uxorem ad sororem ejus ne ducas, duas sorores ne ducas in matrimonium, scil. בְהַיֶּיהָ in vita ejus, i.e., uxore tua vivente. Non igitur prohibet Moses matrimonium cum sorores uxoris mortuæ.369369Scholia in Vetus Testamentum in Compendium redacta, Leipzig, 1828, vol. i. p. 539. Knobel says: “Finally, a man shall not marry . . . . the sister of his wife, so long as the latter lives. . . . . To marry one after the other, after the death of the other, is not forbidden.”370370Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Alten Testament. Exodus und Leviticus erklärt, von August Knobel, Leipzig, 1857, pp. 505, 506. Keil understands v. 18 in the same way. It forbids, according to his view, a man’s having two sisters, at the same time, as his wives. “After the death of the first wife,” he adds, “marriage with her sister was allowed.”371371Biblischer Commentar über das Alte Testament, Herausgegeben von Carl Friedr. Keil und Frank Delitzsch; Die Bücher Moses, von C. F. Keil, Leipzig, 1862, vol. ii. p. 117.

The inference which these writers draw from the fact that in this passage the marriage of a wife’s sister is forbidden during the life of the wife, that the marriage of the sister, after the death of the wife, is allowed, is very precarious. All that the passage teaches is, that if a man chooses to have two wives, at the same time, which the law allowed, they must not be sisters; and the reason assigned is, that it would bring the sisters into a false relation to each other. This leaves the question of the propriety of marrying the sister of a deceased wife just where it was. This verse has no direct bearing on that subject.

The cases not expressly mentioned in Leviticus xviii., although involving the same degree of kindred as those included in the enumeration, are: 1. A man’s own daughter. This is a clear proof that the enumeration was not intended to be exhaustive. 2. A brother’s daughter. 3. A sister’s daughter. 4. A maternal 417uncle’s widow. 5. A brother’s son’s widow. 6. A sister’s son s widow. 7. The sister of a deceased wife.

As nearness of kindred is made the ground of prohibition, and as these cases are included within “the degrees” specified, the Church has considered them as belonging to the class of prohibited marriages. It is, however, to be considered that the word “prohibited,” as here used, is very comprehensive. Some of the marriages specified in the Levitical law are prohibited in very different senses. Some are pronounced abominable, and those who contract them are made punishable with death. Others are pronounced unseemly, or evil, and punished by exclusion from the privileges of the theocracy. Others again incur the penalty of dying childless; probably meaning that the children of such marriages should not be enrolled in the family registers which the Jews were so careful to preserve.

As this distinction is recognized in the law itself, so it is founded in the nature of the case. As nearness of kin varies from the most intimate relationship to the most distant, so these marriages vary in their impropriety from the highest to the lowest degree. Some of them may, in certain cases, be wrong, not in themselves, but simply from the obligation to uphold a salutary law. That is, there may be cases to which the law, but not the reason of the law applies. For example; a man may go thousands of miles from home and marry: his wife would stand in a very different relation to her husband’s brothers, than had she lived in the same house with them. The law forbidding a woman to marry the brother of her deceased husband, would apply to her; but the reason of that law would affect her in a very slight degree; nevertheless, even in her case, the law should be observed.

There is another obvious remark that ought to be made. Strong repugnance is often felt and expressed against the Levitical law, not only because it is regarded as placing all the marriages specified on the same level, representing all as equally offensive in the sight of God, but also from the assumption that all the marriages forbidden are, if contracted, invalid. This is a wrong view of the subject. It is inconsistent with the law itself, and contrary to the analogy of Scripture. The law recognizes a great disparity in the impropriety of these marriages. Some, as just remarked, are utterly abominable and insufferable. Others are specified because inexpedient or dangerous, as conflicting with some ethical or prudential principle.

It is in this as in many other cases. The Mosaic law discountenanced 418and discouraged intermarriage between the chosen people and their heathen neighbours. With regard to the Canaanites, such intermarriages were absolutely forbidden; with other heathen nations, although discountenanced, they were tolerated. Joseph married an Egyptian; Moses, a Midianite; Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter. Such marriages, in the settled state of the Jewish nation, may have been wrong, but they were valid. Even now under the Christian dispensation, believers are forbidden to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. It does not follow from this that every marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is invalid. These remarks are not out of place. The truth suffers from being misapprehended. If the Bible is made to teach what is contrary to the common sense, or the intuitive judgments of men, it suffers great injustice. No man can force himself to believe that a man’s marrying the sister of a deceased wife is the same kind of offence as a father’s marrying his own daughter. The Bible teaches no such doctrine; and it is a slander so to represent it.

Concluding Remarks.

The laws of God are sacred. They are founded, not only on his infinite wisdom, but also on the nature of his creatures, and, therefore, should be sedulously observed. There may, in some cases, be honest difference of opinion as to what the law or will of God is, but when ascertained, it is our wisdom and duty to make it the rule of our conduct. This is so obvious that the statement of it may seem entirely superfluous. It is so common. however, for men professing to be Christians to make their own feelings, opinions, and views of expediency, the rule of action for themselves and others, that it is by no means a work of supererogation, to reiterate on all proper occasions the truism that there is no wisdom like God’s wisdom, and that men are never wise except when they follow the wisdom of God as revealed in his Word, even when they have to do it blindly.

There are certain principles which underlie the marriage laws of the Bible, which all men in their private capacity and when acting as legislators, would do well to respect, —

1. The first is, that marriage is not a mere external union; it is not simply a mutual compact; it is not merely a civil contract. It is a real, physical, vital, and spiritual union, in virtue of which man and wife become, not merely in a figurative sense, but really, although in a mysterious sense, one flesh. This is not only expressly 419declared by Christ himself to be the nature of marriage, but it is the doctrine which underlies the whole Levitical law on this subject. Nearness of kin is expressed constantly by saying that one is “flesh of the flesh” of the other, שְׁאֵר בְשָׂרוֹ, “Carnem carnis suæ s. corporis sui esse cognatam propinquam, quæ est ut caro ejusdem corporis.372372Rosenmüller, Scholia in Vetus Testamentum in Compendium redacta, Leipzig, 1838, vol. i. pp. 536, 537. According to the Scriptures, therefore, husband and wife are the nearest of all relations to each other. According to the spirit, and most of the legislation of the present age, they are no relations at all. They are simply partners. If one member of a business firm die, his property does no; go to his partner, but to his own family; so if a wife die, without children, her property does not go to her husband, but to her third or fourth cousins. They, in the eye of the law, are more nearly related to her than her husband. This is not the light in which God looks upon marriage.

2. The second principle which underlies these marriage-laws is, that affinity is as real a bond of relationship as consanguinity. Fully one half of the marriages specified in Leviticus are prohibited on the ground of affinity. The same form of expression is used to designate both kinds of relationship. Those related to each other by affinity are said to be “flesh of the flesh,” one of the other, just as blood relations; because all the specifications contained in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus are included under the general prohibition contained in the sixth verse, “None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him;” under this head are included step-mothers; mothers-in-law; step-daughters; sisters-in-law (as when a man is forbidden to marry the widow of his brother); uncle’s wife, etc. These relationships are traced out in the line of affinity, just as far as they are in that of consanguinity. The declaration, therefore, contained in the Westminster Confession,373373Chap. xxiv. 4. “The man may not marry any of his wife’s kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband’s kindred nearer in blood than of her own,” is a simple and comprehensive statement of the law as laid down in Leviticus. In saying that affinity is as real a bond of relationship as consanguinity, it is not meant that it is as strong. A daughter is a nearer relation than a step-daughter, or daughter-in-law; a mother than a step-mother; a sister than a sister-in-law. This, as we have seen, is recognized in the law itself. 420The Bible asserts nothing inconsistent with fact or nature. In making affinity a real bond of kindred, it is meant that it is no merely nominal, or conventional, or arbitrary. It has its foundation in nature and fact.

Mr. Bishop, in his elaborate work on “Marriage and Divorce,” says, ” A truly enlightened view will doubtless discard altogether affinity as an impediment, while it will extend somewhat the degrees of consanguinity within which marriages will be forbidden.”374374Commentaries on the Law of Marriage and Divorce, by Joel Prentiss Bishop, Boston, 1864, vol. i. § 320. He also teaches375375Ibid. § 314, note 2. that “the relationship by affinity” ceases “with the dissolution which death brings to the marriage. . . . . If, when a man’s wife dies, she is still his wife, then, of course, her sister is still his sister. . . . . If, on the other hand, the wife is no more the wife after her death, then is her sister no more the sister of the husband. And though men who have no other idea of religion than to regard it as a bundle of absurd and loathed forms, may not be able to see how the termination of the relationship by the death of the wife is of any consequence in the case, yet men who discern differently and more wisely, will discover nothing unseemly in practically acting upon a fact which everybody knows to exist.”

It is very evident that Mr. Bishop never asked himself what, in the present connection, the word “relationship” means. Had he had any clear idea of the meaning of the word, he never could have written the above sentences. By relationship is here meant the relation in which parties stand to each other; and that, in the case supposed, is a matter of feeling, affection, and intimacy. This relationship is not dissolved by the death of the person through whom it arose. A wife’s sister continues to cherish to her widowed brother-in-law the same sisterly affection after, as before her sister’s death. She can live with him, guide his house, and take charge of his children, without the slightest violation of her self-respect, and without fear of incurring the disrespect of others.

Besides, if relationship by affinity is dissolved by death, then a son may, on the death of his father, marry his step-mother, which Paul says (1 Cor. v. 1) was not tolerated among the heathen. We have not come to that yet. On the principle of Mr. Bishop, a man may marry his mother-in-law, his daughter-in-law, and, on the death of the mother, his step-daughter. All this the Bible forbids; and whatever religion in some of its manifestations may 421be, the Bible, surely, is not “a bundle of absurd and loathed forms.” It is the wisdom of God, in the presence of which the wisdom of man is foolishness.

3. The great truth contained in these laws is, that it is the will of God, the dictate of his infinite and benevolent wisdom that the affections which belong to the relation in which kindred (whether by consanguinity or affinity) stand to each other, should not be disturbed, perverted, or corrupted by that essentially different kind of love which is appropriate and holy in the conjugal relation; and that a protecting halo should be shed around the family circle.

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