The married state is for most men a productive and delightful one. In marriage I have learned many graces: Patience, love, understanding, encouragement. It is school for a man; it domesticates him. Marriage and family give him a long-term perspective that his ideas and passions might otherwise forbid him.
The Puritans viewed marriage as a liberty, and it has occurred to me today how their conception operates. In the early colonies existed statutes of liberties, including bans on adultery and homosexuality. These bans were published under the heading of liberties. Just as punishments for theft protect the liberty of property, so a ban on adultery protects the liberty of marriage.
Here’s a way of understanding the Puritan perspective. What is the opposite of marriage? Illicit sexual relations apart from marriage. Among unmarrieds, it’s called fornication. If a lawless act involves a married person, the offense against God and society is greater. That is adultery. In ancient Israel it was a capital offense because it was understood to be a violent attack against God and against the bedrock of society, law and order.
We better understand how marriage is a liberty by considering the liberty proposed by the seductress, whether she be in Proverbs or in the house of Potiphar the Egyptian or on the roof of a house neighboring the king’s in Jerusalem. Adultery, too, is about liberty. It is the intoxicating claim a man allows to be made against him by the eye and via his sensuous appetites. That claim one dare not resist; one is drawn into a freedom and one has license to do whatever one’s heart desires.
But the liberty in sexual seduction and pornography is really slavery, the scriptures insist. That liberty turns sexual passion into a selfish act; sexuality is all about oneself in adultery. In marriage, one’s delight is for the other. One’s focus is one’s lover. It’s all about her. Marriage is a liberty because one’s needs are being met by thinking about hers. The liberation of the marriage bed arises from its approval by God. As C.S. Lewis says in his book The Four Loves, when lovers play, God laughs. He laughs at His creation, at this human necessitousness, this other-centric ardor that is built into the soul and body of man and woman.
Marriage is a liberty because it is approved by management, is cordoned by the magistrate as right and proper, is enjoyed because of the bonds and the promises attached. Married lovers enjoy sex amid a vast personal context, or should I say sometimes in spite of it. They have liberty; they are free as to when, where, how (how often?).
The fornicator sins against his own soul, the scriptures say. He thinks he has liberty, but he is enslaved. His liberty creates its own lineup of necessities, thwarts his genuine freedom and brings a host of perils, corruptions and compromise.