Page images


his ungirt permiffions, his venial and unvenial dispenses, wherewith the law of God pardoning and unpardoning hath been shamefully branded for want of heed in gloffing, to have eluded and baffled out all faith and chastity from the marriage bed of that holy feed, with politic and judicial adulteries. I feek not to feduce the fimple and illiterate; my errand is to find out the choiceft and the learnedeft, who have this high gift of wisdom to answer folidly, or to be convinced. I crave it from the piety, the learning, and the prudence which is houfed in this place. It might perhaps more fitly have been written in another tongue: and I had done fo, but that the efteem I have of my country's judgment, and the love I bear to my native language to ferve it firft with what I endeavour, made me speak it thus, ere I affay the verdict of outlandish readers. And perhaps alfo here I might have ended nameless, but that the address of these lines chiefly to the parliament of England might have feemed ingrateful not to acknowledge by whofe religious care, unwearied watchfulness, couragious and heroic refolutions, I enjoy the peace and ftudious leifure to remain, The Honourer and Attendant of their noble Worth and Virtues,

[blocks in formation]








That man is the occafion of his own miferies in moft of those evils which he imputes to God's inflicting. The abfurdity of our canonifts in their decrees about divorce. The Chriftian imperial laws framed with more equity. The opinion of Hugo Grotius and Paulus Fagius: And the purpose in general of this discourse.


ANY men, whether it be their fate or fond opinion, eafily perfuade themselves, if God would but be pleased a while to withdraw his juft punishments from us, and to restrain what power either the devil or any earthly enemy hath to work us wo, that then man's nature would find immediate rest and releasement from all evils. But verily they who think fo, if they be fuch as have a mind large enough to take into their thoughts a general furvey of human things, would foon prove themselves in that opinion far deceived. For though it were granted us by divine indulgence to be exempt from all that can be harmful to us from without, yet the perverseness of our folly is fo bent, that we fhould never lin hammering out of our own hearts, as it were out of a flint, the feeds and sparkles of new mifery to ourselves, till all were in a blaze again. And no marvel if out of our own


hearts, for they are evil; but even out of those things which God meant us, either for a principal good, or a pure contentment, we are still hatching and contriving upon ourselves matter of continual forrow and perplexity. What greater good to man than that revealed rule, whereby God vouchfafes to fhow us how he would be worshipped? And yet that not rightly understood became the cause, that once a famous man in Ifrael could not but oblige his confcience to be the facrificer; or if not, the gaolor of his innocent and only daughter: and was the cause ofttimes that armies of valiant men have given up their throats to a heathenifh enemy on the fabbath day; fondly thinking their defenfive refiftance to be as then a work unlawful. What thing more inftituted to the folace and delight of man than marriage? And yet the misinterpreting of fome Scripture, directed mainly against the abufers of the law for divorce given by Mofes, hath changed the bleffing of matrimony not feldom into a familiar and coinhabiting mischief; at least into a drooping and difconfolate household captivity, without refuge or redemption. So ungoverned and fo wild a race doth fuperftition run us, from one extreme of abused liberty into the other of unmerciful restraint. For although God in the firft ordaining of marriage taught us to what end he did it, in words exprefsly implying the apt and cheerful converfation of man with woman, to comfort and refresh him against the evil of folitary life, not mentioning the purpose of generation till afterwards, as being but a secondary end in dignity, though not in neceffity: yet now, if any two be but once handed in the church, and have tafted in any fort the nuptial bed, let them find themselves never fo miftaken in their difpofitions through any errour, concealment, or misadventure, that through their different tempers, thoughts, and conftitutions, they can neither be to one another a remedy against loneliness, nor live in any union or contentment all their days; yet they fhall, fo they be but found fuitably weaponed to the leaft poffibility of fenfual enjoyment, be made, fpight of antipathy, to fadge together, and combine as they may to their unfpeakable wearifomeness, and defpair of all fociable de

Z 4


light in the ordinance which God eftablished to that very end. What a calamity is this, and as the wife man, if he were alive, would figh out in his own phrafe, what a "fore evil is this under the fun !" All which we can refer juftly to no other author than the canon law and her adherents, not confulting with charity, the interpreter and guide of our faith, but refting in the mere element of the text; doubtlefs by the policy of the devil to make that gracious ordinance become unfupportable, that what with men not daring to venture upon wedlock, and what with men wearied out of it, all inordinate licence might abound. It was for many ages that marriage lay in difgrace with most of the ancient doctors, as a work of the flesh, almost a defilement, wholly denied to priests, and the second time diffuaded to all, as he that reads Tertullian or Jerom may fee at large. Afterwards it was thought fo facramental, that no adultery or defertion could diffolve it; and this is the fenfe of our canon courts in England to this day, but in no other reformed church elfe: yet there remains in them alfo a burden on it as heavy as the other two were difgraceful or fuperftitious, and of as much iniquity, croffing a law not only written by Mofes, but charactered in us by nature, of more antiquity and deeper ground than marriage itfelf; which law is to force nothing against the faultless proprieties of nature, yet that this may be colourably done, our Saviour's words touching divorce are as it were congealed into a ftony rigour, inconfiftent both with his doctrine and his office; and that which he preached only to the confcience is by canonical tyranny fnatched into the compulfive cenfure of a judicial court; where laws are impofed even against the venerable and fecret power of nature's impreffion, to love, whatever cause be found to loath which is a henious barbarifm both agaift the honour of marriage, the dignity of man and his foul, the goodness of chriftianity, and all the human respects of civility. Notwithstanding that some the wifeft and graveft among the chriftian emperors, who had about them, to confult with, thofe of the fathers then living; who for their learning and holinefs of life are still with us in great renown, have made their ftatutes and edicts concerning

concerning this debate far more eafy and relenting in many neceffary cafes, wherein the canon is inflexible. And Hugo Grotius, a man of these times, one of the best learned, feems not obfcurely to adhere in his perfuafion to the equity of those imperial decrees, in his notes upon the Evangelifts; much allaying the outward roughness of the text, which hath for the most part been too immoderately expounded; and excites the diligence of others to inquire further into this queftion, as containing many points that have not yet been explained. Which ever likely to remain intricate and hopeless upon the fuppofitions commonly stuck to, the authority of Paulus Fagius, one fo learned and fo eminent in England once, if it might perfuade, would straight acquaint us with a folution of thefe differences no lefs prudent than compendious. He, in his comment on the Pentateuch, doubted not to maintain that divorces might be as lawfully permitted by the magiftrate to chriftians, as they were to the jews. But because he is but brief, and these things of great confequence not to be kept obfcure, I fhall conceive it nothing above my duty, either for the difficulty or the cenfure that may pass thereon, to communicate fuch thoughts as I also have had, and do offer them now in this general labour of reformation to the candid view both of church and magiftrate: efpecially because I see it the hope of good men, that thofe irregular and unfpiritual courts have fpun their utmost date in this land, and fome better courfe muft now be conftituted. This therefore fhall be the task and period of this difcourfe to prove, first, that other reasons of divorce, befides adultery, were by the law of Mofes, and are yet to be allowed by the chriftian magiftrate as a piece of juftice, and that the words of Christ are not hereby contraried. Next, that to prohibit abfolutely any divorce whatsoever, except those which Mofes excepted, is against the reafon of law, as in due place I fhall fhow out of Fagius with many additions. He therefore who by adventuring, shall be fo happy as with fuccefs to light the way of fuch an expedient liberty and truth as this, fhall reftore the much wronged and over forrowed state of matrimony, not only to thofe merciful and life giving remedies

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »