My brethren and friends,
After all there is really so much in Scripture that looks in favor of the doctrine of Polygamy, that no man can reasonably be blamed for thinking it lawful: and barely thinking it lawful is all the bone of contention, there is between this church are me: For I do not desire a revolution, nor liberty so much as to say a single word in vindication of it, only for the bare necessity of defense, when all my concessions hitherto have been rejected. The bare belief is all I want, and I am constrained to believe it for myself: For the Bible was put in the hands of every man, that they might read and understand, and their senses and candid judgments were given to them to determine each one for himself.
I was really led to the belief of the doctrine of Polygamy, from the Scripture only, without any desire to practice it. And I was led to the belief of it in the following manner, viz. I was early learned to practice that very valuable rule, never to believe but in proportion to evidence; and hence to believe with different degrees of ascent, as I imagined the evidence afforded grounds: I likewise early had the Bible presented as an object of belief: I read, I examined, I believed, I found difficulties in objections, I search them out and length got confirmed in the belief of the whole. But among the many objections that occurred to hinder my belief of the truth of the Bible, and the doctrines of Polygamy (while I viewed it as unlawful and contrary to the mind and will of Christ) was a notable one, for I was taught from a Child to believe it to be adultery, or quite as bad, and yet I plainly saw that holy men of old, under divine inspiration, and man after God's own heart, yea, the sacred penmen of the Bible practiced it: yea, I eventually saw God made provision for it as lawgiver, and evidently owned and blessed them in it: and (at the same time) the Scriptures in many places were express against fornication and adultery, and evidently barred the practices of them out of heaven: this stared me so in the face as quite to shock my belief of the Bible, which i saw in this view so contradictory to itself t'ill in the light of Scripture and reason I evidently saw that Polygamy was no way the nature of fornication and adultery; nor at all productive of any of the real evils of them, but really consistent and agreeable in the sight of God; and then the difficulty vanished. And the bear private belief of this is, as aforesaid, all the bone of contention between this church and me: for I believe with them every fundamental principle of the Christian religion.
How can that be esteemed so essential that the Scriptures nowhere condemn? That is certainly not possible to be ascertained, unless in favor of the principle: can that be heresy that belongs to the Civil Code and not to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion? That equally concerns all nations whether Christians are not? That is only for the regulation of this life and ends with it? That is but a circumstance in the marriage institution, no way subversive of it? If this is heresy what is there that is not heresy? If we must be denied even a private judgment in thing so circumstantial so trivial as this, on penalty of excommunication, even while we are sorry (seeing it is an offense) that we said anything about it: where shall we be landed by-and-by? Were it one of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion, Scripture and reason would justify the strictest proceedings against it. How many circumstantial differences are there in this church that are quite as bad, nay, worse than this, that is and ought to be neglected, for conscience sake?
I have lived a church member these 28 years, and, it appears to me in, all good conscience twords God and man. I say not this for the sake of boasting, before towards man; or why was i never disciplined before this affair of Polygamy was taken up? I remember to have heard church members give their opinions freely for and against Polygamy years ago; but no offense taken. No, it is new an unheard of thing, from what quarter arising I shall not pretend to say, but think as favorably of it as I can. Now I plainly appears that it is not heresy, as set forth in the complaint, nor any essential error at all to believe as I do: nor ought it to be any manner of offense, but seeing it is, how can any candid person desire more in the case then what I continually offer by way of concession?
Sundry objections answered.
Objection 1st. But is not the marriage institution is being made single a sufficient bar against Polygamy?
Answer, by no means, since most of the commands, injunctions and exhortations in the Bible are made single, which it most certainly are meant to be complicate: as by the practice of the fathers under divine inspiration, and God's apparent approbation of them, both as God and lawgiver gives us at least good reason to believe the marriage institution was meant to be complicate too.
Objection 2. But is not what Christ saith Matt. xix. 9, designed against Polygamy? The words are these, and I say unto you whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commiteth adultery: and whoso marries her that is put away doeth commit adultery.
Answer 1st, not at all because he was apparently and professedly on another subject, viz. The putting away a wife, for every cause, as is evident from verse 8th and 9th.
Answer 2nd. It plainly appears from a candid survey of the matter, that even the adultery spoken of, verse 9, wholly originates from the unjustly putting away a wife, in order to marry another: And that the wickedness of it consists in these two things, viz. 1st, in the consequent neglect of the one said to be put away, which in God's account was still his own flesh: And secondly, in his consequent unjustly enjoying another, while as yet he wanted but one at a time: And the ill consequences naturally attending such an ungenerous practice: For how many wives might a man of a changeable disposition or run over in a short life on that plan? And how much mischief and confusion would such an unreasonable practice produce among men? Now, it is certain from the scope and design of our Savior's words in this paragraph, that he writes the unreasonableness of putting away a wife, from the marriage institution he had cited, and that he did not argue any thing against or about Polygamy.
Objection 3rd. Is not that passage in the xiiith of Leviticus, at the 18th verse, against Polygamy, especially considering the Hebrew word for sister is sometimes translated wife, and therefore meant wife in this place? The words are there, neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other, in her lifetime.
Answer 1st. Not at all; because when viewed with all of the verses in that chapter with which it is connected, it evidentially forbids to marry the wives sister, or it regulates Polygamy: For an the 29th verse of the same chapter we have these words, vis. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people: from which it is evident that this, amongst the other things forbidden in this chapter was a capital crime. But we find Polygamy practiced as frequently after it as before it, and no punishment inflicted, which is absurd to suppose if Polygamy had been here forbidden as a capital crime, as all the forbiddings of this 18th chapter evidently are: Therefore the objection as it regards the translation or anything else must be groundless, as to anything against Polygamy.
Objection 4. Was it not certainly wrong in the ancient fathers to have concubines: and in as much as they are no more condemned for concubinage than for Polygamy; may we not argue from this that therefore both are wrong?
Answer. No. Because the Scripture notion of concubinage differs so much from the common idea of it, at this day, as that it is a word quite synonymous with wife, and means essentially the same thing, as is evident from the Scriptures calling the same woman sometimes wife and sometimes concubine, as they do in a variety of places, in particular Abraham's and David's wives, &c.
Objection 5th. But may we not argue that as the Old Testament times were dark and shadowy, that therefore the fathers might be ignorant, and that the practice of Polygamy might be wrong in reality, notwithstanding their being under divine inspiration and God's apparent seeming approbation of them in it?
Answer. No, by no means: For there was no darkness attended to the Jewish dispensation, that related to any moral or civil law, God having given out these in their greatest perfection he ever intended to do. There being nothing to hinder God's giving out these in perfection, his goodness and faithfulness would sufficiently prompt him to do it, and he is never wanting in them: But it was necessary that the types and shadows of the Jewish dispensation should precede the coming of Christ or we as well as they could never have understood the gospel sufficiently, being full of wonders too much to be understood without such help.
Objection 6. But is not that passage in first Corinthians viii 4. Which saith, the wife hath not power of her own body but the husband: and likewise the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife, apparently meaning the conjugal ties that are reciprocally binding: Especially adding the fifth verse, defraud ye not one another, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourself to fasting and prayer, and come together again, that satan tempt you not for your inconsistency: Plainly implying that neither of them have any right to cheat each other, or still into the company or enjoyment of others, is not this I say, sufficient to overthrow the doctrine of Polygamy? Being the strongest and most express text against Polygamy in all the Bible, that leaves no room to get another wife.
Answer. True indeed we have no right to cheat or defraud one another out of any of the conjugal duties, nor by any means still into the enjoyment of others: But this does not argue that to get another wife in a regular form, as the ancient patriarchs did, and as every man has a natural right, is cheating, stealing, and defrauding.
Now, since there is so much needless stress laid on this Scripture, it will be but just to survey the whole of the chapter: In which we shall find, first, that the apostle answered a number of questions relating to marriage, under the distress of persecution: And secondly, that he spake by permission, and not by commandment: And that therefore the words on which they lay so much stress, are only the wholesome words of the good apostle, by way of advice under their trying circumstances, and as one that had obtained mercy to be faithful; and are not the language of inspiration. No wonder he did not advise to double marriage at a time when he could not consistently advise to single marriage. Now I would ask why the apostle in the 29th verse of the same chapter puts the stress of law and obligation, not on the man but on the woman, in these words, viz. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth: but if her husband be dead she is at liberty to be married to whom she will. And why in Romans vii. 2. The same stress of long obligation is put on the side of the woman and never reversed and put on the side of the man, but because he knew the man was at liberty, as the ancient patriarchs were, to marry another while the wife yet lived? And therefore, this so very express and plain text against Polygamy, so that there is none like it in all the Bible, is not only not at all against it, but, when viewed and compared in all of its circumstances, and with other Scriptures, makes much for Polygamy. Nor is there the least difficulty in applying those good rules the apostle in this chapter, and elsewhere gives out to man and wife, to the few that live in Polygamy: Whereas the nature of the case differs not at all: For if a man has wives, and the same duties and obligations are due from them to him, as would be from her to him, if he had but one; and so likewise the same duties and obligations as though he had but one, is continually under to each of them, because of the union that takes place in marriage. Nor is it at all more inconsistent, for three, four or more to be united so as to become one flesh, then only two: For the ancient patriarchs did marry in Polygamy, and such marriages were valid in the sight of God; or Solomon could not have been allowed to enter the congregation of the Lord; nor his children to the 10th generation, being expressly forbidden, as all bastards were, for he was a son of David's seventh wife. These valid marriages therefore could not fail to make how many forever were joined in it all one flesh.
Objections 7. It is not that passage which we find in Malachi ii 14, 15. Against Polygamy? The words are there, viz. Yet ye say wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of they youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did he not make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit: and wherefore one?" That he might seek a Godly seed. I therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. Now does this not apparently condemn treacherously dealing with the first wife or the wife of his youth: The marriage institution being sacred, of which God is a witness? Does not the prophet in these words plainly hold forth that the marriage institution was made single, and that it would be therefore be cheating the first wife to get another wife while she yet lived? And if God made but one woman in the beginning, that he might seek a goodly seed, how destructive to religion must it be for man to have two or more wives? Are not these things quite a enough to overthrow the doctrine of Polygamy?
Answer 1st. This passage is not against Polygamy: For though these words do plainly forbid a man's dealing treacherously with his wife; yet the treachery of the prophet complains of is not marrying another; but putting away; as is evident from the former part of the 16th verse. For the Lord the God of Israel saith, that be hateth putting away.
Polygamy was practiced, and lawful and the prophets view; and he had no reference at all to it, in any part of the chapter; but plainly this, that as a man treacherously puts away his wife, despising the solemn covenant, to the priests and so the people had dealt treacherously in the covenant of their God. And this is plainly the spirit and meaning of it.
It does not from thence follow that it is at all cheating or treacherously dealing, for man to get another wife, while he loves them provides for the former one sufficiently, as the ancients did.
Answer 2. If the prophet in these words, and did he not make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit: and wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed? Had he reference to the original marriage institution, anymore than by analogy with the covenant God had made with Israel, yet that is no evidence that God meant to set up Adam and Eve as a pattern of single marriage, to be followed by all succeeding generations: No, it appears by God's apparent approbation of Polygamy, both as God and lawgiver, that he did not: and the prophet rather tells us that the reason why God made but one woman in the beginning, was, a special reference he had to the covenant he had to make with their first parents; that they might stand a better chance to prove a godly seed in as much as women are not so stable as man.
Answer 3. Nor have we any just reason to conclude that Polygamy (under proper regulations) is any way destructive to religion; since the prophets themselves, yea, holy man of old did practice it.
Objection 8. But is not that Scripture in the 17th chapter of Deuteronomy, verse 17, an apparent prohibition of Polygamy? Where speaking of the elections and duty of a king, he is forbidden to multiply wives; the words are these: Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. Now may we not conclude that to multiply is getting more than one of any thing, and therefore kings being forbidden more wives than one, who are certainly able to maintain wives, and whose example are and ought to be most followed; may we not view this as a complete prohibition of Polygamy?
Answer. If to multiply in these words meant to confine kings to one wife, then with real reason did them words in the 16th verse, confine kings to one horse: The words are these: but he shall not multiply horses to himself, to cause the people to return into Egypt. The thing is this, the word multiply comes from multitude; and what is here forbidden is, that a king should not have many wives. Solomon only (of all the kings of Israel) transgress this rule; because many wives, not simply Polygamy was here forbidden; and this was forbidden, not as a capital crime, but as a thing that should not be so convenient in the affairs of the kingdom. And accordingly we find, that Solomon was not blamed for the many wives (that he had) but because he took them from other nations, when he, and everyone in Israel was forbidden to marry with them. And now, if kings were forbidden have more wives than one, why did Jehoiada the good priest, take to wives for the young Prince Joash, who had escaped Athalia's massacre, and now crowned by the aid of this good priest, second Chronicles xxiv 3, and Jehoiada took for him two wives, &c.
Objection 9. But is not reason against Polygamy, as a thing that is really productive of confusion, as fornication or adultery, or even the doctrine Nicolations, which Christ said plainly that he hates? If not quite so bad as either; yet, it is not the same evil tendency; as a branch of the same evil roots that bears the same evil fruit as they do?
Answer 1. No. Because it is not a branch of either; but the genuine offspring of regular marriage, and produces exactly the same fruit as a single marriage, with which in the same civil and ecclesiastical government, it has gone hand-in-hand under the divine direction and government, through a long series of time; and also been approved and practiced by the greatest statesman in the world; witness God's peculiar people, of which he was King, and David, Solomon, and the kings of Israel, his viceregents.
Answer 2. To be more particular, fornication and adultery are wholly subversive of all the good ends for which marriage was designed; because these allowed and practiced, make it altogether uncertain to whom the offspring produced should belong; and consequently none knows who he has to educate, provide for, were convey property to; but all is in confusion: And the same things are done by the doctrine of the Nicolatians , with a little more restrictions, and no way essentially different; only as a lesser community differs from a larger: for the doctrine of the Nicolatians is to have all the women in their community common, Now extend this to the universal (for it is capable of universal extension) and it is wholly subversive of all the good ends for which marriage was designed, as either fornication or adultery: Or in other words; fornication, adultery, and the doctrine of the Nicolatians, having the same latitude, and equally subversive to all the good ends designed by marriage, which are evidently these, viz. To lay a foundation that our natural affections, in this depraved state, may prompt us to take care of our own offspring, and know who we have to provide for and educate; but the practice of Polygamy, not capable of universal extension, hinders none of these: For while the wives are all a man's own, he knows as well his own offspring, as if he had but one. Polygamy is therefore no way subversive of any of the good ends designed by marriage; any more where marriage is in double, than where it is single: And therefore reason is no way against Polygamy, as necessarily introducing any confusion at all.