Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 5:31-32; LUKE 16:18
31. Again, it hath been said, Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. 408 32. But I say to you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, except on account of unchastity, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry a woman that is put away committeth adultery.
18. Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth a woman put away from her husband committeth adultery.
Matthew 5:31. Whosoever shall put away his wife. As a more suitable occasion for discussing and explaining this doctrine at greater length will afterwards occur, (Mt 19:9,) I shall now state briefly what Christ says in this passage. As the Jews falsely imagined that they discharged their whole duty toward God, when they kept the law in a national manner, so whatever the national law did not forbid, they foolishly supposed to be lawful. Divorces, which husbands were wont to give to their wives, had not been prohibited by Moses as to external order, but only, for the sake of restraining lewdness, he had ordered that “a bill of divorcement” should be given to the wives who were put away, (De 24:1.) It was a sort of testimonial of freedom, so that the woman was afterwards free from the yoke and power of the husband; while the husband at the same time acknowledged, that he did not send her away on account of any crime, but because she did not please him. Hence proceeded the error, that there was nothing wrong in such putting away, provided that the forms of law were observed. 409
But they did wrong in viewing as a matter of civil law, the rule which had been given them for a devout and holy life. For national laws are sometimes accommodated to the manners of men but God, in prescribing a spiritual law, looked not at what men can do, but at what they ought to do. It contains a perfect and entire righteousness, though we want ability to fulfill it. Christ, therefore, admonishes us not to conclude, that what is allowed by the national law of Moses is, on that account, lawful in the sight of God. That man, (says he,) who puts away his wife, and gives her a bill of divorcement, shelters himself under the pretense of the law: but the bond of marriage is too sacred to be dissolved at the will, or rather at the licentious pleasure, of men. Though the husband and the wife are united by mutual consent, yet God binds them by an indissoluble tie, so that they are not afterwards at liberty to separate. An exception is added, except on account of fornication: for the woman, who has basely violated the marriage-vow, is justly cast off; because it was by her fault that the tie was broken, and the husband set at liberty.
32. Causeth her to commit adultery. As the bill of divorcement bore, that the woman had been loosed from her former husband, and might enter into a new marriage, the man who, unjustly and unlawfully, abandons the wife whom God had given him, is justly condemned for having prostituted his wife to others.
“Ou, separation;” — “or, separation.”
“Pourveu qu'on observast ce que la Loy commandoit en tel cas;”— “provided that what the Law commanded in such a case were observed.”