Bible View of Polygamy.
To the Right Reverend John Henry Hopkins,
Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont.
RIGHT REVEREND SIR: I venture to dedicate to you these few pages, which derive their inspiration from your writings. An admirer, like yourself, of the institutions of old, I should hardly have dared to declare these truths to a perverse and self-glorifying gene-ration, had I not been emboldened by the ex-ample of one who so worthily wears the high-est honors of the church. In constructing my argument, therefore, as I have done, with paragraph after paragraph of your very words, it has been because I felt it necessary to shield myself behind your authority from the charge which ignorant presumption might else have brought, of irreverently travestying the Word of God. A race which can stigmatize as "twin relics of barbarism'' two institutions such as slavery and polygamy, which are di-vinely sanctioned if not divinely ordained, is capable of any act of irreligious fanaticism-The Utah expedition failed to accomplish the destruction of the one; let us hope that the present abolition war prove equally unsuc-cessful as to the other. To aid in the good work, then, let us bend our united energies to the task of forcing the light of truth through the accumulated darkness of our so called modern civilization, in the hope that the time is not far distant when every citizen may have as many slaves as Abraham, and as many wives as Solomon.
Trusting that you will accept my co opera-tion in the spirit in which it is tendered, I beg leave to subscribe myself
Your humble admirer,
Polygamy may be defined as the union for life of a man with two or more women. And this kind of union appears to have existed as an established institution in all the ages of our world, by the universal evidence of all history, whether sacred or profane.
This understood, I shall not oppose the prev-alent idea that polygamy is an evil in itself.-A physical evil it may be; but this does not satisfy the judgment of its more zealous ad-versaries, since they contend that it is a moral evil-a positive sin in a man to be married simultaneously to more than one woman.
Here, therefore, lies the true aspect of the controversy. And it is evident that it can only be settled by the Bible. For every Christian is bound to assent to the rule of the inspired Apostle, that "sin is the trangression of the law," namely, the law laid down in the Scriptures by the authority of God-the su-preme "Lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy." From his Word there can be no appeal. No rebellion can be so atrocious in his sight as that which dares to rise against his government. No blasphemy can be more unpardonable, than that which imputes sin or moral evil to the decree of the eternal Judge, who is alone perfect in wisdom, in knowledge and in love.
If it were a matter to be determined by my personal sympathies, I should be as ready as any man to condemn the institution of polyg amy, for all my prejudices of education, habit, and social position stand opposed to it. But as a Christian, I am solemnly warned not to be "wise in my own conceit," and not "to lean to my own understanding." As a Chris tian, I am compelled to submit my weak and erring intellect to the authority of the Al-mighty. For then only can I be safe in my conclusions, when I know that they are in ac-cordance with the will of Him, before whose tribunal I must render a strict account at the last great day.
I proceed, accordingly, to the evidence of the sacred Scriptures, which, long ago. pro-duced complete conviction in my own mind, and must, as I regard it, be equally conclusive to every candid and sincere inquirer.
The first appearance of polygamy in the Bible is in the case of Lamech, fifth in descent from Cain, whose two wives, Adah and Z llah (Gen. iv. 19-23) are mentioned by the inspired writer without any expression of reprobation, or any allusion to the transaction being unu-sual or irregular. Introduced thus early, it may be regarded as among the primal princi-ples of human society, though our knowledge of antediluvian times is too scanty to enable us rightly to determine its extension and prev-alence. It is probable, however, that the great duration of existence might well render men cautious how they bound themselves for life to more than one partner whom incompat-ibility of temper might render distasteful after a few centuries.
For several generations after the Deluge, population was not sufficiently dense to ren der polygamy frequent. Accordin ly the first who revived the time-honored custom appears to have been Esau, as might have been ex-pected from his vigorous nature and ardent character. He seems to have contented him self with three wives, Judith, Bashemath and Mahalath. (Gen. xxvi. 34 xxviii. 9; xxxvi. 2, 3.)
If the descendants of Cain and Esau, how-ever, be regarded as somewhat questionable sponsors for the custom, all doubt as to its righteousness is removed by the example of the patriarch Jacob, the blessed of Heaven.-His union with Leah and Rachel is well known, as well as the amiable zeal with whic his wives supplied him with supplementary consorts in the persons of their handmaidens, Billah and Zilpah (Gen. xxx. xxx.); while the blessings subsequently promised to him and to his posterity show that his plurality of wives was sanctioned in the highest and most direct manner.
Polygamy being thus divinely approved, it became a recognized part of the domestic economy of the chosen people, as we learn from the direct rule established by the wisdom of God for Israel, on the very point in ques-tion.
"If a man have two wives, one beloved and another hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the first-born son be hers that was hated;
"Then shall it be when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he shall not make the son of the beloved first-born before the son of the hated, which is indeed the first born." (Deut. xxi. 15-17.)
With this law before his eyes, what Chris-tian can believe that the Almighty attached immorality or sin to the condition polygamy especially when one may look in vain through the Mosaic regulations of marriage (Levit. xviii.) for any limitation on the number of wives?
The blessing vouchsafed to those who took to themselves numerous consorts, and the lofty positions to which they arose show that in the eyes of God and man they were pure from sin and worthy of all honor.
It is recorded of two judges of Israel, Ibzan and Abdon, that the one had thirty sons and thirty daughters, while the other had forty sons, showing conclusively that their gynecea were abundantly peopled. (Judges x 9, 13) That the Prophet Samuel-the asked of God-sprang from a father, Elkanah the Levite, who had two wives (I Samuel 1.), is sufficient proof to those who impiously use the word bigamist as a term of contumely and reproach.
David, the man after God's own heart, b-e fore he was thirty seven years of age, had taken to wife Michal, Ahinoam, Abigail. Ma-acah, Haggith, Abigail, and Eglah (II. Samuel iii.); while he was living with them all. God prospered him and made him king over Israel and Judah, and the prophet Nathan announced to him the favor of the Lord, to him and his gen-eration. Even his indiscretion in adding Bath-sheba to the list was readily pardoned, and the Union was blessed in the birth of Solomon.
Solomon, wisest of men, "had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concu bines.'' (I. Kings xi. 3.) In this he sacrifi ed himself to the vindication of the great principle of polygamy, for the tempter easily found ad mittance among such a multitude, and seduced him to follow strange gods-a warning to us all to be moderate, even in what is right.
Such, then, is the institution of polygamy, laid down by the Lord God of Israel for his chosen people, and continued for fifteen cen-turies, until the new dispensation of the Gos-pel. What change did this produce? I grant, of course, that we, as Christians are bound by the precept and example of the Saviour and his apostles. Let us now, therefore, proceed to the all-important inquiry, whether we are authorized by these to presume that the Mo-a system was done away.
Firt, then we ask what the divine Redeemer said in reference to polygymy. And the an swer is perfectly undeniable: HE DID NOT AL LUDE TO IT AT ALL. Not one word upon the subject is recorded by any of the four Evan-gelists who gave His life and doctrines to the world, even when He repealed the Mosaic law of divorce. (Matt, xix., Mark x.) Yet polyg-amy was in full existence at the time through-out Judea, and among the scattered Jews for centuries later, as we learn from Justin Mar-tyr (Dial. cum Tryphone adv. Judaeos) and Theophyiact (Comment. in I. Epist. ad Timoth). Even as late as 393, Theodosius the Great, in his ignorant zeal, endeavored to put an end to it, by a law which was continued in force by Justinian in the sixth century (Const. 7 Cod, Lib. I. Tit. ix.) How prosperous would be the present and how glorious the future of Utah, if the eloquent and pertinacious declaim-ers agains polyaamy had been willing to fol-low their Saviour's example!
But did not our Lord substantially repeal the old law by the mere fact that he establish-ed a new dispensation? Certainly not, unless they were incompatible. And, that be did not consider them incompatible is clearly proved by his own exprsss declaration.-"Think not,'' saith he, that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." (Mat. v. 17.) On that point, therefore, this single passage is perfectly conclusive.
But the precepts and the conduct of St. Paul himself, the great Apostle of the Gen-tiles, are all sufficient, because he meets the very point, and settles the whole question. Not only do his admonitions concerning mar-riage (1. Corinth, vii.) contain no prohibition of polygamy, but in his directions concerning the choice of bishops, priests and deacons (I. Tim iii. 2-12; Tit. i. 6,) he specially re-quires them to be men of one wife, thus tacit-ly, but fully, allowing a plurality of consorts to the laity of the faithful.
The evidence of the New Testament is thus complete, plainly proving that the institution of polygamy was not abolished by the Gospel. Compare now the course of the ultra reformer with that of Christ and his inspired apostle. The divine Redeemer openly rebukes the sanctimonious Pharisees. He spares not the infidel Sadducees. He denounces he hypo-critical Scribes. He calls the royal Herod "that fox." He censures severely the Jewish practice of divorcing their wives for the slight-est cause. He makes a scourge of small cords and drives the buyers and sellers out of the temple. Yet he lived in the midst of polyg-amy, maintained in accordance with the Mo-saic law, and uttered not one word against it! What proof can be stronger than this, that be did not regard it as a sin or a moral evil? And what contrast can be more mani-fest than this example of Christ on the one hand, and the loud and bitter denunciations of our anti-polygamy preachers and politi-cians, calling themselves Christians, on the other? For they not only set themselves against the Word of God in this matter, but-strange to say-they do it in the vey name of that Saviour whose whole line of conduct was the very opposite of their own!
Yet I do not mean to charge the numerous and respectable friends of this popular delu-sion with a wilful or conscious opposition to the truth. They are seduced, doubtless, in the great majority of cases, by the feelings of a false philanthropy, which palliates if it does not excuse, their dangerous error. Living far away from Utah, with no practical experience of the institution, and accustomed from child-hood to attach an inordinate value to the in-dividuality of the domestic relation, they are naturally disposed to compassionate the Utah wives, and to believe that they must be su-premely wretched in their subdivision of a husband's affection. They are under no spe-cial inducement to "search the Scriptures on this particular subject, nor are they in gener-al, I am sorry to say, accustomed to study the bible half as much as they read the newspa-per, the novel, and the magazine.
Thus the mistaken bigotry of the commu-nity, acting through the time serving pliancy of politicians, has disfigured our statute-books with laws which place a ban upon this patri-archal institution. Noble Christian souls in our midst, yearning to revert to the hallowed rites of old, are obliged to practise them cov-ertly, and under the opprobrious name of big amists are tracked and persecuted as felons, martyred like the primitive Christians under Decius and Diocletian. When some, bolder than the rest, founded on the banks of the Mississippi a community, which they fondly hoped by its happiness and purity might con-vert a stiff necked generation, they were driven from their homes by uncontrolled fanaticism. When, after sufferings unspeakable, these martyrs of Scriptural faith at length found a refuge in the tar distant desert, and their pos-terity testified to their righteousness, still the persecutor was upon their heels, and the whole nation, as Mr. Floyd's acceptances will testify, poured forth its money like water for the pitiful pleasure of reforming their domes-tic observances.
Shall we boast that we are wiser, purer, better, than the men who walked with God? Is it not time that we should confess our worldly wisdom to be ignorance, and lean with simple faith on the law that is written? Let the infidel and abolitionist prate of purity and domesticity; but let us imitate the noble ex-ample of our Southern brethren, who are ready to sacrifice all that the world holds dear in defence of patriarchal institutions. Return-ing to the principles ordained and sanctioned in the Book of books, we may hope to see arise amongst us new Jacobs and Samuels, Davids and Solomons.
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