Henry Bullinger, "Fifty Godly and Learned Sermons Divided into Five Decades"
(to view the footnotes, click on the highlighted numbers)
In this sermon, the Puritan preacher Henry Bullinger cites the example of Adam and Eve as evidence that marriage is ordained by God. All of the holy men in the Bible, he maintains, are married, and although Christ’s life is remarkable as a virgin birth, he, too, came from a married couple. If there is lust and sin in marriage, it is because of the people in it, not the institution itself.

The Decades of Henry Bullinger, Minister of the Church of Zurich. Translated by H.I. The First and Second Decades. Edited for The Parker Society by the Rev. Thomas Harding, A.M., of Worcester College, Oxford, and Vigar of Bexley, in Kent. Cambridge: The University Press, 1849-1852.

Fifty Sermons
Divided into
Five Decades.

Wedlock, which is also called matrimony, is an alliance or holy joining together of man and woman, coupled and brought into one by mutual consent of them both, to the intent that they, using all things in common betwixt themselves, may live in chastity, and train up their children in fear of the Lord. The gospel verily calleth wedlock a joining together which God hath made: for Christ said, “What God hath joined together, let no man separate.”1 Neither is it lawful to make any other the author of matrimony than God himself. God did, by the mean and ministery of his angels and chosen men, appoint other good and necessary ordinances for mankind’s commodity; but he himself did immediately, without the ministery of any person, ordain matrimony; he himself did couple the first married folks; and he, being the true high priest indeed, did himself bless the couple then whom he did join together.
By this we may easily gather the excellent dignity of marriage and matrimony. For God did ordain it; yea, he ordained it in paradise, when man as yet was free from all kind of calamities. Adam, when he was in the great felicity of paradise, seemed not yet to live commodiously nor sweetly enough, except a wife were given to be joined unto him. “It is not good,” saith God, “for man to be alone; I will make him a helper to tarry or dwell with him.”
2 For God brought to Adam all living creatures, which he had created, for him to name them: but among them all there was nothing that Adam had lust unto; his mind and nature did utterly abhor to be coupled with any of them. God, therefore, casting Adam into a dead sleep, doth out of his side, as he slept, frame up a woman; which so soon as Adam set his eye upon, when she was brought unto him by God who had made her, he straightway crieth, that this was such a one as he desired, that this was such a one as he could love, and wherewith his nature could very well agree. “This now,” saith he, “is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” “I have found,” saith he,“ I have found an help fit for me, which hath part of my flesh, of my blood, and my very substance.” From hence riseth and yet remaineth that natural proneness of men toward women. . . .
The holy patriarchs kept the law of matrimony, and reverenced wedlock very devoutly.3 For no small parcel of the first and most excellent book of the bible, called Genesis, is spent in rehearsing the marriages of holy men. Neither is Moses, the peerless servant of God ashamed to make mention of the business and works of wedlock as pure and excellent, which seem to many at this day to be foul and filthy. Christ himself (who, being the very natural Son of God, was himself born in wedlock, although of a pure and uncorrupted virgin) did honour and commend the knot of matrimony, while he did vouchsafe to shew his first miracle at a wedding; which was such a miracle, as did declare that the Lord is able to make the bitterness of marriage sweet, and the scarcity thereof abound with plenty. As the apostles were married men, according to the examples of the patriarchs, kings, princes, priests, and prophets;4 so Paul the chief of all the apostles, crieth out and saith: “Wedlock is honourable among and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”5 He saith, that wedlock is honourable among all men: he meaneth, all nations; for very few people shall you find that you do not greatly commend the state of marriage. Xenophon thinketh, that among all God’s ordinances scant any one can be found that is more commendable or profitable than wedlock is. Musionius, Hierocles, and other ancients sagas think marriage to be so necessary to live well and conveniently, that the life of man without marriage seemeth to be maimed. Even they (the heathens I mean) do make the evils and discommodities of marriage to consist in the married folks, and not in marriage. For marriage of itself is good; but many use not well the thing that is good, and therefore they feel the smart of their foul abuse worthily. For who knoweth not, that the fault of drunkenness is not to be referred to wine, which is the good and wholesome creature of God, but to the excessive bibbing and over-great greediness of man, which abuseth God’s good creature? “That which cometh out of the heart of man,” saith the Lord in the gospel, “and not that which goeth in by the mouth, defileth the man.”6 Hereunto belongeth that saying of Paul, the apostle of Christ, where he attributeth sanctification to wedlock; “for the bed,” saith he, “is undefiled:” and in another place he testifieth, that “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife”:7 he affirmeth also, that children born in wedlock are holy or clean. Moreover, the same Paul maketh Christ an example of love betwixt man and wife, and shadoweth the mysteries of Christ and the church by the colour of wedlock: he figureth, I say, a heavenly thing by an holy type that God doth allow.8 Whereupon in another place the same apostle doth say, that their doctrine is a very “doctrine of devils,” which forbid men to marry.9 And so, consequently, it followeth that that is an heavenly doctrine, proceeding from God, which permitteth marriage freely to all men, and doth commend and reverence it.

Contributing author: Michelle Ephraim, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Responding to Henry Bullinger, “Fifty Godly and Learned Sermons Divided into Five Decades”

Answer the following questions in your notebook—this will be collated so that you can print or e-mail your work when you are finished.

1). Would it be possible to apply Bullinger’s arguments to contemporary standards of morality in marriage? Would his argument about personal fault (as opposed to that which is innate in the institution of marriage) gain support today?


2). How would Bullinger respond to Chrysostom’s condescending description of “serenity” in marriage?


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