POLYGAMY AND CHRISTIAN MISSIONS.
The decisions of the Calcutta Missionary Conferences, held some years since, alluded to in previous numbers of the American Missionary, to which a wide circulation is now being given by the recent work of Dr. Allen on India, that "if a convert, before becoming a Christian, has married more wives than one, in accordance with the practice of the Jewish and primitive Christian Churches, he shall be permitted to retain them all," are, we are told, joyfully received by the Mormons of this country. The arguments quoted from the Calcutta Christian Observer, and elsewhere, which Dr. Allen recommends to the attention of "Those who have doubts in respect to the intrinsic moral lawfulness of polygamy, as it existed among the Jews," will doubtless be often requoted and relied on in the controversy which must inevitably arise in political circles, when Utah shall apply for admission to the Union as a State, and in Missionary and Benevelent societies, whenever earnest Christian Missionrry labor shall be undertaken among the Mormons. Some of these arguments, if not all of them, Dr. Allen supports in his endeavor to show that "the continuance of the relation (thus previously formed,) after they have become Christian, and the performance of all the obligations involved in the relation cannot be morally wrong." It is difficult to understand how a Christian man can consent to lend his influence in favor of a practice so contrary to the spirit and teaching of Christianity; and in support of a position that may, at no distant day, be most detrimental to the best interests of a pure Christianity in our own country.
A thorough examination of these arguments, in detail, would require more space than can be properly devoted to it in such a publication as the American Missionary. We must, therefore, be brief in our further review of some of those most relied on.
It would be interesting to trace the history of Jacob, whose example is so often quoted, and show how large a portion of his trials, as recorded in in the Bible, were the direct—almost necessary—result of his polygamous connections; but this is not essential, for Leviticus 18:18 contains a direct prohibition of polygamy as practiced by him. If we read, as in the text, "Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sisters," the marriage of two sisters, as was Jacob's, is expressly forbidden; and the marginal reading, "Neither shalt thou take one wife to another," a reading approved by many able writers, is a direct and absolute prohibition of all polygamy. Moreover, in the absence of any expressed approval of Jacob's act, his example cannot be quoted to prove the lawfulness of it, except on the assumption either that every act of his not specifically rebuked in words, was in accordance with God's will, or that the favor shown to him, was God's approval of all that is recorded of his life, an assumption too violent to receive any favor. The well-informed Christian need not be told that no amount, or kind, of temporal prosperity can be received as proof that God approves of even the general course of those who enjoy it, much less of each individual deed, nor, that no degree of temporal affliction can be adduced as a proof of Divine condemnation. Here was the error of Job's three friends, and God rebuked them for it, and ordered them to seek the prayers of him whom they thought to be a great sinner because greatly afflicted.
The other arguments most relied on to prove the moral lawfulness of polygamy, and the rightfulness of receiving polygamists into mission churches are,
1. That God regulated it by the law of Moses. 2. That he commanded it by requiring a man to take to wife the widow of his deceased brother, if he died childless, and 3. That He gave David the wives of Saul, and blessed his connection with Bathsheba, after the death of Uriah.
Laws enacted to regulate or control any practice, cannot be fairly urged in proof of its intrinsic moral lawfulness. And most especially is this true if their tendency is to discourage and diminish the extent of such practice. The laws of Moses do indeed recognise the existence of polygamy, and endeavor to regulate it, but rightly interpreted they place barriers in the way of its extension rather than favor its existence. Thus, Ex. xxi. 7, 11, was designed to protect the interests of a maid who had been hired out by her father, as a servant, and who was subsequently betrothed to her master or his son. If the person to whom she was betrothed took another wife, he might not diminish the food, the raiment, or the duty of marriage of her who was already his wife. Her interests must be protected, and her rights secured, however injurious that might be to the one who should come after her. So also, Deut. xxi. 15, 16, if it recognises the existence of polygamy, does not sanction it. It is designed to secure the birthright to the first-born, of two wives, the one beloved and the other hated, and is conservative of the rights of the hated wife and her son. It is a barrier in the way of a man's taking a second wife in the place of, or in addition to the hated wife, who may have borne him a son. But it is by no means certain that the passage recognises even the possibility of the existence of polygamy for it may be, and is by some, rendered, "If there should have been to a man two wives," and may without violence be supposed to mean two wives in succession.
But the supposition that the laws of Moses did not prohibit polygamy, but recognised its existence, and sought to control it, by no means proves its moral lawfulness, or sanctions it. Christ has taught us that, on account of the hardness of their hearts, Moses suffered the Jews to put away their wives for other causes beside fornication, and for many others, and he plainly pronounces those who do this to be guilty of Adultery. Here then, was an act once suffered and made a subject of legislation that Christ pronounces to be wrong for all men. This argument is quite as strong against polygamy as against divorce, and in its terms refers as much to marrying another wife, as to the divorcing a former one.
Neither the delaration of God, 2 Sam. xii. 8, nor the example of David, recorded elsewhere, can be fairly placed in support of this practice. As God said to David, that he had given him his masters, (Saul's,) wives, or "women,"* so he also said to him, (verse 11,) that he would take his wives, and give them to his neighbor, (Absalom.) These providences give no sanction, either to David's polygamy, or Absalom's incest. They no more sanctioned either the one or the other, than his having given the Jews into the hand of the King of Babylon sanctioned the use that Nebuchadnezzar made of his power. But there is no proof that Saul had more than one wife: nor if he had, that David married any of them. Saul was David's father-in-law. We read of his having one wife, and one concubine, Rizpah, but it is not certain that he had both of these at one time, nor is it probable, considering the relation of David to Saul, that he would have taken either of them to wife.
In the case of Bathsheba, it appears that God chastized David, until he deeply and truly repented of his sin, and then removed his rod from him,
* The word translated wives, sometimes means only women, and may here refer to the unmarried women of Saul's household, that would, according to custom, come into David's, possession.
although his house was ever after troubled by the wicked contentions of his sons, the fruits of his polygamous connections. The fact that God raised up Solomon, his son by Bathsheba, to the throne, no more proves that He approved of David's polygamy, or even of his marriage with Bathsheba, than the result of Judah's incestuous intercourse with his daughter-in-law Tamar, by which they became progenitors of Mary the mother of Christ, and also of the principal part of the Jewish nation, proves that their incestuous act was approved of God. All that can be said with any degree of certainty in relation to it is, that God did not see fit to set aside natural law, and that Solomon was, by special endowment of wisdom, best fitted of all David's sons for that high honor.
It can hardly fail to be seen that the passages used to give a divine sanction to polygamy fail to accomplish that purpose; that the enactment of laws to restrain and control it, does not give it such sanction; that the record of its practice by patriarch or king, can not be quoted in its favor, so long as we know that the failings, and even the vices of the people of God are often recorded in the sacred Scriptures without comment: and that the recorded examples of it, among men who feared God, are very few, and often carried with them their own terrible punishment. It must be seen, too, that our Lord authoritatively lays down the laws of marriage as being between two parties only, and for life; and that he declares that this doctrine was the one tauhgt from the beginning, and that a violation of this law is Adultery. Paul, too, declares that "every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband;" and that "the wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband, and likewise, also, the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife," statements utterly inconsistent with the existence of polygamy. If we turn from the Scriptures to the writings of the earliest fathers of the Christian Church, we do not find the slightest trace of anything resembling a testimony to the lawfulness of polygamy, while, on the other hand, we do find passages in which it is condemned, and declared not to be allowed among Christians. There is, no foundation for the argument in favor of the intrinsic moral lawfulness of polygamy; and we can find no evidence in the Bible or in History for the assertion that polygamists were received into the primitive Christian Churches, and allowed to retain all their wives. The practice of receiving such into Mission Churches strengthens the system of polygamy, and is, we believe, corrupting to the Churches; and injurious, both to the profssed convert, and the Missionary who advocates his admission to the Church, and opposes his being called upon to separate from all but one of his wives.
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