Of Remarriage After Lawful Divorce
- The Westminster Confession of Faith holds forth the Biblical view of
divorce and remarriage:
V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected
before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to
dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it
is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce: and, after
the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.
10. Matt. 1:18-20; see Deut. 22:23-24
11. Matt. 5:31-32
12. Matt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3
VI. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study
arguments unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in
marriage: yet, nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can
no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause
sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein, a public
and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons
concerned in it not left to their own wills, and discretion, in their
13. Matt. 19:8-9; I Cor. 7:15; Matt. 19:6
14. Deut. 24:1-4
There is nothing in Scripture that locks up an innocent person, who's
spouse treacherously broke the marriage covenant, to live a life of
burning in lust for the remainder of life due to the wicked sin of others!
Dr. John Owen wrote a good piece that answers this question of
remarriage of the innocent party after lawful divorce (this used to be
online until the guy took down his John Owen site down. Anyone know
what's up with that?):
OF MARRYING AFTER DIVORCE IN CASE OF ADULTERY.
IT is confessed by all that adultery is a just and sufficient cause of
a divorce betwixt married persons. This 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.
I am of the judgment of the former; for,
First, 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,
1. 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
2. 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.
Secondly, A divorce perpetual "a mensa et thoro" only is no way useful
to mankind, but hurtful and noxious; for,
1. 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
2. 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.
Thirdly, 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.
Fourthly, 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 offense [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.
The first opinion, therefore, is according to truth; for,
First, 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," Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:6; but this is dissolved by
adultery; for the adulteress becometh one flesh with the adulterer, 1
Corinthians 6:16, 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.
Secondly, If the innocent party upon a divorce be not set at liberty,
1. He is deprived of his right by the sin of another; which is against
the law of nature; and so every wicked woman hath it in her power to
deprive her husband of his natural right.
2. The divorce in case of adultery, pointed by our Savior 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.
Thirdly, Our blessed Savior gives express direction in the case,
Matthew 19:9, "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 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.
It is to no purpose to except that the other evangelists (Mark
10:11,12; Luke 16:18) do not express the exception insisted on; for,
1. It is twice used by Matthew, chap. 5:32, and chap. 19:9, and
therefore was assuredly used by our Savior.
2. 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 men, red and interpreted by the fuller and larger. And every
general 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 exception.
It is more vain to answer that our Savior speaketh with respect unto
the Jews only, and what was or was not allowed among them; for,
1. 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 matter.
2. The Pharisees inquired of our Savior 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 Savior 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 marriage.
Again: the apostle Paul expressly sets the party at liberty to marry
who is maliciously and obstinately deserted, alarming that the
Christian religion doth not prejudice the natural right and privilege
of men in such cases: 1 Corinthians 7:15, "If the unbelieving depart,
let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such
cases." If a person obstinately depart, on pretense 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."
This 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.
Gotta go, my computer's overheating!