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doubtless his whole duty of serving God must needs be blurred and tainted with a sad unpreparedness and dejection of spirit, wherein God has no delight. Who sees not, therefore, how much more Christianity it would be to break by divorce that which is more broken by undue and forcible keeping, rather than ‘to cover the altar of the Lord with continual tears, so that he regardeth not the offering any more, rather than that the whole worship of a Christian man's life should languish and fade away beneath the weight of an immeasurable grief and discouragement?” “Nothing more than disturbance of mind suspends us from approaching to God; such a disturbance especially, as both assaults our faith and trust in God's providence, and ends, if there be not a miracle of virtue on either side, not only in bitterness and wrath, the canker of devotion, but in a desperate and vicious carelessness, when he sees himself, without fault of his, trained by a deceitful bait into a snare of misery, betrayed by an alluring ordinance, and then made the thrall of heaviness and discomfort by an undivorcing law of God, as he erroneously thinks, but of man's iniquity, as the truth is ; for that God prefers the free and cheerful worship of a Christian, before the grievance and exacted observance of an unhappy marriage, besides that the general maxims of religion assure us, will be more manifest by drawing a parallel argument from the ground of divorcing an idolatress, which was, lest he should alienate his heart from the true worship of God: and, what difference is there whether she pervert him to superstition by her enticing sorcery, or disenable him in the whole service of God through the disturbance of her unhelpful and unfit society; and so drive him at last, through murmuring and despair, to thoughts of atheism P. Neither doth it lessen the cause of separating, in that the one willingly allures him from the faith, the other perhaps unwillingly drives him; for in the account of God it comes all to one, that the wife loses him a servant: and therefore, by all the united force of the Decalogue, she ought to be disbanded, unless we must set marriage above God and charity, which is the doctrine of devils, no less than forbidding to marry.” In the following passage he applies to this subject his views of Christian liberty:“And, indeed, the papists, who are the strictest forbidders of divorce, are the easiest libertines to admit of grossest uncleanness; as if they had a design by making wedlock a supportless yoke, to violate it most, under colour of preserving it most inviolable; and withal delighting (as their mystery is) to make men the day labourers of their own afflictions, as if there were such a scarcity of miseries from abroad, that we should be made to melt our choicest home blessings, and coin them into crosses, for want whereby to hold commerce with patience. If any, therefore, who shall hap to read this discourse, hath been through misadventure ill engaged in this contracted evil here complained of, and finds the fits and workings of a high impatience frequently upon him; of all those wild words which men in misery think to ease themselves by uttering, let him not open his lips against the providence of Heaven," or tax the ways of God and his divine truth; for they are equal, easy, and not burdensome; nor do they ever cross the just and reasonable desires of men, nor involve this our portion of mortal life into a necessity of sadness and malcontent, by laws commanding over the unreducible antipathies of nature, sooner or later found, but allow us to remedy and shake off those evils into which human error hath led us through the
* In this eloquent passage we discover the same train of thought which occurs in the opening passage of the “Paradise Lost:"—
“What in me is dark,
midst of our best intentions, and to support our incident extremities by that authentic precept of sovereign charity, whose grand commission is to do and to dispose over all the ordinances of God to man, that love and truth may advance each other to everlasting. While we, literally superstitious, through customary faintness of heart, not venturing to pierce with our free thoughts into the full latitude of nature and religion, abandon ourselves to serve under the tyranny of usurped opinions ; suffering those ordinances which were allotted to our solace and reviving, to trample over us, and hale us into a multitude of sorrows, which God never meant us. And where he sets us in a fair allowance of way, with honest liberty and prudence to our guard, we never leave subtilizing and casuisting till we have straitened and pared that liberal path into a razor's edge to walk on; between a precipice of unnecessary mischief on either side, and starting at every false alarm, we do not know which way to set a foot forward with manly confidence and Christian resolution, through the confused ringing in our ears of panic scruples and amazements."*
He concludes the treatise with the following passage :“ Let not, therefore, the frailty of man go on thus inventing needless troubles to itself, to groan under the false imagination of a strictness never imposed from above; enjoining that for duty which is an impossible and vain supererogating. •Be not righteous overmuch,' is the counsel of Ecclesiastes; why shouldst thou destroy thyself?' Let us not be thus over-curious to strain at atoms, and yet to stop every vent and cranny of permissive liberty, lest nature, wanting those needful pores and breathing-places, which God hath not debarred our weakness, either suddenly break out into some wide rupture of open vice and frantic heresy, or else inwardly fester with repining and blasphemous thoughts, under an unreasonable and fruitless rigour of unwarranted law. Against which evils nothing can more
* Prose Works, vol. iii. pp. 262, 263.
beseem the religion of the church, or the wisdom of the state, than to consider timely and provide. And in so doing let them not doubt but they shall vindicate the misreputed honour of God and his great Lawgiver, by suffering him to give his own laws according to the condition of man's nature best known to him, without the unsufferable imputation of dispensing legally with many ages of ratified adultery. They shall recover the misattended words of Christ to the sincerity of their true sense from manifold contradictions, and shall open them with the key of charity. Many helpless Christians they shall raise from the depths of sadness and distress, utterly unfitted as they are to serve God or man: many they shall reclaim from obscure and giddy sects, many regain from dissolute and brutish licence, many from desperate hardness, if ever they were justly pleaded. They shall set free many daughters of Israel not wanting much of her sad plight whom Satan had bound eighteen years.’ Man they shall restore to his just dignity and prerogative in nature, preferring the soul's free peace before the promiscuous draining of a carnal rage. Marriage, from a perilous hazard and snare, they shall reduce to be a more certain haven and retirement of happy society ; when they shall judge according to God and Moses, (and how not then according to Christ,) when they shall judge it more wisdom and goodness to break that covenant seemingly, and keep it really, than by compulsion of law to keep it seemingly, and by compulsion of blameless nature to break it really, at least if it were ever truly joined. The vigour of discipline they may then turn with better success upon the prostitute looseness of the times, when men, finding in themselves the infirmities of former ages, shall be constrained above the gift of God in them to unprofitable and impossible observances, never required from the civilest, the wisest, the holiest nations, whose other excellencies in moral virtue they never yet could equal. Last of all, to those whose mind is still to maintain textual restrictions, whereof the
bare sound cannot consist sometimes with humanity, much less with charity; I would ever answer by putting them in remembrance of a command above all commands, which they seem to have forgot, and who spake it: in comparison whereof, this which they so exalt is but a petty and subordinate precept. •Let them go,' therefore, with whom I am loathe to couple them, yet they will needs run into the same blindness with the pharisees ; ' let them go therefore,' and consider well what this lesson means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice :' for on that saying all the law and prophets depend;' much more the gospel, whose end and excellence is mercy and peace. Or if they cannot learn that, how will they hear this ? which yet I shall not doubt to leave with them as a conclusion, that God the Son hath put all other things under his own feet, but his commandments he hath left all under the feet of charity.”*
Shortly after the publication of this treatise, Milton followed it with another, which was also addressed to the Parliament, and entitled, “ The Judgment of Martin Bucer concerning Divorce.” This consists of an analysis and translation of Bucer's Second Book « Of the Kingdom of Christ,” addressed to Edward VI., to which Milton prefixes the testimonies of Calvin, Beza, and other eminent men to Bucer's learning and piety, and especially to his diligence in the exposition of Scripture.fi
* Prose Works, vol. iii. pp. 272, 273.
+ Bucer was born near Strasburg, in 1491, and educated at Heidelberg, having entered the order of St. Dominick. The change of opinion which determined the tenor of his life was occasioned by reading some writings of Erasmus and Luther, and he adopted the views of the latter in 1521, in accordance with which he taught divinity for twenty years at Strasburg. At the Diet of Augsburg, he vehemently opposed the system of doctrine called the interim, inyidiously drawn up by Charles V. for the temporary regulation of reli gious faith in Germany, until a free General Council could be held. This course exposed him to so much difficulty and danger that he accepted an invitation from Cranmer to settle in England, where he was appointed to teach theology at Cambridge. King Edward the Sixth having heard that Bucer's health suffered for want of a German,