Divorce - Appendix II

Extracts from Letters of JNDarby


This appendix contains a number of extracts from the letters of JNDarby which show what he held on the matter of divorce. The object is to demonstrate that he neither held the loose ideas prevalent in the Western world today, nor took up a position at the opposite extreme, holding divorce and re-marriage in any circumstances as absolutely wrong. A reaction against the loose ideas current in the world is to be eschewed as much as the loose ideas themselves, as an extreme anti-divorce position may well find the proponents of it discredited and with them the teaching of Scripture.

Letters of JNDarby - Volume I page 347

The case you mention has occurred before... (Namely, "the position of a woman whose husband left her and his child, and went and married another; she, some while after, unconverted, marries a man who takes her and her child and cares thoroughly for them. She becomes converted, and wishes to break bread. Is she to be dealt with as an adulteress now the case is known ? Or, the husband having broken the tie and set her free by marrying another woman, can her present position of wife to another be recognised by the church of God ? Her present walk is of good report before the world; and when her husband tried to get a divorce, it was refused him by reason of his misconduct towards her.") It is a very trying and sorrowful case, and calls for a lowly and retired walk in the person concerned. The refusal of divorce is the only additional circumstance. Did the woman refuse it, or how came it to be refused ? It must be recent, as the court is. This may modify the case, because it may have been a

recognition of the bond by her conscience. But this apart, I judge the church must take her as she is when converted. I suppose a heathen, who had been married and separated, and had ever such a long history, and then was married, converted and baptised - I should certainly take him as I found him. I look upon the man's act as a breach of the tie before God, namely - the tie as broken (Matt. XIX. 9); and that the church must take the person as it finds them when converted.

The only other question connected with it is, the state of her own conscience when she married the last time. Did she consider herself free, or as then committing a sin ? This may affect the present state of her conscience. But I should take her, as before the church, as married to her present husband. But she should walk softly.

Letters of JNDarby - Volume II page 130

My meaning in saying the tie was broken was this, that God never allowed the Christian to break the tie; but when adultery was committed the one doing so had broken the tie, and the Lord allowed the other party to hold it to be broken and act on it by formal divorce - did not require it, but allowed it. The legalisation of it is submission to the powers that be, for common order, just as the divorce was in Jewish law. Things are so loose in many parts of the States as in Illinois, that Christians should be very particular. A person having left and being a long time away is not sufficient, as they may come back, and the tie had not been broken - only that, as to criminality, after some seven years, in England the courts would not hold a person guilty of bigamy.

On the other hand, according to 1 Corinthians VII., I cannot doubt that the Christian, deliberately deserted by the unchristian partner, was in every way free, free that is to marry; but it assumes deliberate forsaking by the one who went away. The Christian was never to do it, and if obliged to leave, to remain unmarried or return. Romans VII. 3 has nothing, I think, to do with it; the case supposed is of being (not "married") to another man while the tie subsists; then she is guilty of adultery - not, if the husband be dead. Divorce is not in question, but acts of sin while the marriage subsists. This is evident. Mark X. does not annul Matthew XIX.: a man putting away his wife is looked at as his act or will. If he puts away, he has broken a tie God formed, by his own will; then marrying another is adultery. By act of sin the tie was broken already, and judicial divorce allowed. If all had passed before conversion, I should take it as I found it; but when a person has merely gone off now, when a person is a Christian, I should be very slow to accept a marriage as in the Lord. Have they sought them out, or proof of the unfaithfulness ? If so, let them obtain a divorce, and then they are free to marry. But if not, I could not accept their doing their own will, any more than the unfaithful one doing his. The marriage is not in the Lord, and it says even of widows - "only in the Lord." Matthew V. is to me equally clear with chapter XIX., but I think a person should obtain a divorce, otherwise they remain legally married, and the new connection is concubinage. In any case forgiveness is allowed.

Letters of JNDarby - Volume II page 191

I write to reply to your question at the close of your letter, though most thankful to get your account of the work. The only difficulty with me is the question, whether the law of Canada does not require a formal divorce in these cases. If it does not, I should just leave the matter where it is. In the first place, what was done originally was before her conversion; but when the unbeliever leaves, the other party is free according to 1 Corinthians VII., and if a divorce be not required, she is free according to the law of man (if it be, there is irregularity which perhaps may be rectified). As the man had left her, she practically entered the church of God as a lone woman, and I do not occupy myself with what was before, unless sin to be repented of. When I meet her now, I meet her as one whom the law considers free; and the previous desertion left her free when deliberately done, if I take Christian ground. I may regret her doing it, and do as to the manner of it. But as unconverted, I