The Elements of Moral Science (1835, 1856 ed.)

Francis Wayland


The General Duty Of Chastity

The sexual appetite being a part of our constitution, and a limit to the indulgence of it being fixed by the Creator, the business of moral philosophy is to ascertain this limit.

The moral law on this subject is as follows:

The duty of chastity limits the indulgence of this desire to individuals who are exclusively united to each other for life.

Hence it forbids —

1. Adultery, or intercourse between a married person and every other person except that person to whom he or she is united for life.

2. Polygamy, or a plurality of wives or of husbands.

3. Concubinage, or the temporary cohabitation of individuals with each other.

4. Fornication, or intercourse with prostitutes, or with any individual under any other condition than that of the marriage covenant.

5. Inasmuch as unchaste desire is strongly excited by the imagination, the law of chastity forbids all impure thoughts and actions; all unchaste conversation, looks, or gestures; the reading of obscene or lascivious books, and everything which would naturally produce in us a disposition of mind to violate this precept.

That the above is the law of God on this subject is manifest, both from natural and from revealed religion.

The law as above recited contains two restrictions:

    1. That the individuals be exclusively united to each other; and

    2. That this exclusive union be for life.

Let us examine the indications of natural religion upon both of these points.

I. The indulgence of the desire referred to is by law of God restricted to individuals exclusively united to each other. This may be shown from several considerations.

1. The number of births of both sexes under all circumstances and in all ages has been substantially equal. Now if single individuals be not exclusively united to each other, there must arise an inequality of distribution, unless we adopt the law of promiscuous concubinage. But as the desire is universal, it cannot be intended that the distribution should be unequal; for thus, many would from necessity be left single. And the other alternative, promiscuous concubinage, would very soon lead, as we have already remarked, to the extinction of society.

2. The manifest design of nature is to increase the human species in the most rapid ratio consistent with the conditions of our being. That is always the most happy condition of a nation, and that nation is most accurately obeying the laws of our constitution in which the number of the human race is most rapidly increasing. Now it is certain that under the law of chastity as it has been explained, that is, where individuals are exclusively united to each other, the increase of population will be more rapid that under any other circumstances.

3. That must be the true law of the domestic relations which will have the most beneficial effect upon the maintenance and education of children. Under the influence of such a law as I have described, it is manifest that children will be incomparably better provided for than under that of any other. The number of children produced by a single pair thus united will ordinarily be as great as can be supported and instructed by two individuals. And, besides, the care of children under these circumstances becomes a matter not merely of duty but of pleasure. On the contrary, just insofar as this law is violated, the love of offspring diminishes. The care of a family, instead of a pleasure, becomes an insupportable burden; and in the worst states of society children either perish by multitudes from neglect or are murdered by their parents in infancy. The number of human beings who perish by infanticide in heathen countries is almost incredible. And in countries not heathen it is a matter of notoriety that neglect of offspring is the universal result of licentiousness in parents. The support of foundlings in some of the most licentious districts in Europe has become so great a public burden as to give rise to serious apprehension.

4. There can be no doubt that man is intended to derive by far the greatest part of happiness from society. And of social happiness, by far the greatest, the most exquisite, and the most elevating portion, is that derived from the domestic relations; not only those of husband and wife, but those of parent and child, of brother and sister, and those arising from the more distant gradations of collateral kindred. Now human happiness in this respect can exist only in proportion to our obedience to the law of chastity. What domestic happiness can be expected in a house continually agitated by the ceaseless jealousy of several wives and the interminable quarrels of their several broods of children? How can filial love dwell in the bosoms of children the progeny of one father by several concubines? This state of society existed under the most favorable circumstances in the patriarchal age; and its results even here are sufficiently deplorable. No one can read the histories of the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and David, without becoming convinced that no deviation can be made from the gospel law of marriage without creating a tendency to wrangling without end, to bitterness and strife, nay, to incest and murder. And if this be the result of polygamy and concubinage, in what language is it possible to describe the effects of universal licentiousness? By this, the very idea of home would be abolished. The name of parent would signify no more in man than in the brutes. Man, instead of being social, would become nothing more
than a gregarious animal, distinguished from his fellow animals by nothing else than greater intellectual capacity and the more disgusting abuse of it.

5. No reason can be assigned why the intellectual, moral, and social happiness of the one sex is not as valuable in the sight of the Creator as that of the other. Much less can any reason be assigned why the one sex should be to the other merely a source of sensual gratification. But just as we depart from the law of chastity as it has been here explained, woman ceases to be the equal and the companion of man and becomes either his timid and much abused slave, or else the mere instrument for the gratification of his lust. No one can pretend to believe that the Creator ever intended that one human being should stand in such a relation as this to any other human being.

II. The second part of the law of chastity requires that this union should be for life.

Some reasons for this are as follows:

1. In order to domestic happiness it is necessary that both parties should cultivate a spirit of conciliation and forbearance, and mutually endeavor to conform their individual peculiarities to each other. Unless this be done, instead of a community of interests there will arise incessant collision. Now nothing can tend more directly to the cultivation of a proper temper than the consideration that this union is indissoluble. A mere temporary union, liable to be dissolved by every ebullition of passion, would foster every impetuous and selfish feeling of the human heart.

2. If the union be not for life, there is no other limit to be fixed to its continuance than the will of either party. This would speedily lead to promiscuous concubinage, and all the evils resulting from it of which I have already spoken.

3. Children require the care of both parents until they have attained to maturity; that is, generally during the greater part of the lifetime of their parents, at least during all that period of their life in which they would be most likely to desire a separation. Besides, the children are the joint property of both parents; and if the domestic society be dissolved, they belong to one no more than to the other; that is, they have no protector, but are cast our defenseless upon the world.

4. Or, if this be not the case, and they are protected by one parent, they must suffer an irreparable loss by the withdrawment of the other parent from his or her share of the parental responsibility. In general the care would fall upon the mother, whose parental instincts are the stronger, but who is, from her peculiar situation, the less able to protect them. The whole tendency of every licentious system is to take advantage of the parental tenderness of the mother; and because she would rather die than leave her children to perish, basely to devolve upon her a burden which she is wholly unable to sustain.

5. Parents themselves in advanced years need the care of their children, and become dependent in great measure for their happiness upon them. But all this source of happiness is dried up by any system which allows of the disruption of the domestic society and the desertion of offspring simply at the will of the parent.

The above considerations may perhaps be deemed sufficient to establish the general law, and to show what is the will of the Creator on this subject. But it may be suggested that all these consequences need not follow occasional aberrations, and that individual cases of licentious indulgence should be exempted from the general rule. To this I answer —

1. The severity of the punishment which God has affixed to the crime in general, shows how severe is his displeasure against it. God is no respecter of persons, but he will visit upon everyone the strict reward of his iniquity. And he does thus act. In woman, this vice is immediately fatal to character; and in man, it leads directly to those crimes which are the sure precursors of temporal and eternal perdition.

2. The God who made us all, and who is the Father and the Judge of his creatures, is omniscient; and he will bring every secret thing into judgment. Let the seducer and the profligate remember that each must stand, with his victim and his partner in guilt, before the Judge of quick and dead, where a recompense will be rendered to every man according to his deeds.

3. Let it be remembered that a female is a moral and accountable being, hastening with us to the bar of God; that she is made to be the center of all that is delightful in the domestic relations; that by her very nature she looks up to man as her protector, and loves to confide in his hands her happiness for life; and that she can be ruined only by abusing that confidence, proving false to that reliance, and using the very loveliest trait in her character as the instrument of her undoing. And then let us consider the misery into which a loss of virtue must plunge the victim and her friends forever; the worth of that soul which, unless a miracle interpose, must by the loss of virtue be consigned to eternal despair; and I ask whether in the whole catalogue of human crime there be one whose atrocity more justly merits the deepest damnation than that which, for the momentary gratification of a lawless appetite, will violate all these obligations, outrage all these sympathies, and work out so widespreading, so interminable a ruin?

Such is the lesson of natural religion on this subject.

III. The precepts of revealed religion may be very briefly stated:

1. The seventh commandment is, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Ex. 20:14. By the term adultery is meant every unlawful act and thought. The Mosaic law enacted that he who seduced a woman should marry her. Ex. 22:16-17. This is, doubtless, the equitable rule; and there is no reason why it should not be strictly enforced now, both by the civil law and by the opinions of the community.

2. The punishment of adultery was, under the same law, death to both parties. Lev. 10:22. Deut. 22:22. That this should now be enforced, no one will contend. But it is sufficient to show in what abhorrence the crime is held by the Creator.

3. The consequence of whoredom and adultery are frequently set forth in the prophets, and the most awful judgments of God are denounced against them. This subject is also treated with graphic power by Solomon, in the book of Proverbs. See Proverbs 5:3-29; 7:5-26.

4. Our Saviour explains the law of chastity and marriage in his sermon on the mount, and declares it equally to respect unclean thoughts and actions: “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee (or cause thee to offend), pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Matt. 5:27-32. That is, as I suppose, eradicate from your bosom every impure thought, no matter at what sacrifice; for no one who cherishes impurity, even in thought, can be an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

Uncleanness is also frequently enumerated among the crimes which exclude men from the kingdom of heaven:

Ephesians 5:5-6: “No whoremonger or unclean person hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Galatians 5:19-21: “Now, the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness; of the which I tell you before, as I have told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Colossians 3:5-6: “Mortify, therefore, your members, which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affections; for which things’ sake, the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience.”

Let every one remember, therefore, that whoever violates this command violates it in defiance of the most clearly revealed command of God, and at the peril of his own soul. He must meet his act, and the consequences of it, at that day when the secrets of all hearts are made manifest, when every hidden thing will be brought to light, and when God will judge every man according to his deeds.

I remarked above that the law of chastity forbade the indulgence of impure or lascivious imaginations, the harboring of such thoughts should be excited. Of no vice is it so true as of this, that “lust, when it is cherished, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Licentiousness in outward conduct never appears, until the mind has become defiled by impure imaginations. When, however, the mind has become thus defiled, nothing is wanted but suitable opportunity to complete the moral catastrophe. Hence the necessity of the most intense vigilance in the government of our thoughts and in the avoiding of all books, and all pictures, and all society, and all conduct and actions of which the tendency is to imbue our imaginations with anything at variance with the purest chastity. Whatever in other respects may be the fascinations of a book, if it be impure or lascivious let it be eschewed. Whatever be the accomplishments of an acquaintance, if he or she be licentious in conversation or action let him or her be shunned. No man can take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned. We cannot mingle with the vile, let that vileness be dressed in ever so tasteful a garb, without becoming defiled. The only rule of safety is to avoid the appearance of evil; for thus alone shall we be able to avoid the reality. Hence it is that a licentious theater (and the tendency of all theaters is to licentiousness), immodest dancing, and all amusements and actions which tend to inflame the passions, are horribly pernicious to morals. It would be interesting to learn on what principle of morals a virtuous woman would justify her attendance upon an amusement, in which she beholds before her a once lovely female uttering covert obscenity in the presence of thousands, and where she is surrounded by hundreds of women, also once lovely but now abandoned, whose ruin has been consummated by this very means, and who assemble in this place with the more certain assurance of thus being able most successfully to effect the ruin of others.