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

With regard to that which relates to man in his state of rectitude, God, having placed him in the garden of Eden, and furnished him with whatever was calculated to make life happy, commanded him, as a test of his obedience, to refrain from eating of the single tree of knowledge of good and evil, under penalty of death if he should disregard the injunction.[1] Gen. i. 28. 'subdue the earth, and have dominion-.' ii 15-17. 'he put him into the garden of Eden..... of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but in the day that thou eatest of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt surely die.'


This is sometimes called the covenant of works,[2] though it does not appear from any passage of Scripture to have been either a covenant, or of works. No works whatever are required of Adam; a particular act only is forbidden. It was necessary that some thing should be forbidden or commanded as a test of fidelity, and that an act in its own nature indifferent, in order that man's obedience might be thereby manifested. For since it was the disposition of man to do what was right, as a being naturally good and holy, it was not necessary that he should be bound by the obligation of a covenant to perform that to which he was of himself inclined;[3] nor would he have given any proof of obedience by the performance of works to which he was led by a natural impulse, independently of the divine command. Not to mention, that no command, whether proceeding from God or from a magistrate, can properly be called a covenant, even where rewards and punishments are attached to it; but rather an exercise of jurisdiction.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil was not a sacrament, as it is generally called;[4] for a sacrament <298> is a thing to be used, not abstained from: but a pledge, as it were, and memorial of obedience.

It was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil from the event; for since Adam tasted it, we not only know evil, but we know good only by means of evil.[5] For it is by evil that virtue is chiefly exercised, and shines with greater brightness.

The tree of life, in my opinion, ought not to be considered so much a sacrament,[6] as a symbol of eternal life, or rather perhaps the nutriment by which that life is sustained. Gen. iii. 22. 'lest he take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.' Rev. ii. 7. 'to him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the tree of life.'

Seeing, however, that man was made in the image of God, and had the whole law of nature so implanted and innate in him, that he needed no precept to enforce its observance, it follows, that if he received any additional commands, whether respecting the tree of knowledge, or the institution of marriage, these commands formed no part of the law of nature, which is sufficient of itself to teach whatever is agreeable to right reason, that is to say, whatever is intrinsically good.[7] Such commands must therefore have <299> been founded on what is called positive right, whereby God, or any one invested with lawful power, commands or forbids what is in itself neither good nor bad, and what therefore would not have been obligatory on any one, had there been no law to enjoin or prohibit it. With regard to the Sabbath, it is clear that God hallowed it to himself, and dedicated it to rest, in remembrance of the consummation of his work;[8] Gen. ii. 2, 3. Exod. xxxi. 17. Whether its institution was ever made known to Adam, or whether any commandment relative to its observance was given previous to the delivery of the law on Mount Sinai, much less whether any such was given before the fall of man, cannot be ascertained, Scripture being silent on the subject. The most probable supposition is, that Moses, who seems to have written the book of Genesis much later than the promulgation of the law, inserted this sentence from the fourth commandment, into what appeared a suitable place for it; where an opportunity was afforded for reminding the Israelites, by a natural and easy transition, of the reason assigned by God, many ages after the event itself, for his command with regard to the observance of the Sabbath by the covenanted people. An instance of a similar insertion occurs Exod. xvi. 33, 34. 'Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein..... so Aaron laid it up;' which however did not take place till long afterwards. The injunction respecting the celebration of <300> the Sabbath in the wilderness, Exod. xvi. a short time previous to the delivery of the law, namely, that no one should go out to gather manna on the seventh morning, because God had said that he would not rain it from heaven on that day, seems rather to have been intended as a preparatory notice, the ground work, as it were, of a law for the Israelites, to be delivered shortly afterwards in a clearer manner: they having been previously ignorant of the mode of observing the Sabbath. Compare v. 5. with v. 22-30. For the rulers of the congregation, who ought to have been better acquainted than the rest with the commandment of the Sabbath, if any such institution then existed, wondered why the people gathered twice as much on the sixth day, and appealed to Moses; who then, as if announcing something new, proclaimed to them that the morrow would be the Sabbath. After which, as if he had already related in what manner the Sabbath was for the first time observed, he proceeds, v. 30. 'so the people rested on the seventh day.'

That the Israelites had not so much as heard of the Sabbath before this time, seems to be confirmed by several passages of the prophets. Ezek. xx. 10-12. 'I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness; and I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgements..... moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah that sanctify them.' Neh. ix. 13, 14. 'thou earnest down also upon Mount Sinai..... and gavest them right judgements..... and madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them <301> precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant.' This subject, however, will come again under discussion, Book II. Chap. vii.

With regard to marriage, it is clear that it was instituted, if not commanded, at the creation, and that it consisted in the mutual love, society, help, and comfort of the husband and wife, though with a reservation of superior rights to the husband.[9] Gen. ii. 18. 'it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.' 1 Cor. xi. 7-9. 'for a man..... is the image of the glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man: for the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man; neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.' The power of the husband was even increased after the fall. Gen iii. 16. 'thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.' Therefore the word בעλ in the Hebrew signifies both husband and lord. Thus Sarah is represented as calling her husband Abraham lord, 1 Pet. iii. 6. <302> 1 Tim. ii. 12-14, 'I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence: for Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression.'

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

In the definition which I have given, I have not said, in compliance with the common opinion, of one man with one woman, lest I should by implication charge the holy patriarchs and pillars of our faith, Abraham and the others who had more than one wife at the same time, with habitual fornication and adultery; and lest I should be forced to exclude from the sanctuary of God as spurious, the holy offspring which sprang from them, yea, the whole of the sons of Israel, for whom the sanctuary itself was made. For it is said, Deut, xxiii. 2. 'a bastard shall not enter into the congregation of Jehovah, even to his tenth generation.' Either therefore polygamy is a true marriage,[10] or all children born in <303> that state are spurious; which would include the whole race of Jacob, the twelve holy tribes chosen by God. But as such an assertion would be absurd in the extreme, not to say impious, and as it is the height of injustice, as well as an example of most dangerous tendency in religion, to account as sin what is not such in reality;[11] it appears to me, that, so far from the question respecting the lawfulness of polygamy being trivial, it is of the highest importance that it should be decided.

Those who deny its lawfulness, attempt to prove their position from Gen. ii. 24. 'a man shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh,' compared with Matt. xix. 5. 'they twain shall be one flesh.' A man shall cleave, they say, to his wife, not to his wives, and they twain, and no more, shall be one flesh. This is certainly ingenious; and I therefore subjoin the passage in Exod. xx. 17. 'thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass:' whence <304> it would follow that no one had more than a single house, a single man-servant, a single maid-servant, a single ox, or ass. It would be ridiculous to argue, that it is not said houses, but house, not man-servants but man-servant, not even neighbours, but neighbour: as if it were not the general custom, in laying down commandments of this kind, to use the singular number, not in a numerical sense, but as designating the species of the thing intended. With regard to the phrase, 'they twain,' and not more, 'shall be one flesh,' it is to be observed, first, that the context refers to the husband and that wife only whom he was seeking to divorce, without intending any allusion to the number of his wives, whether one or more. Secondly, marriage is in the nature of a relation; and to one relation there can be no more than two parties. In the same sense therefore as if a man has many sons, his paternal relation towards them all is manifold, but towards each individually is single and complete in itself; by parity of reasoning, if a man has many wives, the relation which he bears to each will not be less perfect in itself, nor will the husband be less 'one flesh' with each of them, than if he had only one wife. Thus it might be properly said of Abraham, with regard to Sarah and Hagar respectively, 'these twain were one flesh.' And with good reason; for whoever consorts with harlots, however many in number, is still said to be one flesh with each; 1 Cor. vi. 16. 'what, know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.' The expression may therefore be applied as properly to the husband who has many wives, as to him who has only one. Hence it fol <305> lows that the commandment in question (though in fact it is no commandment at all, as has been shown) contains nothing against polygamy, either in the way of direct prohibition or implied censure; unless we are to suppose that the law of God, as delivered by Moses, was at variance with his prior declarations; or that, though the passage in question had been frequently inspected by a multitude of priests, and Levites, and prophets, men of all ranks, of holiest lives and most acceptable to God, the fury of their passions was such as to hurry them by a blind impulse into habitual fornication; for to this supposition are we reduced, if there be anything in the present precept which renders polygamy incompatible with lawful marriage.

Another text from which the unlawfulness of polygamy is maintained, is Lev. xviii. 18. 'neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.' Here Junius translates the passage mulierem unam ad alteram, instead of mulierem ad sororem suam, in order that from this forced and inadmissible interpretation he may elicit an argument against polygamy. In drawing up a law, as in composing a definition, it is necessary that the most exact and appropriate words should be used, and that they should be interpreted not in their metaphorical, but in their proper signification. He says, indeed, that the same words are found in the same sense in other passages. This is true; but it is only where the context precludes the possibility of any ambiguity, as in Gen. xxvi. 31. juraverunt vir fratri suo, that is, alteri, 'they sware one to another.' No one would infer from this passage that <306> Isaac was the brother of Abimelech; nor would any one, on the other hand, entertain a doubt that the passage in Leviticus was intended as a prohibition against taking a wife to her sister; particularly as the preceding verses of this chapter treat of the degrees of affinity to which intermarriage is forbidden. More over this would be to uncover her nakedness, the evil against which the law in question was intended to guard; whereas the caution would be unnecessary in the case of taking another wife not related or allied to the former; for no nakedness would be thereby uncovered. Lastly, why is the clause in her lifetime added? For there could be no doubt of its being lawful after her death to marry another who was neither related nor allied to her, though it might be questionable whether it were lawful to marry a wife's sister. It is objected, that marriage with a wife's sister is forbidden by analogy in the sixteenth verse, and therefore a second prohibition was unnecessary. I answer, first, that there is in reality no analogy between the two passages; for that by marrying a brother's wife, the brother's nakedness is uncovered; whereas by marrying a wife's sister, it is not a sister's nakedness, but only that of a kinswoman by marriage, which is uncovered. Besides, if nothing were to be prohibited which had been before prohibited by analogy, why is marriage with a mother forbidden, when marriage with a father had been already declared unlawful? or why marriage with a mother's sister, when marriage with a father's sister had been prohibited? If this reasoning be allowed, it follows that more than half the laws relating to incest are unnecessary. Lastly, whereas the prevention of enmity isalleged <307> as the principal motive for the law before us, it is obvious, that if the intention had been to condemn polygamy, reasons of a much stronger kind might have been urged from the nature of the original institution, as was done m the ordinance of the Sabbath.[12]

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

Except the three passages which are thus irrelevantly adduced, not a trace appears of the interdiction of polygamy throughout the whole law; nor even in any of the prophets, who were at once the rigid interpreters of the law, and the habitual reprovers of the vices of the people. The only shadow of an exception occurs in a passage of Malachi, the last of the prophets, which some consider as decisive against polygamy. It would be indeed a late and postliminous enactment, if that were for the first time prohibited after the Babylonish captivity which ought to have been prohibited many ages before. For if it had been really a sin, how could it have escaped the reprehension of so many prophets who preceded him? We may safely conclude that if polygamy be not forbidden in the law, neither is it forbidden here; for <308> Malachi was not the author of a new law. Let us however see the words themselves as translated by Junius, ii. 15. Nonne unum effecit? quamvis reliqui spiritus ipsi essent: quid autem unam? It would be rash and unreasonable indeed, if, on the authority of so obscure a passage, and one which has been tortured and twisted by different interpreters into such a variety of meanings, we were to form a conclusion on so important a subject, and to impose it upon others as an article of faith.[13] But whatever be the signification of the words nonne unum effecit, what do they prove? are we, for the sake of drawing an inference against polygamy, to understand the phrase thus —did not he make one woman? But the gender, and even the case, are at variance with this interpretation; for nearly all the other commentators render the words as follows:annon unus fecit? et residuum spiritus ipsi? et quid ille unus? We ought not therefore to draw any conclusion from a passage like the present in behalf of a doctrine which is either not mentioned elsewhere, or only in doubtful terms; but rather conclude that the prophet's design was to reprove a practice which the whole of Scripture concurs in reproving, and which forms the principal subject of the very chapter in question, v. 11-16. namely, marriage with the daughter of a strange god; a corruption very <309> prevalent among the Jews of that time, as we learn from Ezra and Nehemiah.[14]

With regard to the words of Christ, Matt. v. 32. and xix. 5. the passage from Gen. ii. 24. is repeated not for the purpose of condemning polygamy, but of reproving the unrestrained liberty of divorce, which is a very different thing; nor can the words be made to apply to any other subject without evident violence to their meaning. For the argument which is deduced from Matt. v. 32. that if a man who marries another after putting away his first wife, committeth adultery, much more must he commit adultery who retains the first and marries another, ought itself to be repudiated as an illegitimate conclusion.[15] For in <310> the first place, it is the divine precepts themselves that are obligatory, not the consequences deduced from them by human reasoning; for what appears a reasonable inference to one individual, may not be equally obvious to another of similar discernment. Secondly, he who puts away his wife and marries another, is not said to commit adultery because he marries another, but because in consequence of his marriage with another he does not retain his former wife, to whom also he owed the performance of conjugal duties; whence it is expressly said, Mark x. 11. 'he committeth adultery against her.' That he is in a condition to perform his conjugal duties to the one, after having taken another to her, is shown by God himself, Exod. xxi. 10. 'if he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish.' It cannot be supposed that the divine forethought intended to provide for adultery.

Nor is it allowable to argue, from 1Cor. vii. 2. 'let every man have his own wife,' that therefore none should have more than one; for the meaning of the precept is, that every man should have his own wife to himself, not that he should have but one wife. That bishops and elders should have no more than one wife is explicitly enjoined 1 Tim. iii. 2. and Tit. i. 6. 'he must be the husband of one wife,' in order probably that they may discharge with greater diligence the ecclesiastical duties which they have undertaken. The command itself, however, is a suffi <311> cient proof that polygamy was not forbidden to the rest, and that it was common in the church at that time.

Lastly, in answer to what is urged from 1 Cor. vii. 4. 'likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife,' it is easy to reply, as was done above, that the word wife in this passage is used with reference to the species, and not to the number. Nor can the power of the wife over the body of her husband be different now from what it was under the law, where it is called עונה, Exod. xxi. 10. and signifies her stated times, which St. Paul expresses in the present chapter by the phrase, her due benevolence. With regard to what is due, the Hebrew word is sufficiently explicit.[16]

On the other hand, the following passages clearly admit the lawfulness of polygamy. Exod. xxi. 10. 'if he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish.' Deut. xvii. 17. 'neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away.' Would the law have been so loosely worded, if it had not been allowable to take more wives than one at the same time? Who would venture to subjoin as an inference from this language, therefore let him have one only? In such case, since it is said in the preceding verse, 'he shall not multiply horses to himself,' it would be necessary to subjoin there also, therefore he shall have one horse only. Nor do we want any proof to assure us, that the first institution of marriage was intended to bind the prince equally with the people; <312> if therefore it permits only one wife, it permits no more even to the prince. But the reason given for the law is this, 'that his heart turn not away;' a danger which would arise if he were to marry many, and especially strange women, as Solomon afterwards did. Now if the present law had been intended merely as a confirmation and vindication of the primary institution of marriage, nothing could have been more appropriate than to have recited the institution itself in this place, and not to have advanced that reason alone which has been mentioned.

Let us hear the words of God himself, the author of the law, and the best interpreter of his own will. 2 Sam. xii. 8. 'I gave thee thy master's wives into thy bosom..... and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.' Here there can be no subterfuge; God gave him wives, he gave them to the man whom he loved, as one among a number of great benefits; he would have given him more, if these had not been enough. Be sides, the very argument which God uses towards David, is of more force when applied to the gift of wives, than to any other, —thou oughtest at least to have abstained from the wife of another person, not so much because I had given thee thy master's house, or thy master's kingdom, as because I had given thee the wives of the king. Beza indeed objects, that David herein committed incest, namely, with the wives of his father-in-law.[17] But he had forgotten <313> what is indicated by Esther ii. 12, 13. that the kings of Israel had two houses for the women, one appointed for the virgins, the other for the concubines, and that it was the former and not the latter which were given to David. This appears also from 1 Kings i. 4. 'the king knew her not.' Cantic. vi. 8. 'there are fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.' At the same time it might be said with perfect propriety that God had given him his master's wives, even supposing that he had only given him as many in number and of the same description, though not the very same; even as he gave him, not indeed the identical house and retinue of his master, but one equally magnificent and royal.

It is not wonderful, therefore, that what the authority of the law, and the voice of God himself has sanctioned, should be alluded to by the holy prophets in their inspired hymns as a thing lawful and honourable. Psal. xlv. 9. (which is entitled 'A song of loves') 'kings' daughters were among thy honourable women.' v. 14. 'the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.' Nay, the words of this very song are quoted by the apostle to the Hebrews, i. 8. 'unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God,' &c. as the words wherein God the Father himself addresses the Son, and in which his divinity is asserted more clearly than in any other passage. Would it have been proper for God the Father to speak by the mouth of harlots, and to manifest his holy Son to mankind as God in the amatory songs of adulteresses? Thus also in Cantic. vi. 8-10. the queens and concubines are evidently mentioned with honour, and are all without distinction <314> considered worthy of celebrating the praises of the bride; 'there are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number..... the daughters saw her and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.' Nor must we omit 2 Chron. xxiv. 2, 3. 'Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest: and Jehoiada took for him two wives.' For the two clauses are not placed in contrast, or disjoined from each other, but it is said in one and the same connection that under the guidance of Jehoiada he did that which was right, and that by the authority of the same individual he married two wives. This is contrary to the usual practice in the eulogies of the kings, where, if to the general character anything blameable be subjoined, it is expressly excepted; 1 Kings xv. 5. 'save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.' v. 11, 14. 'and Asa did that which was right..... but the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa's heart was perfect.' Since therefore the right conduct of Joash is mentioned in unqualified terms, in conjunction with his double marriage, it is evident that the latter was not considered matter of censure; for the sacred historian would not have neglected so suitable an opportunity of making the customary exception, if there had really been anything which deserved disapprobation.

Moreover, God himself in an allegorical fiction, Ezek. xxiii. 4. represents himself as having espoused two wives, Aholah and Aholibah; a mode of speaking which he would by no means have employed, especially at such length, even in a parable, nor indeed have taken on himself such a character at all, if the <315> practice which it implied had been intrinsically dishonourable or shameful.

On what grounds, however, can a practice be considered dishonourable or shameful, which is prohibited to no one even under the gospel? for that dispensation annuls none of the merely civil regulations which existed previous to its introduction.[18] It is only enjoined that elders and deacons should be chosen from such as were husbands of one wife. 1 Tim. iii. 2. and Tit. i. 6. This implies, not that to be the husband of more than one wife would be a sin, for in that case the restriction would have been equally imposed on all; but that, in proportion as they were less entangled in domestic affairs, they would be more at leisure for the business of the church. Since therefore polygamy is interdicted in this passage to the ministers of the church alone, and that not on account of any sinfulness in the practice, and since none of the other members are precluded from it either here or elsewhere, it follows that it was permitted, as above said, to all the remaining members of the church, and that it was adopted by many without offence.

Lastly, I argue as follows from Heb. xiii. 4. Polygamy is either marriage, or fornication, or adultery; the apostle recognizes no fourth state. Reverence for so many patriarchs who were polygamists will, I trust, deter any one from considering it as fornication or adultery; for 'whoremongers and adulterers God will judge;' whereas the patriarchs were the objects of his especial favour, as he himself witnesses. <316> If then polygamy be marriage properly so called, it is also lawful and honourable, according to the same apostle: 'marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled.'

It appears to me sufficiently established by the above arguments, that polygamy is allowed by the law of God; lest however any doubt should remain, I will subjoin abundant examples of men whose holiness renders them fit patterns for imitation, and who are among the lights of our faith. Foremost I place Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and of the holy seed, Gen. xvi. 1, &c. Jacob, chap. xxx. and, if I mistake not, Moses, Numb. xii. 1. 'for he had married [a Cushite, Marginal Translation, or] an Ethiopian woman.' It is not likely that the wife of Moses, who had been so often spoken of before by her proper name of Zipporah, should now be called by the new title of a Cushite; or that the anger of Aaron and Miriam should at this time be suddenly kindled, because Moses forty years before had married Zipporah; nor would they have acted thus scornfully towards one whom the whole house of Israel had gone out to meet on her arrival with her father Jethro. If then he married the Cushite during the lifetime of Zipporah, his conduct in this particular received the express approbation of God himself, who moreover punished with severity the unnatural opposition of Aaron and his sister. Next I place Gideon, that signal example of faith and piety, Judg. viii. 30, 31. and Elkanah, a rigid Levite, the father of Samuel; who was so far from believing himself less acceptable to God on account of his double marriage, that he took with him his two wives every year to the sacrifices and an <317> nual worship, into the immediate presence of God; nor was he therefore reproved, but went home blessed with Samuel, a child of excellent promise, 1 Sam. ii. 10. Passing over several other examples, though illustrious, such as Caleb, 1 Chron. ii. 46, 48. vii. 1. 4. the sons of Issachar, in number, 'six and thirty thousand men, for they had many wives and sons,' contrary to the modern European practice, where in many places the land is suffered to remain uncultivated for want of population; and also Manasseh, the son of Joseph, 1 Chron. vii. 14. I come to the prophet David, whom God loved beyond all men, and who took two wives, besides Michal; and this not in a time of pride and prosperity, but when he was almost bowed down by adversity, and when, as we learn from many of the psalms, he was entirely occupied in the study of the word of God, and in the right regulation of his conduct. 1 Sam. xxv. 42, 43. and afterwards, 2 Sam. v. 12, 13. 'David perceived that Jehovah had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake: and David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem.' Such were the motives, such the honourable and holy thoughts whereby he was influenced, namely, by the consideration of God's kindness towards him for his people's sake. His heavenly and prophetic understanding saw not in that primitive institution what we in our blindness fancy we discern so clearly; nor did he hesitate to proclaim in the supreme council of the nation the pure and honourable motives to which, as he trusted, his children born in polygamy owed their existence. 1 Chron. xxviii. 5. 'of all my sons, for Jehovah hath given me <318> many sons, he hath chosen,' &c. I say nothing of Solomon, notwithstanding his wisdom, because he seems to have exceeded due bounds; although it is not objected to him that he had taken many wives, but that he had married strange women;[19] 1 Kings xi. 1. Nehem. xiii. 26. His son Rehoboam 'desired many wives,' not in the time of his iniquity, but during the three years in which he is said to have walked in the way of David, 2 Chron. xi. 17, 21, 23. Of Joash mention has already been made; who was induced to take two wives, not by licentious passion, or the wanton desires incident to uncontrolled power, but by the sanction and advice of a most wise and holy man, Jehoiada the priest. Who can believe, either that so many men of the highest character should have sinned through ignorance for so many ages; or that their hearts should have been so hardened; or that God should have tolerated such conduct in his people? Let therefore the rule received among theologians have the same weight here as in other cases: " The practice of the saints is the best interpretation of the commandments."

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


The consent of parents, if living, should not be wanting[20]. Exod. xxii. 17. 'if his father utterly refuse to give her unto him-.' Deut. vii. 3. 'thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son.' Jer. xxix. 6. 'take wives for your sons.' But the mutual consent of the parties themselves is naturally the first and important requisite; for there can be no love or good will, and consequently no marriage, without mutual consent.[21]

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

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

It is also necessary that the parties should be of one mind in matters of religion. Under the law this <320> precept was understood as applying to marriages already contracted, as well as to those in contemplation. Exod. xxxiv. 15, 16. Deut. vii. 3, 4, compared with Ezra x. 11, &c. and Nehem. xiii. 23, 30. A similar provision was made under the gospel for preventing the contraction of any marriage where a difference of religious opinion might exist: 1 Cor. vii. 39. 'she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord.' 2 Cor. vi. 14. 'be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.' But if the marriage be already contracted it is not to be dissolved, while any hope remains of doing good to the unbeliever.[22] 1 Cor. vii. 12. For the rest, what kind of issue generally follows such marriages may be seen in the case of the antediluvian world, Gen. vi. of Solomon, 1 Kings xi. 1, &c. of Ahab, xxi. 25. of Jehoshaphat, who gave his son Jehoram a wife of the daughters of Ahab, 2 Kings viii.

The form[23] of marriage consists in the mutual ex <321> ercise of benevolence, love, help, and solace between the espoused parties, as the institution itself, or its definition, indicates.

The end of marriage is nearly the same with the form. Its proper fruit is the procreation of children; but since Adam's fall, the provision of a remedy against incontinency has become in some degree a secondary end. 1 Cor. vii. 2. Hence marriage is not a command binding on all, but only on those who are unable to live with chastity out of this state.[24] Matt. xix. 11. 'all men cannot receive this saying.'

Marriage is honourable in itself, and prohibited to no order of men; wherefore the Papists act contrary to religion in excluding the ministers of the church from this rite.[25] Heb. xiii. 4. 'marriage is honourable in all.' Gen. ii. 24. 1 Cor. ix. 5. 'have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles?' 1 Tim. iii. 2. 'a bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife.' v. 4. 'one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection.'


Marriage, by its definition, is an union of the most intimate nature; but not indissoluble or indivisible,[26] as some contend, on the ground of its being subjoined, Matt. xix. 5. 'they two shall be one flesh.' These words, properly considered, do not imply that marriage is absolutely indissoluble, but only that it ought not to be lightly dissolved. For it is upon the institution itself, and the due observance of all its parts, that what follows respecting the indissolubility of marriage depends, whether the words be considered in the light of a command, or of a natural consequence. Hence it is said, 'for this cause shall a man leave father and mother..... and they two shall be one flesh;' that is to say, if, according to the nature of the institution, as laid down in the preceding verses, Gen. ii. 18, 20. the wife be an help meet for the husband; or in other words, if good will, love, help, comfort, fidelity, remain unshaken on both sides,[27] which, according to universal acknowledgement, is the essential form of marriage. But if the essential form <323> be dissolved, it follows that the marriage itself is virtually dissolved.

Great stress, however, is laid upon an expression in the next verse; 'what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.' What it is that God has joined together, the institution of marriage itself declares. God has joined only what admits of union, what is suitable, what is good, what is honourable;[28] he has not made provision for unnatural and monstrous associations, pregnant only with dishonour, with misery, with hatred, and with calamity. It is not God who forms such unions, but violence, or rashness, or error, or the influence of some evil genius,[29] Why then should it be unlawful to deliver ourselves from so <324> pressing an intestine evil?[30] Further, our doctrine does not separate those whom God has joined together in the spirit of his sacred institution, but only those whom God has himself separated by the authority of his equally sacred law; an authority which ought to have the same force with us now, as with his people of old. As to Christian perfection, the promotion of which is urged by some as an argument for the indissolubility of marriage, that perfection is not to be forced upon us by compulsion and penal laws, but must be produced, if at all, by exhortation and Christian admonition. Then only can man be properly said to dissolve a marriage lawfully contracted, when, adding to the divine ordinance what the ordinance itself does not contain, he separates, under pretence of religion, whomsoever it suits his purpose. For it ought to be remembered that God in his just, and pure, and holy law, has not only permitted divorce on a variety of grounds, but has even ratified it in some cases, and enjoined it in others, under the severest penalties, Exod, xxi. 4, 10, 11. Deut. xxi. 14. xxiv. 1. Ezra x. 3. Nehem. xxiii. 23, 30.

But this, it is objected, was 'because of the hardness of their hearts,' Matt. xix. 8. I reply, that these words of Christ, though a very appropriate answer to the Pharisees who tempted him, were never meant as a general explanation of the question of divorce.[31] His intention was, as usual, to repress the <325> arrogance of the Pharisees, and elude their snares; for his answer was only addressed to those who taught from Deut. xxiv. 1. that it was lawful to put away a wife for any cause whatever, provided a bill of divorcement were given. This is evident from the former part of the same chapter, v. 3. 'is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?' not for the sole reason allowed by Moses, namely, if 'some uncleanness were found in her,' which might convert love into hatred; but because it had become a common practice to give bills of divorce, under the pretence of uncleanness, without just cause; an abuse which, since the law was unable to restrain it, he thought it advisable to tolerate, notwithstanding the hardness of heart which it implied,[32] rather than to prevent the dissolution of unfortunate marriages, considering that the balance of earthly happiness or misery rested principally on this institution.[33]


For, if we examine the several causes of divorce enumerated in the law, we shall find that wherever divorce was permitted, it was not in compliance with the hardness of the human heart, but on grounds of the highest equity and justice. The first passage is Exod. xxi. 1-4. 'these are the judgements which thou shalt set before them: if thou buy an Hebrew servant..... in the seventh year he shall go out free for nothing..... if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him: if his master have given him a wife, and she have borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.' Nothing could be more just than this law, which, so far from conceding anything to the hardness of their hearts, rather restrained it; inasmuch as, while it provided against the possibility of any Hebrew, at whatever price he might have been purchased, remaining more than seven years in bondage, it at the same time established the claim of the master as prior to that of the husband. Again, v. 10, 11. 'if he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage shall he not diminish: and if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.' This law is remarkable for it consummate humanity and equity; for while it does not permit the husband to put away his wife through the mere hardness of his heart, it allows the wife to leave her husband on the most reasonable of all grounds, that of inhumanity and unkindness. Again, <327> Deut. xxi. 13, 14. it was permitted by the right of war, both to take a female captive to wife, and to divorce her afterwards; but it was not conceded to the hardness of their hearts, that she should be subsequently sold, or that the master should derive any profit from the possession of her person as a slave.[34]

The third passage is Deut. xxiv. 1. 'when a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.' There is no room here for the charge of hardness of heart, supposing the cause alleged to be a true, and not a fictitious one. For since, as is evident from the institution itself, God gave a wife to man at the beginning to the intent that she should be his help and solace and delight, if, as often happens, she should eventually prove to be rather a source of sorrow, of disgrace, of ruin, of torment, of calamity, why should we think that we are displeasing God by divorcing such a one?[35] I should attribute hardness of heart rather to him who retained her, than to him who sent her away under such circumstances; and not I alone, but Solomon himself, or rather the Spirit of God itself speaking by <328> the mouth of Solomon;[36] Prov. xxx. 21, 23. 'for three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear; for an odious woman when she is married-.' On the contrary, Eccles. ix. 9. 'live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee;' the wife therefore 'which he hath given thee' is she 'whom thou lovest', not she whom thou hatest: and thus Mal. ii. 16. 'whoever hateth,' or, 'because he hateth, let him dismiss her,'[37] as all before Junius explain the passage. God therefore appears to have enacted this law by the mouth of Moses, and reitorated it by that of the prophet, with the view, not of giving scope to the hard-heartedness of the husband, but of rescuing the unhappy wife from its influence, wherever the case required it. For there is no hard —heartedness in dismissing honourably and freely her whose own fault it is that she is not loved. That one who is not beloved, who is, on the contrary, <329> deservedly neglected, and an object of dislike and hatred; that a wife thus situated should be retained, in pursuance of a most vexatious law, under a yoke of the heaviest slavery (for such is marriage without love) to one who entertains for her neither attachment nor friendship, would indeed be a hardship more cruel than any divorce whatever.[38] God therefore gave laws of divorce, in their proper use most equitable and humane; he even extended the benefit of them to those whom he knew would abuse them through the hardness of their hearts, thinking it better to bear with the obduracy of the wicked, than to refrain from alleviating the misery of the righteous, or suffer the institution itself to be subverted, which, from a divine blessing, was in danger of becoming the bitterest of all calamities.

The two next passages, Ezra x. 3. and Nehem. xiii 23, 30. do not permit divorce on account of the people's hardness of heart, but positively command it for the most sacred religious reasons. On what authority did these prophets found their precept? They were not the promulgators of a new law; the law of Moses alone could be their warrant.[39] But the <330> law of Moses nowhere commands the dissolution of marriages of this kind; it only forbids the contracting of such: Exod. xxxiv. 15, 16. Deut. vii. 3, 4. whence they argued, that the marriage which ought never to have been contracted, ought, if contracted, to be dissolved. So groundless is the vulgar maxim, that what ought not to have been done, is valid when done.[40]

Marriage therefore gives place to religion; it gives place, as has been seen, to the right of a master;[41] and the right of a husband, as appears from the passages of Scripture above quoted, as well as from the whole tenor of the civil law, and the universal custom of nations, is nearly the same as that of the master. It gives way, finally, to irresistible antipathies, and to that natural aversion with which we turn from whatever is unclean; but it is nowhere represented as giving way to hardness of heart, if this latter be really alleged as the sole or principal reason for enacting the law. This appears still more evidently from Deut. xxii. 19. 'because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel, she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days:' and v. 29. <331> 'she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.' Now if the law of Moses did not give way to his hardness of heart who was desirous of putting away the virgin whom he had humbled, or to his who was willing to put away the wife against whom he had brought up an evil report, why should we imagine that it would give way to his alone who was averse from uncleanness, supposing that such aversion could properly be included under the definition of hardness of heart? Christ therefore reproves the hardness of heart of those who abused this law, that is, of the Pharisees and others, when he says, 'on account of the hardness of your hearts he permitted you to put away your wives;' but he does not abrogate the law itself, or the legitimate use of it; for he says that Moses permitted it on account of the hardness of their hearts, not that he permitted it wrongfully or improperly. In this sense almost the whole of the civil law might be said to have been given on account of the hardness of their hearts; whence Paul reproves the brethren, 1 Cor. vi. 6. because they had recourse to it, though no one argues from hence that the civil law is, or ought to be abrogated. How much less then can anyone who understands the spirit of the Gospel believe, that this latter denies what the law did not scruple to concede, either as a matter of right or of indulgence, to the infirmity of human nature?[42]


The clause in the eighth verse, 'from the beginning it was not so,' means nothing more than what was more clearly intimated above in the fourth verse, 'he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female;' namely, that marriage in its original institution was not capable of being dissolved even by death, for sin and death were not then in existence. If however the purpose of the institution should be violated by the offence of either, it was obvious that death, the consequence of that offence, must in the course of things dissolve the bond; and reason taught them that separation must frequently take place even before that period. No age or record, since the fall of man, gives a tradition of any other 'beginning' in 'which it was not so.'[43] In the earliest ages of our faith, Abraham himself, the father of the faithful, put away his contentious and turbulent wife Hagar by the command of God, Gen. xxi. 10, 12, 14.

Christ himself, v. 9. permitted a divorce for the cause of fornication; which could not have been, if those whom God had once joined in the bands of matrimony were never afterwards to be disunited. According to the idiom of the eastern languages, however, the word fornication signifies, not adultery <333> only,[44] but either what is called any unclean thing, or a defect in some particular which might justly be required in a wife, Deut xxiv, 1. (as Selden was the first to prove by numerous Rabbinical testimonies in, his Uxor Hebrĉa[45] ) or it signifies whatever is found to be irreconcilably at variance with love, or fidelity, or help, or society, that is, with the objects of the original institution; as Selden proves, and as I have myself shown in another treatise[46] from several texts <334> of Scripture. For it would have been absurd, when the Pharisees asked, whether it was allowable to put away a wife for every cause, to answer, that it was not lawful except in case of adultery, when it was well known already to be not only lawful but necessary to put away an adulteress, and that not by divorce, but by death. Fornication, therefore, must be here understood in a much wider sense than that of simple adultery, as is clear from many passages of Scripture, and particularly from Judges xix. 2. 'his concubine played the whore against him;' not by committing adultery, for in that case she would not have dared to flee to her father's house, but by refractory behaviour towards her husband.[47] Nor could Paul have allowed divorce in consequence of the departure of an unbeliever,[48] unless this also were a species of fornication. It does not affect the question, that the case alluded to is that of a heathen; since whoever deserts her family 'is worse than an infidel,' 1 Tim. v. 8. Nor could anything be more natural, or more agreeable to the original institution, than that the bond which had been formed by love, and the hope of mutual assistance through life, and honourable <335> motives, should be dissolved by hatred and implacable enmity, and disgraceful conduct on either side. For man, therefore, in his state of innocence in Paradise, previously to the entrance of sin into the world, God ordained that marriage should be indissoluble; after the fall, in compliance with the alteration of circumstances, and to prevent the innocent from being exposed to perpetual injury from the wicked, he permitted its dissolution; and this permission forms part of the law of nature and of Moses, and is not disallowed by Christ. Thus every covenant, when originally concluded, is intended to be perpetual and indissoluble, however soon it may be broken by the bad faith of one of the parties; nor has any good reason yet been given why marriage should differ in this respect from all other compacts; especially since the apostle has pronounced that a 'brother or a sister is not under bondage,' not merely in a case of desertion, but in such cases, that is, in all cases that produce an unworthy bondage.[49] 1 Cor. vii. 15. 'a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God hath called us in peace,' or 'to peace:'[50] he <336> has not therefore called us to the end that we should be harassed with constant discord and vexations; for the object of our call is peace and liberty, not marriage, much less perpetual discord and the slavish bondage of an unhappy union, which the apostle declares to be above all things unworthy of a free man and a Christian.[51] It is not to be supposed that Christ would expunge from the Mosaic law any enactment which could afford scope for the exercise of mercy towards the wretched and afflicted, or that his declaration on the present occasion was intended to have the force of a judicial decree, ordaining new and severer regulations on the subject; but that, having exposed the abuses of the law, he proceeded after his usual manner to lay down a more perfect rule of conduct, disclaiming on this, as on all other occasions, the office of a judge, and inculcating truth by simple admonition, not by compulsory decrees. It is therefore a most flagrant error to convert a gospel precept into a civil statute, and enforce it by legal penalties.

It may perhaps be asked, if the disciples understood Christ as promulgating nothing new or more severe than the existing law on the subject of divorce, how it happened that they were so little satisfied with his explanation, as to say, v. 10. 'if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry?' I answer, that it is no wonder if the disciples, who had imbibed the doctrines of their time, thought and felt like the Pharisees with regard to divorce; so that the <337> declaration of our Lord, that it was not lawful to put away a wife for every cause, only having given her a writing of divorcement, must have appeared to them a new and hard saying.[52]

The whole argument may be summed up in brief as follows. It is universally admitted that marriage may lawfully be dissolved, if the prime end and form of the institution be violated; which is generally alleged as the reason why Christ allowed divorce in cases of adultery only. But the prime end and form of marriage, as almost all acknowledge, is not the nuptial bed, but conjugal love and mutual assistance through life; for that must be regarded as the prime end and form of a rite, which is alone specified in the original institution,[53] Mention is there made of the pleasures of society, which are incompatible with <338> the isolation consequent upon aversion, and of conjugal assistance, which is afforded by love alone; not of the nuptial bed, or of the production of offspring, which may take place even without love: from whence it is evident that conjugal affection is of more importance and higher excellence than the nuptial bed itself, and more worthy to be considered as the prime end and form of the institution. No one can surely be so base and sensual as to deny this. The very cause which renders the pollution of the marriage bed so heavy a calamity, is, that in its consequences it interrupts peace and affection; much more therefore must the perpetual interruption of peace and affection by mutual differences and unkindness be a sufficient reason for granting the liberty of divorce. And that it is such, Christ himself declares in the above passage; for it is certain, and has been proved already, that fornication signifies, not so much adultery, as the constant enmity, faithlessness, and disobedience of the wife, arising from the manifest and palpable alienation of the mind, rather than of the body.[54] Not to mention, that the common, though false interpretation, by which adultery is made the sole ground of divorce, so far from vindicating the law, does in effect abrogate it; for it was ordained by the law of Moses, not that an adulteress should be put away, but that she should be brought to judgement, and punished with death.[55]


..... well thou know'st

God hath pronounc'd it death to taste that tree,

The only sign of our obedience left.

Paradise Lost, IV. 426.

..... lest the like befall

In Paradise to Adam or his race

Charg'd not to touch the interdicted tree,

If they transgress, and slight that sole command,

So easily obey'd amid the choice

Of all tastes else to please their appetite,

Though wand'ring. VII. 44.


So Bishop Taylor. 'I find in Scripture no mention made of any such covenant as is dreamt of about the matter of original sin: only the covenant of works God did make with all men till Christ came; but he did never exact it after Adam.' Works, IX. 399. And in his treatise on The Doctrine and Practice of Repentance, Gen. ii. 17. is quoted as the first of the texts to prove 'the old covenant, or the covenant of works.' VIII. 303.


'Were it merely natural, why was it here ordained more than the rest of moral law to man in his original rectitude, in whose breast all that was natural or moral was engraven without external constitutions and edicts?' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 133.


'That some of the objects in Eden were of a sacramental nature we can hardly doubt, when we read of the tree of knowledge, and of the tree of life.' Bp. Horne's Sermon on the Garden of Eden. See also his two Sermons on the Tree of Knowledge and of Life.


'Perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say, of knowing good by evil.' Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. Prose Works, I. 299.

..... the tree of knowledge grew fast by,

Knowledge of good bought dear by knowing ill.

Paradise Lost, IV. 222.


'The church began in innocency, and yet it began with a sacrament, the tree of life-.' Bp. Taylor. Works, I. 149.


See the passage quoted from our author's Tetrachordon, page 297, note.


..... from work

Now resting, bless'd and hallow'd the sev'nth day,

As resting on that day from all his work.

Paradise Lost, VII. 590.


SeeTetrachordon. 'It might be doubted, &c..... lost by her means.'

Prose Works, II. 121, 122. 'What an injury is it after wedlock..... to be contended with in point of house rule who shall be the head....."I suffer not," saith St. Paul, "the woman to usurp authority over the man." If the apostle would not suffer it, into what mould is he mortified that can?' Doctrine, &c. of Divorce, II. 36.

..... Was she made thy guide,

Superior, or but equal, that to her

Thou didst resign thy manhood, and the place

Wherein God set thee above her made of thee?

Paradise Lost, X. 146. See also XI. 291, 634-636.

Therefore God's universal law

Gave to the man despotic power

Over his female in due awe,

Nor from that right to part an hour,

Smile she or lower. Samson Agonistes, 1064.


Certain it is that whereas other nations used a liberty not unnatural, for one man to have many wives, the Britons altogether as licentious but more absurd and preposterous in their license, had one or many wives in common among ten or twelve husbands.' History of England. Prose Works, IV. 68. With the exception of this hint, I am not aware of any passage in Milton's printed works which contains a clew to his opinions respecting polygamy. His history was written just before he became Latin Secretary to the Council, about the year 1650; and it is observable that although, according to the above quotation, he appears to have been inclined in favour of the practice, he then admitted its licentiousness.


See the title to The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce; —'wherein also are set down the bad consequences of abolishing, or condemning of sin, that which the law of God allows, and Christ abolished not.' Prose Works, I. 332. 'In these opinions it would be more religion to advise well, lest we make ourselves juster than God, by censuring rashly that for sin, which his unspotted law without rebuke allows, and his people without being conscious of displeasing him have used.'Doctrine, &c . II. 32.


'But they were to look back to the first institution; nay rather why was not that individual institution brought out of Paradise, as was that of the Sabbath, and repeated in the body of the law, that man might have understood it to be a command?' Doctrine, &c. II. 29.


Though the words of this difficult clause are rendered very variously by the different commentators, yet, with the exception of Grotius, who explains the passage with reference to the origin of souls ex traduce from our natural parents, nearly all agree in considering it as an argument against polygamy. The interpretation which Milton seems to prefer, is suggested by Tirinus and Menochius. See Poole's Synopsis in loc.


'It wrought so little disorder among the Jews, that from Moses till after the captivity, not one of the prophets thought it worth the rebuking; for that of Malachi well looked into will appear to be not against divorcing, but rather against keeping strange concubines, to the vexation of the Hebrew wives.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 61. 'He that reads attentively will soon perceive, that God blames not here the Jews for putting away their wives, but for keeping strange concubines, to the profaning of Judah's holiness, and the vexation of their Hebrew wives, v. 11. and 14. Judah hath married the daughter of a strange god: and exhorts them rather to put away their wives whom they hate, as the law permitted, than to keep them under such affronts. And it is received, that this prophet lived in those times of Ezra and Nehemiah (nay by some it is thought to be Ezra himself) when the people were forced by these two worthies to put their strange wives away. So that what the story of those times, and the plain context of the 11th verse, from whence this rebuke begins, can give us to conjecture of the obscure and curt Ebraisms that follow, this prophet does not forbid putting away, but forbids keeping, and commands putting away according to God's law, which is the plainest interpreter both of what God will, and what he can best suffer.' Tetrachordon, II. 146.


The original of this sentence affords no satisfactory sense. 'Id ejusmodi est profecto, ut argumentum ipsum pro adulterio sit protinus repudiandum.' The fondness for that play upon words which is so characteristic of Milton, and of which, as has been already observed (see p. 17.) this treatise furnishes numerous examples, renders it not improbable that it was originally written pro adulterino; for which the amenuensis employed in transcribing this part of the manuscript, substituted the more common word adulterio.


..... Love's due rites, nuptial embraces sweet.

Paradise Lost, X. 994.


'Deinde, si valeret Ochini argumentum, profecto non tantum polygamiam sed etiam incestus probaret; si quidem consanguinei uxoris eodem gradu junguntur viro quo ipsi uxori. Itaque non magis licuit Davidi ducere uxoris suĉ Michal novercas, quam suam ipsius novercam.' Beza De Polygamia.


'Sciunt enim qui labris aliquanto primoribus evangelium gustarunt, ecclesiĉ gubernationem divinam esse totam ac spiritualem, non civilem.' Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio. Prose Works, V. 196.


..... where stood

Her temple on th'offensive mountain, built

By that uxorious king, whose heart, though large,

Beguil'd by fair idolatresses, fell

To idols foul. Paradise Lost, I. 442.

Women, when nothing else, beguil'd the heart

Of wisest Solomon, and made him build,

And made him bow to the gods of his wives.

Paradise Regained, II. 160.


'The 18th chapter (of Bucer's Kingdom of Christ) I only mention as determining a thing not here in question, that marriage without consent of parents ought not to be held good, yet with this qualification fit to be known,' &c. Prose Works, II. 81. 'It is generally held by reformed writers against the Papist, that..... the father not consenting, his main will without dispute shall dissolve all..... Because the general honour due to parents is great, they hold he may, and perhaps hold not amiss.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 136.


'There must be a joint consent and good liking on both sides.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 366. 'This brings in the parties' consent; until which be, the marriage hath no true being.' Tetrachordon, II. 143.


'His drift, as was heard before, is plain; not to command our stay in marriage with an infidel; that had been a flat renouncing of the religious and moral law; but to inform the Corinthians, that the body of an unbeliever was not defiling, if his desire to live in Christian wedlock showed any likelihood that his heart was opening to the faith; and therefore advises to forbear departure so long till nothing have been neglected to set forward a conversion; this I say he advises-.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 365. See also Tetrachordon: 'I cannot see by this golden dependence —not an endless servitude.' II. 123, 124. and pp. 206-218.


'What is not therefore among the causes constituting marriage, must not stay in the definition. Those causes are concluded to be matter, and, as the artist calls it,form..... First, therefore, the material cause of matrimony is man and woman; the author and efficient, God and their consent; the internal form and soul of this relation is conjugal love arising from a mutual fitness to the final causes of wedlock, help and society in religious, civil, and domestic conversation, which includes as an inferior end the fulfilling of natural desire, and specifical increase; these are the final causes both moving the efficient, and perfecting the form.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 140. See also p. 143. 'Marriage is a divine institution —common duty than matrimonial.'


'If we speak of a command in the strictest definition, then marriage itself is no more a command than divorce; but only a free permission to him that cannot contain,' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 13.


'Whatever hypocrites austerely talk

Of purity, and place, and innocence,

Defaming as impure what God declares

Pure, and commands to some, leaves free to all.

Our Maker bids increase; who bids abstain

But our Destroyer, foe to God and Man ?

Paradise Lost, IV. 744.


This is in direct opposition to the sentiments attributed to Adam in his original innocency.

..... to have thee by my side

Henceforth an individual solace dear.

Paradise Lost, IV 485.


The same comment upon the passage in Genesis occurs elsewhere, and is remarked by Newton as a beautiful climax.

For this cause he shall forego

Father and mother, and to his wife adhere;

And they shall be one flesh, one heart, one soul.

VIII. 497.

And again, Eve, replying to Adam, who had said, 'we are one flesh.'

Adam, from whose dear side I boast me sprung.

And gladly of our union hear thee speak,

One heart, one soul in both. IX. 965.


'Lastly, Christ himself tells who should not be put asunder, namely, those whom God hath joined. A plain solution of this great controversy, if men would but use their eyes; for when is it that God may be said to join?..... only then when the minds are fitly disposed and enabled to maintain a cheerful conversation, to the solace and love of each other, according as God intended and promised in the very first foundation of matrimony; "I will make him a help meet for him:" for surely what God intended and promised, that only can be thought to be his joining, and not the contrary.' Doctrine, &c. II. 39. 'But here the Christian prudence lies, to consider what God hath joined: shall we say that God hath joined error, fraud, unfitness, wrath, contention, perpetual loneliness, perpetual discord; whatever lust, or wine, or witchery, threat or enticement, avarice or ambition hath joined together, faithful and unfaithful, Christian with anti-christian, hate with hate, or hate with love, shall we say this is God's joining?' Tetrachordon, Prose Works, II. 178.


'It is error or some evil angel which either blindly or maliciously hath drawn together, in two persons ill embarked in wedlock, the sleeping discords and enmities of nature.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 370. 'The rest whom either disproportion or deadness of spirit, or something distasteful and averse in the immutable bent of nature renders conjugal, error may have joined, but God never joined against the meaning of his own ordinance.' Ibid. II. 40. 'Charity and wisdom disjoins that which not God, but error and disaster joined.' Tetrachordon, II. 203.


Once join'd, the contrary she proves, a thorn

Intestine, far within defensive arms

A cleaving mischief. Samson Agonistes, 1036.


'The occasion which induced our Saviour to speak of divorce, was either to convince the extravagance of the Pharisees in that point, or to give a sharp and vehement answer to a tempting question.' Doctrine,

&c. Prose Works, II. 2.


'Now that many licentious and hard-hearted men took hold of this law to cloke their bad purposes, is nothing strange to believe, and these were they, not for whom Moses made the law, (God forbid) but whose hardness of heart taking ill advantage by this law he held it better to suffer as by accident, where it could not be detected, rather than good men should lose their just and lawful privilege of remedy; Christ therefore having to answer these tempting Pharisees, according as his custom was, not meaning to inform their proud ignorance what Moses did in the true intent of the law, which they had ill-cited, suppressing the true cause for which Moses gave it, and extending it to every slight matter, tells them their own, what Moses was forced to suffer by their abuse of his law.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 21. See also p. 42. 'Moses had granted —contentious cause whatsoever.' Again; 'This was that hardness of heart, and abuse of a good law, which Moses was content to suffer, rather than good men should not have it at all to use needfully.' Ibid. p. 50. 'Why did God permit this to his people the Jews, but that the right and good which came directly thereby, was more in his esteem than the wrong and evil which came by accident?' Colasterion. Prose Works, II. 251.


Quandoquidem in iis tantum vitĉ momentum vel beatĉ vel miserĉ positum esse judicavit; an expression which will be best illustrated by the author himself:

..... each on himself relied,

As only in his arm the moment lay

Of victory. Paradise Lost, VI. 237.


'Lastly, it gives place to the right of war, for a captive woman lawfully married, and afterwards not beloved, might be dismissed, only without ransom; Deut. xxi.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 156.


'Cleave to a wife, but let her be a wife, let her be a meet help, a solace, not a nothing, not an adversary, not a desertrice; can any law or command be so unreasonable, as to make men cleave to calamity, to ruin, to perdition?' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 137.


'This law the Spirit of God by the mouth of Solomon, Prov. xxx. 21, 23. testifies to be a good and a necessary law, by granting it that a hated woman (for so the Hebrew word signifies rather than odious, though it come all to one) that a hated woman, when she is married, is a thing that the earth cannot bear.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 21.


'If Solomon's advice be not overfrolic, live joyfully, saith he, with the wife whom thou lovest, all thy days, for that is thy portion..... Yea, God himself commands us in his law more than once, and by his prophet Malachi, as Calvin and the best translations read, that he who hates, let him divorce, that is, he who cannot love.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 358. 'Although this place also hath been tampered with, as if it were to be thus rendered —The Lord God saith, that he hateth putting away. But this new interpretation rests only in the authority of Junius; for neither Calvin, nor Vatablus himself, nor any other known divine so interpreted before,' &c. Tetrachordon II. 146. Sibi odio esse dimissionem ait Jehova Deus Israelis. Junius. Si odio habueris, dimitte, ait Dominus Deus Israelis. Lat. Vulg. It appears from Poole's Synopsis that the version of Piscator is the only one which agrees with Junius.


'To retain still, and not be able to love, is to heap up more injury.' Doctrine, &c. of Divorce. Prose Works, I. 355. And again —'not to be beloved, and yet retained, is the greatest injury to a gentle spirit.' Ibid. 'Not he who after sober and cool experience, and long debate within himself, puts away whom, though he cannot love or suffer as a wife with that sincere affection that marriage requires, yet loves at least with that civility and goodness, as not to keep her under a neglected and unwelcome residence, when nothing can be hearty, and not being, it must needs be both unjoyous and injurious to any perceiving person so detained, and more injurious than to be freely and upon good terms dismissed.' Tetrachordon. II. 196.


'This command thus gospellized to us, hath the same force with that thereon Ezra grounded the pious necessity of divorcing. Neither had he other commission for what he did, than such a general command in Deuteronomy as this, nay not so direct, for he is bid there not to marry but not bid to divorce,' &c. Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 362.


'"But," saith the lawyer, "that which ought not to have been done, once done, avails." I answer, this is but a crotchet of the law, but that brought against it is plain Scripture.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, 1. 365.


'The law of marriage gives place to the power of parents; for we hold that consent of parents not had may break the wedlock, though else accomplished. It gives place to masterly power, for the master might take away from a Hebrew servant the wife which he gave him, Exod. xxi,' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 156.


'O perverseness ! that the law should be made more provident of peace-making than the gospel; that the gospel should be put to beg a most necessary help of mercy from the law, but must not have it!' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 358. See also book II. chap. vii. 'But if those indulgences, &c. —work of our redemption.' II. 19. 20.


'From the beginning, that is to say, by the institution in Paradise, it was not intended that matrimony should dissolve for every trivial cause as you Pharisees accustom. But that it was not thus suffered from the beginning ever since the race of men corrupted, and laws were made, he who will affirm must have found out other antiquities than are yet known. Besides, we must consider now, what can be so as from the beginning, not only what should be so. In the beginning, had men continued perfect, it had been just that all things should have remained, as they began to Adam and Eve,' &c. Tetrachordon Prose Works, II. 192.


'For the language of Scripture signifies by fornication..... not only the trespass of body..... but signifies also any notable disobedience, or intractable carriage of the wife to the husband.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 198.


See Book III. Chap. xxii. and xxvii. Selden is quoted again with approbation in the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. 'Let him hasten to be acquainted with that noble volume written by our learned Selden, "Of the Law of Nature and of Nations," a work more useful and more worthy to be perused by whosoever studies to be a great man in wisdom, equity, and justice,' &c. Prose Works, ii. 59. He calls him also in the Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, 'the chief of learned men reported in this land.' I. 298. Again, in his Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano, referring to the treatise here quoted, he says, 'quid item de excepta solum fornicatione sentiendum sit, et meam aliorumque sententiam exprompsi, et clarissimus vir Seldenus noster, in Uxore Hebrĉa plus minus biennio post edita, uberius demonstravit.' V. 234.


This is the only direct reference to any of Milton's printed works which this treatise contains. The allusion is to a passage in Tetrachordon, where the author explains the text, saving for the cause of fornication. Prose Works II. 197-201. It has been generally supposed that Milton's opinions on the subject of divorce were influenced by the well-known circumstances connected with his first marriage, and Warton says that he published Tetrachordon in consequence. Some probability seems to have been given to this conjecture by the passage quoted in the 2d note on page 327. But though Milton's attention may have been first directed to this subject by his own domestic unhappiness, it is evident from the work now published, that his sentiments respecting divorce were deliberately conceived, and that the treatises which he printed during his life time were not merely intended to serve a temporary purpose in which he was personally interested.


'Grotius shows also, that fornication is taken in Scripture for such a continual headstrong behaviour, as tends to plain contempt of the husband, and proves it out of Judg. xix. 2. where the Levite's wife is said to have played the whore against him ; which Josephus and the Septuagint, with the Chaldean, interpret only of stubbornness and rebellion against her husband..... Had it been whoredom, she would have chosen any other place to run to than to her father's house, it being so infamous for a Hebrew woman to play the harlot, and so opprobrious to the parents. Fornication then in this place of the Judges is understood for stubborn disobedience against the husband, and not for adultery.' Doctrine &c. II. 46.


See 1 Cor. vii. 15.


'St. Paul leaves us here the solution not of this case only, which little concerns us, but of such like cases which may occur to us.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, II. 216.


'Having declared his opinion in one case, he leaves a further liberty for Christian prudence to determine in cases of like importance, using words so plain as not to be shifted off, that a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, adding also that God hath called us to peace in marriage. Now if it be plain that a Christian may be brought into unworthy bondage, and his religious peace not only interrupted now and then, but perpetually and finally hindered in wedlock, by misyoking with a diversity of nature as well as of religion, the reasons of St. Paul cannot be made special to that one case of infidelity, but are of equal moment to a divorce wherever Christian liberty and peace are without fault equally obstructed.' Doctrine &c. II. 48.


'St.Paul here warrants us to seek peace rather than to remain in bondage. If God hath called us to peace, why should not we follow him? why should we miserably stay in perpetual discord under a servitude not required? Tetrachordan, II. 215


'But if it be thought that the disciples, offended at the rigour of Christ's answer, could yet obtain no mitigation of the former sentence pronounced to the Pharisees, it may be fully answered, that our Saviour continues the same reply to his disciples, as men leavened with the same customary license which the Pharisees maintained, and displeased at the removing of a traditional abuse, whereto they had so long not unwillingly been used.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, II. 25. 'Some may think, if this our Saviour's sentence be so fair, as not commanding aught that patience or nature cannot brook, why then did the disciples murmur and say, It is not good to marry? I answer, that the disciples had been longer bred up under the Pharisĉan doctrine, than under that of Christ, and so no marvel though they yet retained the infection of loving old licentious customs; no marvel though they thought it hard they might not for any offence, that thoroughly angered them, divorce a wife, as well as put away a servant, since it was but giving her a bill, as they were taught.' Tetrachordon, II. 204.


'For although God in the first ordaining of marriage taught us to what end he did it, in words expressly implying the apt and chearful conversation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evil of solitary life, not mentioning the purpose of generation till afterwards, as being but a secondary end in dignity, though not in necessity,' &c. Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Prose Works, I. 343.


'Thus much that the word fornication is to be understood as the language of Christ understands it, for a constant alienation and disaffection of mind, or for the continual practice of disobedience and crossness from the duties of love and peace.' Tetrachordon, II. 200.


'And also that there was no need our Saviour should grant divorce for adultery, it being death by law, and law then in force.' Ibid, II. 199.

İ 2013 The Newton Project

Professor Rob Iliffe
Director, AHRC Newton Papers Project

Scott Mandelbrote,
Fellow & Perne librarian, Peterhouse, Cambridge

University of Sussex, East Sussex - BN1 9SH - newtonproject@sussex.ac.uk

Privacy Statement

Sponsored by:

  • University of Sussex
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • JISC