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Divorce and Remarriage by J.C. Philpot

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Introduction by Joe Harper:

This excerpt is taken from the Gospel Standard Magazine issued in February 1853. The words are written by J.C. Philpot who was a pastor and leader amongst the Strict Baptists in England in the nineteenth century. Philpot held the Biblical view that a divorced person may never remarry in the lifetime of their original spouse without committing adultery. Today, most Evangelicals hold the doctrinal position that divorces caused by adultery or desertion allow for remarriage of the innocent party. In practice, many evangelicals will even condone remarriage when divorces were not caused by these reasons. These notions are contrary to the Scriptures. Mark 10:12, Luke 16:18, Rom. 7:2-3, 1 Cor. 7:39 all make it explicitly clear that all remarriage is adultery regardless of the circumstances. The often appealed to exemption clause for fornication in Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19:9 has been commonly misinterpreted in our day and age. Adultery and fornication are not the same thing in Scripture. Adultery is always sexual immorality that violates the marriage covenant between man and wife. Fornication is sexual immorality outside of the marriage covenant. When Jesus spoke of fornication in these two verses, he was referring sexual immorality committed in the betrothal period before a marriage was consummated. This could be explained in far more detail, but these brief comments must suffice for this introduction. The context of Philpot's article below is answering the question of whether desertion allows a spouse to remarry. Philpot explains the meaning of the Apostle Paul's words in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. Philpot's words below properly explain how desertion, although tragic, does not provide grounds for the abandoned party to remarry. Adultery and desertion do not allow for remarriage. Only death dissolves the marriage tie between man and wife.

Article by J.C. Philpot

Now we fearlessly assert that, according to God's word, nothing but death or divorce can dissolve the tie between man and wife. The Lord Jesus has settled this point with his own lips.

"The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore ·God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him., Why did Moses then command to give a writing of: divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth. her which is put away doth commit adultery." (Matt. xix. 3-9.)

The law of the land is based upon this declaration, and allows of no dissolution of marriage but by death or legal divorce. We assert, therefore, that neither by the law of God or man can a woman marry again in the lifetime of her first husband without committing adultery. How express is Paul here!

"For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called au adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law so that she is no adulteress, though· she be married

to another man." (Rom. vii. 2, 3,)

Absence or desertion is cruel and ungodly conduct, and. most truly pitiable is a woman's case, to be abandoned for years and left in ignorance whether her legitimate husband and protector is dead or alive; but neither his desertion nor her uncertainty dissolves the tie. If absence or desertion break the marriage tie, it may be asked, How long must that absence or desertion be to have this effect? Shall it be a week's, a month's, or a year's absence that shall do it? And if these terms are too short, where are we to put the limit? If one year's desertion cannot break the marriage tie, can it be broken by ten or twenty years absence? R. P. is not only out in law, but in Scripture, and misunderstands the meaning of 1 Cor. vii. 15. The apostle is speaking in the context of a believing wife united to an unbelieving husband. He assumes on this point two cases.

1. That the unbelieving husband wishes to continue to live with his, believing wife. In that case, let her, not leave him," says the apostle. (ver. 13.) But

2. The unbelieving husband may depart and desert her on account of her religion. In this case, he decides that she is not bound to follow him and insist still to live with him:

"Let him depart, a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases;"

that is, to follow him and press to live with him if he have deserted her. But does he say anything about or sanction her marrying again? Where does he say that desertion dissolves the marriage tie? On the contrary, in the very same chapter he decides the exact opposite:" The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; 'but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord." (1 Cor. vii. 39.)

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