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But if, on the other side, you shall reply, that this one evil is more than equivalent to all these; That, in the mean time, these parties live in a continual incest, and traduce it to following generations; I must put you in mind, to distinguish betwixt the state of incest, and the sin of incest. It is true, they live in a state of incest; but, from the sin of incest they are excused by an ignorance, altogether invincible: an ignorance, both of the original fact, and of their mutual relations. For, it is to be supposed, that, had they had the least intimation of the natural interest of father and daughter, they would, with much indignation, have defied so foul a commixture which even brute creatures, if we may believe histories, have, by the instinct of nature, abominated; and, upon after-knowledge, revenged. And, if any light of knowledge had broken forth unto the parties, of that condition wherein shey stood, then to have continued under that state of incest, but an hour, had been damnably sinful: now, all those inevitable consequences of shame and horror must have been slighted and forgotten; and must have shut up, in a sudden dissolution.
But, as there are many degrees of incest; and the sin is so much more or less heinous, as the parties are nearer or more remote; I perceive the case intimated by you concerns a lower rank of incestuous copulation, namely, an incest arising from a man's carnal knowledge of a person too near in blood unto her, whom he afterwards marrieth; the fact known only by one, who now doubts whether he be not bound to reveal it.
And why not sooner, when so faulty a match might have been prevented? why so late, when the remedy intended would be as noxious as the disease? why at all, when there is no necessity or use of the revelation ?
This question starts another more universal, How far we may or ought to make known the secret sin of another.
Doubtless, to prevent some enormous act, which may follow upon our silence; or, upon the urging of lawful authority, when we are called to give evidence concerning a fact questioned; or, to antevert some great danger to the public, to ourselves, to our friend; we may and must disclose our knowledge of a close wickedness; or, if the act be so heinously flagitious, and redounding to so high dishonour of God, as that our conscience tells us we shall participate of this sin in concealing it; our holy zeal shall herein bear us out in a just accusation; although, in this case, heed must be taken, that our single crimination may be so carried and made good by circumstances, that it draw us not into the peril of a slander.
But, without these, I cannot see, that the revealing of a secret sin can be construed any otherwise, than an act of detraction; than which, nothing can be more odious and prejudicial to human society.
We have learned from Aquinas, that there are eight ways of this hateful practice; whereof four are direct: the raising of a false crime, the amplifying of a true crime, the disclosing of a crime secret, and the sinister construction of another's fact.
To these I must add, that, even where the act is such as chal. lengeth a revelation, the time may be unseasonable and past the date. You know that the notice of treason, if too long smothered, draws the concealer into danger: and, in this case, though there be no peril in the silence, yet there may be injury.
Shortly, this sin, if ever, should have been so early made known to the party concerned, as might have prevented the making up of a match secretly sinful; and have convinced the agent of a foul illegality, whereof he was ignorant but now, thus over-late, would break out to an unprofitable vexation; since this crime, which might justly have hindered the marriage from being contracted, ought not to have the force, after so long intermission and success of an intervenient wedlock, to dissolve it. The time was, when the minister, in a solemn preconization, called you either then to speak, or for ever after to hold your peace: had you then spoken, it might have been construed as zeal; now, not to hold your peace, will be interpreted no better than malice,
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE READER.
I HAVE been carnestly moved by some judicious friends, to go on with this subject; and to make up a complete Body of Case-Divinity, both Practical, Speculative, and Mixed: whereof, I confess, there is great defect in our language. But I remember the talk which Plutarch reports to have been betwixt Crassus and King Deiota rus; two old men, but great undertakers. Crassus jeers Deiotarus, for laying the foundation of a new city, in his decayed age; Deiotarus twits Crassus, for going about, in the like age, to subdue the warlike Parthians: both justly supposing our decrepit age a just dissuasive, from venturing upon great enterprises. Although, herein, I should not want a worthy precedent, that honour of Navarre, Martinus Azpilcueta; who, at ninety years, finished the fourth edition of that his elaborate Manual of Cases of Conscience. But, as for me, I am sufficiently conscious of my own inabilities for so long and difficult a work: only this, I shall willingly profess, that such scruples as I meet with in my way, I shall not allow myself to balk; and shall leave the answers upon the file. In the mean time, let me incite some of our many eminent Divines, whose wits are fresh, and bodies vigorous, to go through with so useful a work. Many years are passed, since my ancient and worthy colleague, Dr. Ralph Cudworth, told me, that he had, with much labour, finished that task, and devoted it to the press, which yet sleeps in some private hands. It were happy, if his worthy son, the just heir of his father's great abilities, would make strict enquiry after it; and procure it to the public light, for the common benefit of God's Church, both in the present and succeeding ages.
Plut. in Vitâ Crassi.