is confessed by all that adultery is a just and sufficient cause of a
divorce betwixt married persons.
divorce, say some, consists in a dissolution "vinculi matrimonialis,"
and so removes the marriage relation as that the innocent person divorcing
or procuring the divorce is at liberty to marry again.
Others say that
it is only a separation "a mensa et thoro," and that on this
account it doth not nor ought to dissolve the marriage relation.
am of the judgment of the former; for,–
This divorce "a mensa et thoro" only is no true divorce, but a
mere fiction of a divorce, of no use in this case, nor lawful to be made use
of, neither by the law of nature nor the law of God; for,–
It is, as stated,
but a late invention, of no use in the world, nor known in more ancient
times: for those of the Roman church who assert it do grant that divorces by
the law of nature were "a vinculo," and that so they were also
under the old testament; and this fiction they would impose on the grace and
state of the gospel, which yet makes indeed no alteration in moral relations
and duties, but only directs their performance.
It is deduced from a fiction, –
namely, that marriage among Christians is a sacrament of that signification
as renders it indissolvable; and therefore they would have it to take place
only amongst believers, the rest of mankind being left to their natural
right and privilege. But this is a fiction, and as such in sundry cases they
make use of it.
A divorce perpetual "a mensa et thoro" only is no way useful to
mankind, but hurtful and noxious; for,–
It would constitute a new condition or state of life, wherein it is not
possible that a man should either have a wife, or not have a wife lawfully,
in one of which estates yet really every man capable of the state of wedlock
is and must be, whether he will or no; for a man may, as things may be
circumstantiated, be absolutely bound in conscience not to receive her again
who was justly repudiated for adultery, nor can he take another on this
divorce. But into this estate God calls no man.
It may, and probably will, cast a man under a necessity of sinning: for
suppose he hath not the gift of continency, it is the express will of God
that he should marry for his relief; yet on this supposition, he sins if he
does so, and in that he sins if he doth not so.
It is unlawful; for if the bond of marriage abide, the relation still
continues. This relation is the foundation of all mutual duties; and whilst
all that continues, none can dispense with or prohibit from the performance
of those duties. If a woman do continue in the relation of a wife to a man,
she may claim the duties of marriage from him. Separation there may be by
consent for a season, or upon other occasions, that may hinder the actual
discharge of conjugal duties; but to make an obligation unto such duties
void, whilst the relation doth continue, is against the law of nature and
the law of God. This divorce, therefore, supposing the relation of man and
wife between any, and no mutual duty thence to arise, is unlawful.
The light of nature never directed to this kind of divorce. Marriage is an
ordinance of the law of nature; but in the light and reason thereof there is
no intimation of any such practice. It still directed that they who might
justly put away their wives might marry others. Hence some, as the ancient
Grecians, and the Romans afterward, allowed the husband to kill the
adulteress. This among the Romans was changed "lege Julia," but
the offence [was] still made capital. In the room hereof, afterward, divorce
took place purposely to give the innocent person liberty of marriage. So
that this kind of divorce is but a fiction.
first opinion, therefore, is according to truth; for,–
That which dissolves the form of marriage and destroys all the forms of
marriage doth dissolve the bond of marriage; for take away the form and end
of any moral relation, and the relation itself ceaseth. But this is done by
adultery, and a divorce ensuing thereon. For the form of marriage consisteth
in this, that two become "one flesh," Gen. ii. 24; Matt. xix. 6;–
but this is dissolved by adultery; for the adulteress becometh one flesh
with the adulterer, 1 Cor. vi. 16, and no longer one flesh in individual
society with her husband, and so it absolutely breaks the bond or covenant
of marriage. And how can men contend that is a bond which is absolutely
broken, or fancy a "vinculum" that doth not bind? and that it
absolutely destroys all the forms of marriage will be granted. It therefore
dissolves the bond of marriage itself.
If the innocent party upon a divorce be not set at liberty, then,–
He is deprived of his right by the sin of another; which is against the law
and so every wicked woman hath it in her power to deprive her husband of his
The divorce in case of adultery, pointed by our Saviour to the innocent
person to make use of, is, as all confess, for his liberty, advantage, and
relief. But on supposition that he may not marry, it would prove a snare and
a yoke unto him; for if hereon he hath not the gift of continency, he is
exposed to sin and judgment.
Our blessed Saviour gives express direction in the case, Matt. xix. 9,
"Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and
shall marry another, committeth adultery." Hence it is evident, and is
the plain sense of the words, that he who putteth away his wife for
fornication and marrieth another doth not commit adultery. Therefore the
bond of marriage in that case is dissolved, and the person that put away his
wife is at liberty to marry. While he denies putting away and marrying again
for every cause, the exception of fornication allows both putting away and
marrying again in that case; for an exception always affirms the contrary
unto what is denied in the rule whereunto it is an exception, or denies what
is affirmed in it in the case comprised in the exception; for every
exception is a particular proposition contradictory to the general rule, so
that when the one is affirmative, the other is negative, and on the
contrary. The rule here in general is affirmative: He that putteth away his
wife and marries another committeth adultery. The exception is negative: But
he that putteth away his wife for fornication and marrieth another doth not
commit adultery. Or they may be otherwise conceived, so that the general
rule shall be negative, and the exception is affirmative: It is not lawful
to put away a wife and marry another; it is adultery. Then the exception is:
It is lawful for a man to put away his wife for fornication, and marry
another. And this is the nature of all such exceptions, as I could manifest
in instances of all sorts.
is to no purpose to except that the other evangelists (Mark x. 11, 12, Luke
xvi. 18) do not express the exception insisted on; for,–
It is twice used by Matthew, chap. v. 32, and chap. xix. 9, and therefore
was assuredly used by our Saviour.
It is a rule owned by all, that where the same thing is reported by several
evangelists, the briefer, short, more imperfect expressions, are to be
measured and interpreted by the fuller and larger. And every rule in any
place is to be limited by an exception annexed unto it in any one place
whatever; and there is scarce any general rule but admitteth of an
is more vain to answer that our Saviour speaketh with respect unto the Jews
only, and what was or was not allowed among them; for,–
In this answer he reduces things to the law of creation and their primitive
institution. He declares what was the law of marriage and the nature of that
relation antecedent to the law and institution of Moses; and so, reducing
things to the law of nature, gives a rule directive to all mankind in this
The Pharisees inquired of our Saviour about such a divorce as was absolute,
and gave liberty of marriage after it; for they never heard of any other.
The pretended separation "a mensa et thoro" only was never heard
of in the old testament. Now, if our Saviour doth not answer concerning the
same divorce about which they inquired, but another which they knew nothing
of, he doth not answer them, but delude them;–
they ask after one thing, and he answers another in nothing to their
purpose. But this is not to be admitted; it were blasphemy to imagine it.
Wherefore, denying the causes of divorce which they allowed, and asserting
fornication to be a just cause thereof, he allows, in that case, of that
divorce which they inquired about, which was absolute and from the bond of
the apostle Paul expressly sets the party at liberty to marry who is
maliciously and obstinately deserted, affirming that the Christian religion
doth not prejudice the natural right and privilege of men in such cases: 1
Cor. vii. 15, "If the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or
sister is not under bondage in such cases." If a person obstinately
depart, on pretence of religion or otherwise, and will no more cohabit with
a husband or wife, it is known that, by the law of nature and the usage of
all nations, the deserted party, because, without his or her default, all
the ends of marriage are frustrated, is at liberty to marry. But it may be
it is not so among Christians. What shall a brother or a sister that is a
Christian do in this case, who is so departed from? Saith the apostle,
"They are not in bondage, they are free,–
at liberty to marry again."
is the constant doctrine of all protestant churches in the world; and it
hath had place in the government of these nations, for Queen Elizabeth was
born during the life of Queen Katharine, from whom her father was divorced.
of John Owen, Vol. 16, Banner
of Truth 1991. pp 254-257.