The Confusion of Custom
TO THE PARLIAMENT OF ENGLAND WITH THE ASSEMBLY:
A Sermon correcting the Errors of Mr. John Milton regarding the Doctrine of Divorce
The Levitical priesthood set, as if dishes at Syracusan banquets, so many customs on their boards that they were many times in doubt about what they should touch or taste, contending longest about points that profit least, & like wanton whelps, neglecting the weightier matters of the Law to sup on herbs & weeds, washing the outside of cups full of extortion & excess, becoming whited sepulchers of dead bones & all manner of uncleanness. That priesthood was rightly replaced by another, not one confirmed by the blood of calves & goats but one purified by our Savior's blood, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, being not the shadow of things to come but the fulfillment of all men's hope. So it is not to Moses that we must look but to that Single Sacrifice, now sat down at the right hand of God, for confirmation of the sanctified union of man & woman, the two becoming one flesh as it was in the Beginning.
O, renowned Parliament, select Assembly, I must confess that, as one greater than me has schooled us, poets are the whetstones of wit, not withstanding that wit is dearly bought; & one poet would now have this great island shun custom based on the Eternal's will for all men, returning again to a Levitical custom added due to the stony hearts found in that rejected Congregation. This poet would be our physician, bleeding righteousness from us as if it were pus—where honey & gall are mixed, the patient swallows poison thinking that sweet syrup will right an unhealthy constitution, little considering his conversation, or the many drafts, like good sentences writ to shadow knavery or beautify trumpery, that stir fever while chilling his soul; the physician considering not the patient's health but rather his thirty shekels. Nay, England doesn't stand before you, Gentlemen, as a sick man needing the cure of a deceitful leach or a foppish poet, but as a strong man rightly dividing the word of our Savior, humble before that high throne, delirious to enter New Jerusalem, where all things will be as they were in the Beginning.
Mr. Milton begs his case as a young man who would place human happiness, his happiness, ahead of our Creator's will, setting before us a straw man called custom by which he hopes to make the tender hearts of Englishmen hard as the stone tablets Moses lugged down from Sion, not freeing men of their lusts but shackling them again with the ordinances & statutes added to the Eternal's holy law because of the hardness of Israelite hearts, ever set on destruction & without the Comforter who eases the burdens of the Elect. The Eternal spake not of burnt offerings or sacrifices when the Hebrews left Egypt, instead commanding only that they obey His voice & walk in His ways that it might be well with them; but alas, they went backwards, not forwards, making themselves a golden calf, swallowing porridge of dung & dust, spewing out Truth as it were gall, thereby becoming meat for ravens & dogs. It was to this people that Moses allowed divorce. Are we to be like them? hearing the prophets but with foreheads of flint. Nay, I say! We shall not be stiffnecked & hardhearted, but we shall have the New Covenant written on our hearts, thus entering that blessed state of atonement with our Savior that sin denied to the Israelites, who trembled in fear but obeyed naught: we obey as sons, wanting to know & execute His will, for to do so is pleasing in His sight & profitable for us. We shall not look to added ordinances & statutes, necessary for a season but nailed to the Tree, to find our Savior's will; for He makes plain His will: He reminds us that Moses suffered divorce because of the hardness of Israelite hearts, but that it was not so in the Beginning.
What, shall we want tenderness? Nay! God forbid. Marriage is a divine institution, consecrated by the Eternal, not for fleshly selfishness, that sense of temporal happiness a babe finds in the womb & a child at his mother's teat & a poet in a meadow, but made holy as a type of the heavenly relationship between the Elect & our Savior. Mr. Milton seems to forget that though our Lord married the Congregation in the Wilderness on Sion & though both Judah & her sister played the harlot, fornicating with sticks & stones who were no gods & trusting in alliances with sinful Egyptians, & though He divorced them, letting the Assyrians & the Babylonians make captives of them, He could not marry again till His death on the Tree; He could not bring a New Covenant till the Old Covenant was broken by death, that of the Word made flesh. And it is to Him that we look for our example, not to Moses & stiffnecked Israelites; for to put away a wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery, & her blood shall be on the husband's neck: we who are under sin cannot bear our own sins, much less those of our helpmate, created from that cage surrounding our heart in the Beginning.
Is it that we are not pleased to dwell with mates because of the hardness of our hearts, forgetting Paul's admonishment to treat wives as Christ does the Elect, not condemning a want of perfection but sanctifying them with love as if wives were our own bodies. This is a great mystery, two becoming one, Bridegroom & Bride joined, becoming one Body with Him, one body now of many members, the eye to see, the ear to hear, the nose to smell, the tongue to taste, the hand to touch, the feet to bear the whole burden, & every one discharging his duty without grudging (so it should be with us, suffering & rejoicing together, for no man is born to seek private profit); & one Body at His coming, the Elect becoming members of His body, of His flesh, & of His bones, loved by Him who was the Word, who was with God & was God in the Beginning.
Let us not sever what the word of God has joined: If perfection could have come from Moses, there would have been no need of Another; if perfection could come by divorce, then Salvation would be a many spoked wheel, each spoke a woman put away, Babylonian & her daughters, each drunk on her fornications as Judah & Samaria were when our Lord divorced them. Alas, writs of divorce come from unChristian hardheartedness & for fornication, the first the rejection of the Comforter, the second the rejection of the Word. I cast my anchor here, shunning custom but confirming the will of our Lord, contending that if we sanctified & hallowed our mates as Christ does the Elect, then they would be as content to dwell with us (& we with them) as we are with our Lord; for to reject our wives invites the Bridegroom to reject His Bride, thereby joining the Elect to the damned. Can such a thing be so? the Elect becoming the Accused. Nay, I say, for this esteemed island shall not loose the bounds of divorce, thus negating the love the Word has born us since the Beginning.