My Brethren and Friends, the chief design and leading theme of this my defense, is to show that the doctrine of Polygamy, whether right or wrong, it is, with regards religion, nonessential and circumstantial; and by no means heresy, or an essential error, as I am charged in the complaint. Yet, because I could not let the nonessential nature of it in the [illegible word] and advantageous point of light I wanted, without using the chief arguments in favor of it, I shall therefore endeavor to set them in as just a point of light as I am able.
Now the sum of my pleas consists in a single proposition (being the seventh of my former plea) proved, illustrated and applied. The proposition is this, vis.
There are two ways of instruction specially taken in the Scriptures: the one by precept and the other by example. 1 Cor x, II. Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they were written for admonition, upon who the ends of the world are come. See also 2 Tim, iii. 16. And now by this latter way (viz. by example) we are warned by the fearful judgments that come on mankind for the practice of wickedness, and also encouraged to pursue the ways of those whom God has owned and blessed.
And now though the marriage institution was made single, for sundry reasons it was meant to be complicate. For, 1st, as was meant to be complicate because Polygamy was practiced in the early ages, even in the days of Adam; and God did not forbid it; though it should seem that he certainly would if it had been evil and his sight: for it should seem to be a very proper time to put a stop to a growing evil, to nip it in the bud.
2. It was strange if God did not approve of Polygamy, that he did not forbid it to Abraham whom he called out from the pollutions of the world to bless him and his seed.
3. And it was still stranger that God, when he set up Abraham's seed to be a particular people to himself, and gave them the moral law, a code of civil laws and a code of ceremonial laws for religious worship, should not only not say any thing against Polygamy, but even make it a provision for it in his civil laws to them. As in Exodus xxi. 10. If he take him another wife: Her food, her raiment, and her duty to marriage shall he not diminish. And again in Deuteronomy xxi, 15, 16, &c.
4. Strange indeed, if Polygamy was not approved of God, as being included in the original marriage institution, that so many of the fathers, under divine inspiration should live so great a sin as Polygamy, if it were a sin, for it can be no less a sin than adultery if any sin at all: Therefore the marriage institution was meant to be complicate from the beginning, as many other commands and injunctions evidently are, though made single. For the Fathers under inspiration could not be ignorant of the sin of Polygamy, if there were any in it; and reason too evidently shews that Polygamy is no sin, and it is in no way subversive of any of the good ends for which marriage was instituted: And the fathers were evidently owned and blessed in that way; as was Abraham, Jacob, David and others: And we find that Eleanah and his wives allowed to worship in the congregation of the Lord, into which a bastard might not come to the tenth generation, nor so much as the hire of a whore ever come into the treasury of the Lord, much less might a whore, which every second or third wife must be, if Polygamy was not lawful: Now the fathers thus owned and blessed are certainly examples for us, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
5. And now, that which is the most unaccountably strange of all is, if the original marriage institution did not include Polygamy, that Jesus Christ nor any of the Apostles should say nothing against Polygamy, which in fact they did not.
No, Jesus Christ did not say any thing against Polygamy in much talked of Scripture, vis. Matt xix. because he was there on another subject, vis. the putting away of a wife for every cause, and he recites the marriage institution in order to condemn that, and argues the unreasonableness of it, from the union that takes place in marriage, and from the authority of God in it, and shews that this union was so from the beginning, and that the putting away for every cause was not so: He does not argue the unreasonableness of Polygamy, or say that to marry another wife, while a man performs all the duties of a husband to the first, is any way contrary to the original marriage institution; but to put one away unjustly, in order to marry another, is contrary to it: Mark x. II. to which unjustly putting away one and getting another, Christ annexeth the epithet of adultery, as in Matthew xix. 9.
Now if you should ask whether in all cases the getting another wife from does not virtually put away the first? I answer no by no means; either in reason or the law of God, which still enjoins all the duties of marriage to the first, as in Exodus xxi, 10, before cited.
Nor do the apostles say any thing against Polygamy, they only give out their exhortations single, and no wonder, since mankind in general choose single marriage, which makes it altogether proper so to do, or they could not be so well understood; but the rule is much easier applied to those few that choose to live in double marriage.
6. Now it is not very unaccountable, unless Polygamy were lawful, that none of God's prophets, nor apostles, nor even Christ himself, who came a light unto this world, and who was so exact, thorough and critical in the explanation of God's law, particularly in his sermon on the Mount, and even treats on the subject of marriage, as in Matthew v. 31, 32, and express against all manner of sin, and even against the least sin, should yet say nothing against Polygamy, even when he had the subject of marriage in hand? And is it not also very strange that Polygamy is not ranked among any sin in the catalogs anywhere in the Bible, if it were a sin.
7. And now, my friends, who among us can duly consider these things and yet believe Polygamy to be a sin; or if any do through the force of custom, common prejudice and the like; yet can any candid person make an essential error of a point so disputable, and so dark in both Scripture and reason, as this of Polygamy must be on their side; when it is certain that every essential point is very plain that he that runs may read: every essential duty how plainly taught; how often repeated; how pathetically enjoined: Every essential error how often, how plainly forbidden, and how many times ranked among the catalogs of sins: And shall we make that essential error, that is not called a sin from one end of the book to the other? A book given us on the purpose to direct our way? We can by no means, or any reason do it.
But before I proceed, I must stop and consider one important question that comes in our way, viz. what are Christians to call heresy? Or in what sense do the Scriptures use it? For it is no way to her purpose to say, though it is true, that the doctrines of the Roman church are heresies to us, and our doctrines are heresies of them, and of consequence any doctrines, right or wrong, may in their turn be called heresies. No, my brethren, the question before us, what is that heresy that the Scriptures warrant to excommunicate for, in these words: In the epistle of Paul to Titus iii. 10. A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition reject? This then in few words is it, vis. either to disbelieve or to believe in a wrong manner some fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion: or some disbelief or wrong belief of some plain moral precept, as morality and religion are inseparably conjoined. This, my brethren is a definition of heresy, that will really bear out in any church in excommunicating any member that shall refuse to hear them: but less than this would be doubtful; for it is not an error and politics, or in civil law matters, nor yet in circumstantials, that ought to be considered as heresies. But to return,
8. We may safely lay it down for an universal proposition, that the most necessary truths are the most plainly revealed, and the reverse. The truth of this proposition may be surely argued from the faithfulness of God, who giveth wisdom liberally and upbraideth not, does not desire his creatures to grovel in the dark. Now from this proposition we may safely draw lines, vis. What Christians ought to call essential errors were doctrines, vis. Those and those only are essential that are plainly revealed and the reverse: for it is very unjust in this case, instead of laboring to know what is and is not essential, to take party and say two cannot walk together unless they be agreed; true indeed they cannot, but should we not strive to our utmost to know what is really essential, or to see whether we are not like to split on some needless rocks, or not, and so not be approved at the last day.
To illustrate this, should one or more members of this church turn churchmen, while at the same time they differed not in any one of the essentials of our faith or practice, only in some circumstantials relating to the mode of worship, their insisting upon them would no doubt be needless rocks to split upon: But suppose they cannot agree to walk any longer with us, unless we change your modes for them, then we must part indeed; but have we any right at all while they (as I do with this church) believe every fundamental point of faith and practice; have we I say any right to all to excommunicate them? No, by no means, either by Scripture or reason. And the same may be said if any should turn Baptist, or separatist; we may part indeed, but have no manner of right to excommunicate. How many needless rocks do we find to split upon; and how many needless divisions are among the professed Christians? My brethren, it is as the grand adversary the devil would have it; it loves to make circumstantial things appear very material, on purpose to divide us; and when he has brought about a great many needless divisions, he laughs to see how much mischief he has done; and shall we not beware lest Satan get an advantage over us:
9. And another thing that makes the doctrine of Polygamy but a circumstantial error, if it be one, is, that it belongs to the civil code; and therefore does not so immediately concern the kingdom of Christ, which is not of this world as he said himself: For no civil matter concerns the kingdom of Christ, any further than it regards the external piece of his subjects, the little time they have to live here.
The marriage institution is however a civil institution of vast importance to the well-being of community in this apostate world: Was the first civil law, no doubt, that God ever gave to man: Was instituted for the times that should come after the apostasy, and became necessary only in consequence of it; for but for the apostasy no laws but moral could ever be wanted. Now in consequence of the fall, marriage was instituted, as a civil thing, for necessity and noble purpose; whereby the natural affections of mankind, might prompt to take care of their own offspring, which by means of marriage, unviolated on the part of the woman, may hence only be distinctly known. But for this children might be kicked about the streets with a you are not mine, and you are not mine: Hence the great evil and heinous nature of fornication and adultery; because either of these is wholly subversive of all these good ends: but the practice of Polygamy is subversive of none. So them Polygamy not being forbidden by Scripture nor reason must be but a circumstantial matter.
Lastly, and now my brethren is that this heresy is this the mighty error that warrants Christ church to excommunicate for? No, by no means, you may as well do for thinking it right to keep Sabbath day night as holy time, yes, but with more propriety, for the right keeping of the Sabbath, in the season of it, regards morality and religion more directly than Polygamy, and is full as plainly revealed. Infant baptism, my friends, is not so plainly revealed as the doctrines of Polygamy; there is no express text for it, not one single example of it in all the Bible, it is only gathered from certain circumstances: But for Polygamy we have a great many examples, and those of pious men among the rest, and God evidently approving them in it, both as God and lawgiver; and shall we make an essential error of it? God forbid.
To conclude; we have no desire or design to make a revolution in this matter; we only believe the doctrine of Polygamy as a matter of simple right, and are very far from judging it expedient to practice, no my brethren, we rather judge, that unless a revolution was made, it would not occasion much unnecessary confusion and disorder. No, we are much inclined to peace, and have no desire to disturb any body. Now from the aforesaid reasons, as soon as ever I perceived the doctrines of Polygamy had given offense to any, I forthwith with freedom began to make concessions, which I have continued to make ever since, on every fruitable occasion many times over, in hopes of settlement: And I still continue in this same disposition, hoping at length you will hear me: And with the utmost cordiality I embrace this opportunity, (as I would let none slip) to do it again.
So now my brethren, I am sorry I ever broached the principle of Polygamy (seeing it as an offense) and am willing to say it at any time and place you shall choose, and to promise to say no more about it.