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exercise of this authority, he was not obliged to bring the case into a court of justice, but might discharge her privately, by only giving her a written declaration that she was dismissed: nor was he limited by this law to particular cases of great offence; but it rested entirely in the breast of the husband to determine when it was proper or improper to be done. Yet, although the husband was left sole judge in the case, this did not take away his guilt if he exercised his authority improperly, and dismissed his wife for light and frivolous reasons: it only freed him from temporal penalties in doing it. This absolute authority over their wives was committed to the Jewish husbands, on account of the hardness of their hearts, as Christ tells us in another place; or to prevent a greater evil, the cruel usage or even murder of the wife, if she were inseparably tied to her husband. That there should be danger of such mischiefs in this relation, we are not to wonder, when it is considered, that the law of many ancient nations gave to the husband a power of life and death over the wife; and that the Jews had been a probably accustomed to similar ideas, which made this indulgence proper.
32. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, rather, “adultery,” causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery.
The law indulges you with supreme authority over your wives, and enables you to dissolve your marriage, whenever you please; but do you see to it that you exercise so great a power with humanity; and be assured that no divorce will please God, which is not called for by the highest necessity. In this language there is nothing inconsistent with the law of Moses: Christ
only requires that they observe it in a stricter manner .than that in which it was explained by their own in
terpreters. From a question put to Christ by the Pha. risees, (Matt. xix. S.) it appears, that some among them maintained that it was lawful to put away a wife for every cause.
To divorce for every offence would be cruel and inhuman: a Christian is ordered to be kind towards his very enemies; surely therefore he ought not to be implacable towards the companion of his life. Is she never then to be dismissed, whatever offence she may commit; even if her affections are entirely alienated from her husband, and she gives her person to another? Yes. The same equity which had before consulted the benefit of the woman, by prohibiting unnecessary separations, would here consult the benefit of the man, by allowing him to dismiss an adulterous woman. The laws of Christianity have their origin and completion in benevolence, and only require us so far to consult the welfare of others, as not to be cruel to ourselves.--
of adultery: for he says, “ saving for the cause of fornication,” or, as the word is better rendered, adultery; and it is the effect of an exception to a general position, to give the remaining part of the position unlimited extent. But it may be asked, may there not be the same equity in a divorce in other cases as there is in this, although the offences may be less common, and therefore less worthy of being mentioned? What if one of the parties should be found forming a design against the life of the other; or be guilty of murdering their common children? Are these offences less atrocious, or less inconsistent with the design of marriage, than adultery? On this account it has been thought that Christ mentioned adultery, rather as an example of that kind of offence which amounted to a dissolution of the marriage-bond, than as the only instance in which it was proper that it should be dissolved: in the same manner as when provision is made in the law of Moses for the man-slayer, Deut. xix. 5. the only case mentioned, in which a man would deserve that character, is that of the axe's head flying from the helve, while he was cutting timber, and its smiting his neighbour; though many instances besides this might occur of a man's being the innocent and involuntary cause of the death of another: in both cases the more common kind of fact is mentioned, from which others of a like nature may be collected
But it is not every instance of adultery, or other equally heinous offence, that will justify a divorce.---A reconciliation or reformation is first to be attempted; the persons united to each other are mutual counsellors; and, where either of the parties has offended, in any of these ways, it is the duty of the one to administer advice and reproof, and of the other to attend to it: there must be room left for repentance on one side, and for pardon on the other; and it is only when these methods have failed of success that extreme measures are to be resorted to.
“Whosoever shall put away his wife saving for the cause of adultery, causeth her to commit adultery." The law permitted the woman divorced to marry again; but it might and often did happen, that the woman who was thus marked with the disgrace of a divorce, was prevented from receiving any honourable offers, and, being deprived of the hope of marriage, formed unlawful connections, which are sometimes signified by the word here translated adultery. The blame of this action Christ justly lays on him who, for light reasons, cruelly divorces from him a woman who has entrusted herself to his protection, and who , is convicted of no crime that can justify such treatment. Or, if her virtue should not be contaminated, what might happen is imputed to him as much as if it had actually taken place; for it was not owing to him that the affair did not end in the very worst manner.
“ Whosoever marries her that is put away, committeth adultery.” If a woman was divorced unjustly, there does not appear any harm in marrying an injured person, whose virtue was endangered: this therefore is to be understood of those who receive divorced women as their wives, before all methods had been tried for reconciling the parties. He falls into the crime of adultery, who destroys the hope of restoring harmony, by offering a new marriage. Whatever is injurious to the married state, is adultery in the estimation of God;
therefore he is guilty of it, who interposes himself to prevent the return of affection after a little coldness.
33. Again; ye have heard that it hath been said to them of old: Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths.
That man forswears, or perjures, himself, who takes an oath with an intention of deceiving, or who does not fulfil his promise. The reason why the person fulfilling his path is said to perform it to God, is because he who promises any thing to man, calling upon God to witness it, and to avenge his perjury, binds himself, at the same time, to the Supreme Being.--Hence it appears that Christ here speaks of vows and promissory oaths relating to things future; for it is only with respect to such that any order could be made with respect to performing them; and these oaths or vows were voluntary.
34. But I say unto you, swear not at all ; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne;
35. Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem ; for it is the city of the great king:
36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head; because thou canst not make one hair white or black, or, as some read it, “ one white hair, black.”
By the law of Moses, Jews were to swear only by the name of the Lord, that is Jehovah; and all the Jews of Jesus' day looked upon themselves as bound to perform such vows or oaths: but, to keep in their own power, as they thought, the performance of their promissory oaths and vows, they chose to swear, not by the name of Jehovah, but by other things; such as heaven, earth, their head, Jerusalem, the temple and the altar. When they made oaths or vows to the two last of these, we are told, they said it is nothing, Matt. xxii. 16, 18. that is, they do not bind; and probably their opinion was the same about the four former: but Christ here shews that these are wretched subterfuges for a bad practice; because that in these forms of swearing there was a secret reference to God. Heaven is here called the throne of God, from Isaiah lxi. 1. “ Thus saith the Lord: the heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool;" and it has that name given it because, by being adorned with bcautiful stars, and by displaying equable and perpetual motions, the divine majesty is best set forth there; as the glory of kings is most conspicuous when they sit upon their thrones. The earth is called his footstool, to express its meanness when compared to the heavens. Jerusalem is called the city of the great king, from Ps. xlviii. 2. “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion: on the sides of the north, the city of the great king." God was the king of Israel in a political sense; and the place of his particular residence was the temple in the city of Jerusalem.
The reason assigned for not swearing by the head is, that we cannot change the smallest part of it, not even so as to make one hair white or black. This is a proof that it is in the hands of God, and that there is a secret reference to him in using this form of an oath, as well as in the other instances.
37. But let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay; or, more agreeably to the original, “ let your word yea, be yea, and your nay, be nay ;" for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil, or," from the evil one.”