Page images

So ftrict is this law with regard to this offence, that it even reaches to the defilement of a betrothed woman, who, in God's fight, is reckoned as the man's wife to whom he is betrothed. If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; fo fhalt thou put away evil from Ifrael. Deut. xxii. 22. By these latter words we are taught, that the fin of adultery, like that of murder, was not to be looked upon merely as a perfonal offence, which was of no further confequence than to the parties committing it, but, if not punifhed as GoD commanded, brought guilt upon the very land itself, which could only

[ocr errors]

"cally, to worship idols, Jer. iii. 9. It differs from ", which fignifies whoring in general, as is plain " from Hofea iv. 14. But this word only belongs to in"continency with a married woman.

"R. Solomon Farchi obferves, it is only used where a "married woman is concerned."

Aben Ezra thinks, that it fignifies all illicit commerce, even whoredom-" But I fee, faith Grotius, on Exod. ઃઃ XX. 14. that this word is taken by the Hebrews in the "fenfe of adultery only, and fo it is tranflated in this " and the other places where it is used, by the Greeks, "Latins, and other interpreters." See Leigh, ib. and margin.

The LXX always render it by μοιχέυειν and μοιχᾶσαι. However, not to rely on the faithfulness of tranflators, the accuracy of lexicographers, or the wisdom of commentators, either critical or explanatory, we must have recourse to the word itself in the original; and if we find, that in all its connections throughout the Hebrew fcriptures, it never is ufed but in one fingle fenfe, we are not warranted to put any other upon it.


be put away by the punishment of the of fenders. Then follows ver. 22. If a damfel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city and lie with her, then fhall ye bring them both into the gate of that city, and ye shall ftone them with ftones that they die: the damfel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he HATH


Such is the law of THE MOST HIGH against adultery, or the defilement of a man's wife. Yet it is not the object of our municipal law as any public offence whatsoever. The injured husband may bring a civil action for private damages; but neither the adulterer, nor the adulterefs, can be indicted or punished, *as a public offender, by any one ftatute throughout

"In the year 1650, when the ruling powers found "it for their intereft to put on the femblance of a very "extraordinary ftrictness and purity of morals; not only 66 incest and wilful adultery were made capital crimes, "but alfo the repeated act of keeping a brothel, or com"mitting fornication, were (upon a fecond conviction) "made felony without benefit of clergy. But at the re"ftoration, when men, from an abhorrence of the hypo"crify of the late times, fell into a contrary extreme of "licentiousness, it was not thought proper to renew a "law of fuch unfashionable rigour. And thefe offences ❝ have been ever fince left to the feeble coercion of the Spiritual court, according to the rules of the canon law; "a law which has treated the offence of incontinence,



nay even adultery itself, with a great degree of tender"nefs and lenity; owing perhaps to the celibacy of its "first compilers. The temporal courts therefore take no "cognizance of the crime of adultery, otherwise than as a private injury." Blackstone, vol. iv. p. 64. Id. vol. i. 433.



throughout our whole code of laws. How far this is feen to be for the comfort of fociety, and the honour of a Chriftian nation, let others determine; I can only fay, that, if the law of GOD (which by the way is as clear and positive a law as can be conceived) took place, we should hardly hear of such daily offences against it, as now difgrace, dishonour, and defile the land. Such however is the confiftency of our ftatute laws, fuch their conformity to the law of GOD, that they make a man a felon, and, but for the benefit of clergy, liable to fuffer death, if he have two wives of his own; but he may feduce and debauch as many wives of other people, as may fall in his way, and he is free from punishment, except, as I faid before, by way of civil action for the wrong done to the husband.



It is faid, indeed, that "* our law confi"ders marriage in no other light but as a "civil contract, and leaves the holiness of the marriage-state to the ecclefiaftical courts;' but furely in a Chriftian land," the holiness "of the marriage-ftate" ought to be an object of the municipal laws, as of infinitely greater confequence to the public, and to the

Bishop Burnet, in his history of the Reformation, fpeaking of the ftate of the church before that period→ faith-The unmarried state both of feculars and regu"lars gave infinite fcandal to the world; for it ap

peared that the reftraining them from having wives of "their own, made them conclude that they had a right "to all other men's: and the inferior clergy were no bet"ter, &c." See Crit. Hiftory of England, p. 141. * Blackstone Comm.




peace and welfare of fociety, than many other offences, which are properly deemed objects of their utmost severity. For what are the confequences of adultery, even in a temporal view? All its evils cannot be reckoned-but only to mention a few :-It must introduce a total confufion as to the offspring, a defeating of rightful heirs, an utter obfcurity as to family descents and pedigrees; for where adultery is, no man can know his own children, or even oftenfible brothers and fifters afcertain their relation to each other: for which, as well as for many other wise causes, doubtless it was (as well as to preserve the fanctity of the marriage-inftitution) made capital by the DIVINE LAWGIVER. This we may humbly prefume to be the cafe; for this offence is introductory of that kind of disorder, which muft, in the very nature of it, tend to destroy every bond of civil and religious fociety, and make the world, in a moral sense, a mere chaos.

Why then is adultery, notwithstanding it is fo condemned by the pofitive law of GOD, fo frequently, fo fhamelessly, fo openly practifed? It is because the law of GOD being difregarded in the confcience, and not enforced by the laws of the land in all its terror, its importance is not adverted to: for though outward laws may not reach the heart, yet, they frequently, by reftraining the outward actions of men, may lead them to view fuch offences in a different light, than when there is no punishment attending them. Such

Such is the depravity of mankind, that we find the faying of the Preacher generally true : Because fentence against an evil work is not executed fpeedily, therefore the heart of the fons of men is fully fet in them to do evil. Eccl. viii. II. Impunity begets fecurity; and this must produce and multiply tranfgreffion.

As to thofe reliques of the Pope's tyranny in this country, commonly called the ecclefiaftical courts, their power is but very feeble; for which I and every free Proteftant ought to be thankful. This fort of imperium in imperio,

* An inftance of the oppreffion of thefe courts, and the tyranny they exercife where they can, may appear from the following cafe :-Ann Jenkinfon was prefented at the primary vifitation of the Archbishop of York, 1777, for fornication, the being with child by C. D. a single man. The cafe was, that the man had promifed her marriage, not only privately to herfelf, but alfo before the Justice, when the fwore C. D. to be the father of the child. He foon after married another woman. The fpiritual court proceeded against the poor girl, thus abandoned by the man, and without ever citing her, sent an excommunication down, which was red and returned accordingly. Another was cited on such an account, but could not take out her penance, because she could not pay a certain fum of money which was demanded: fo that it is poffible fhe is poffible the may alfo have been excommunicated.

The late Mr. Shenftone, in his works, vol. ii. p. 258. 4th edit. gives feveral definitions of the word church. Among others is the following, viz.-" A body of peo"ple who too frequently harrafs and infeft the laity ac"cording to law, and who conceal their real names un"der that of a fpiritual court."

No man, fays Bishop Burnet, was more fenfible of the abuses of the court called the spiritual court, than Archbishop Uber was. No man knew the beginning and progrefs of them better, nor was more touched with the ill effects of them. Life of Bishop Bedell, p. 85.

F 2


« PreviousContinue »