1. Polygamy has existed from the earliest ages. (Gen. iv, 19.) It is often mentioned in the sacred oracles, and never spoken against. The absence of prohibition will not, as a general rule, amount to a justification. But as this institution began in the life time of Adam, and, with a single exception, has continued with most nations through all time, until this present; as it was practiced by a large number of the Patriarchs and Prophets, and favoured servants of God; the fact that it is not spoken against, raises a very strong presumption that God looks upon it with favour.
2. It is not however left to rest on presumption, or any doubtful construction. Its sanctity is a matter of distinct divine testimony. Nor is it true, as many have said, that Polygamy is permitted in the Old Testament, but prohibited in the New. It is required by the Old, and not forbidden by the New Testament; and though the Book of Mormon interdicts it in the case of the Nephites, (Jacob i, 4. ii, 6,) the interdict is expressly stated to be in consequence of general corruptions which prevented the well working of the institution, and not that it was itself noxious; and makes the express reservation that in a future day God will institute Polygamy anew, as the means of raising up a holy seed.
3. In the Commandments which God gave to Moses, concerning the conquest of Midian, they were required to exterminate all the males, but to preserve the women children alive. (Num. xxxi, 15_18, 40, 46, 47.) Now the Commandment requires all, men and women, to be fruitful and multiply. (Gen. i, 28. ix, 1, 7. Lev. xxvi, 9.) By means of war many men in Israel perished, leaving an excess of women. Here was an addition of sixteen thousand women, whom the men of Israel had to take for wives, beyond the excess of women in Israel. Without Polygamy, it was impossible to find husbands for so many.
4. The whole course of the Law given by Moses, assumes the existence of Polygamy as a legal institution, and provides for the relative rights of the wives and their children, forbidding diminishing the substance of one wife, when he takes another, (Ex. xxi, 10,) or preferring the son of a favourite wife by giving him the double portion that pertains to the firstborn, when he is not firstborn. (Deut. xxi, 15.)
5. In practice God has in many ways sanctioned Polygamy by bestowing great blessings on the parties to such marriages, and upon their posterity. Abraham had two wives; Sarah and Hagar. Though Hagar was only a servant, and never being exalted to the dignity of her husband, is called a concubine; that is, a servant wife; her son Ishmael was highly blessed, and received great and glorious promises as an heir to Abraham. (Gen. xvi, 12. xvii, 20. xxi, 13, 18.)
6. Jacob had four wives; two taking rank with him, and two servant women, who are therefore called concubines. By the Law of Monogamy, which prevails in most Christian countries, Leah alone was his lawful wife. Yet God regarded the sons of Rachel, Zilpha and Bilhah as legitimate sons, and made them all Patriarchs, and heirs to Jacobs authority and his favour with God. Joseph, Rachels son, who, according to the Christian of modern days, was a bastard, God established as the firstborn, and chief of the Patriarchs.
7. In these cases Polygamy has every mark of Gods approbation, both by its being pursued uncondemned by men whose daily walk was guided by the word of God, and by their receiving peculiar and especial blessings which they could not otherwise have attained to.
8. But there was a Law in the days of the Patriarchs, reiterated by Moses and enforced in Israel in later ages, which required that when a man died, leaving a wife and no sons, his next brother should take the wife and raise up seed to his deceased brother. This requisition was upon him equally, whether married or not. But if unmarried, it became necessary that he should marry a wife to raise up seed to himself, lest in preserving his brothers name he should blot out his own. (Gen. xxxviii, 7_10. Deut. xxv, 5, 6. Ruth iv, 5_10.)
9. In these cases Polygamy became a positive duty, enforced by direct Commandment, as well as by the great principles of the Law of God. As often as a man obtained an inheritance, and died without posterity, it became a duty that one of his kindred have two wives; one to perpetuate his own name, and the other to perpetuate that of his kinsman.
10. If it is objected that this Law grew out of the Law of Inheritances, the rule will not be changed thereby; for it did not begin with the peculiar policy of Israel as a nation; and the Law of Inheritances, with which it is connected, is perpetual.
11. Nor will it avail to say that in these cases he is not the real husband of the wife of his deceased brother, but only a proxy for the deceased; for it is equally Polygamy during life. But if it be yielded that marriage concerns the everlasting life, quite as much as this mortal, then it follows that every one who is truly married to several successive wives, will, in the immortal life, be a Polygamist.
12. As the reason of the Law in these cases was the necessity of heirs to possess the inheritance, and to keep up the name of him who first received it; there are equal reasons in favour of Polygamy in every case when he who has an inheritance is childless, and his wife barren. And if there is a well grounded fear that the posterity may not survive to future generations, the same reasons have more or less force.
13. Gideon, who seems to have had the favour of God before all the Judges from Joshua to Samuel, had seventy sons, the children of many wives. (Jud. viii, 30.) In the fragments which have survived to us of the history of those times, it is impossible to know to what extent Polygamy prevailed. Of most men named, we do not know whether they had any wife. But it is remarkable that of all the great and good men of whose families we know anything, a very large majority had more than one wife.
14. In the case of David, God approbates Polygamy on a large scale, in the most distinct and emphatick manner. David, before he came to the Kingdom, had married Michal, the daughter of Saul, (1st Sam. xviii, 27. 2d Sam. iii, 13,) Abigal, the widow of Nabal, (1st Sam. xxv, 42,) and Ahinoam, of Jezreel. (id. xxx, 5. 2d Sam. ii, 2.)
15. Yet with these three wives, on the death of Saul, God gave his wives to David, to take them to his bosom. (2d Sam. xii, 8.) How many wives Saul had, does not clearly appear; but whatever the number was, God gave them to a man who had three already, and declared his willingness to give him more. And David, fully assured of Gods approbation, when he came from Hebron to Jerusalem, took more wives and concubines. (id. v, 13.) In all this, David is nowhere condemned; but in the matter of Uriahs wife, he is punished with great severity, (id. xi, 3, 4. xii, 10, 11,) because in the mind of God, taking another mans wife was adultery and robbery, but Polygamy was lawful. God commanded Hosea to marry two wives. (Hosea i, 2. iii.)
16. In the face of such facts, it is doing violence to the word of God, to say that Polygamy was only suffered. It is hardly possible that God should give any further evidence of his approval of it. And there is nothing in all the scriptures to make a different rule, or to alter the force of the argument in favour of this. The clear intention is to approve of it.
17. The oft repeated assertion, that Polygamy is abolished in the New Testament, has no truth in it. There is not a text found in the book which justifies the assertion. Some have said that the language, "They twain shall be one flesh," forbade the idea of more than one wife. But when it is considered that they are not one flesh in their own persons, but in the persons of their children, who are flesh of the flesh of both father and mother, it will appear that those words are just as applicable to Polygamick as Monogamick families; the true sense of the words being that a man beget children on his wife, and no other woman. In fact, his child, begotten on any other woman, is the flesh of they twain; but God has not joined them, and they sin in joining.
18. The injunction that a Bishop shall be the husband of one wife, (1st Tim. iii, 2,) has been frequently offered as evidence that God disapproved of Polygamy. This is absurd. The rule is not that he shall be the husband of but one, but that he shall be the husband of one.
19. But if we were to so construe the language as to forbid a Bishop having more than one wife, the limitation of the interdict to Bishops would clearly imply that other men might lawfully have more than one wife. Unless the general rule was, that men might have more than one wife, there could be no occasion to say Bishops should not.
20. Indeed, such seems to be the understanding of this text by the most enlightened of those Christians who understand that it limits a Bishop to one wife. For the Christian Missionaries who have instituted Christianity among the Pagan nations of India, receive members into their Churches who have more than one living wife, and allow them to continue to cohabit with them; such members being admitted to all the privileges of the Church, but not allowed to hold any office.*
21. It is also an unquestioned fact in history that Polygamy existed in the Apostolick Church.** The celibacy of the Clergy and the Monogamy of the laity exist on the same foundation; the authority of the Roman Catholick Church.
22. And it is worthy of observation that Polygamy was nowhere abolished upon the authority of the divine Law, but either by Canon or by Statute. Indeed, it was not really abolished at all. Legitimate marriages of the Clergy were abolished, but they were allowed to keep unmarried female companions, and, in many countries, those who had them, had an extra allowance from the Church for their support.
23. And, notwithstanding the general prohibition of Polygamy, it exists in fact, though not in Law, in all Christian countries. Kings whose marriages are governed by State reasons, generally use the privilege of taking one or more wives, to whom they are not married strictly according to Law, who are, nevertheless, in no sense under the imputation of unchastity, and numerous citizens followed their example.
24. Not only have Christian writers of the highest rank justified these departures from the rule of Monogamy, but many of them have defended Polygamy, as the preferable and more moral institution. Luther, Melancthon, and the chief authors of the Protestant Reformation, gave Polygamy their express sanction in favour of the Landgrave of Hesse,*** and numerous Protestants defended it as scriptural.
25. And if Polygamy does not exist in most Protestant countries now as a legal institution, that fact is attributable to statute, and not to the discipline of the Churches. Very few if any of them have one word in their disciplines, which discountenances Polygamy in any way whatever.
26. And that their testimony is not against Polygamy as a godly institution, but only against violating the law of the State, appears in this: the New Testament allows of divorce only for adultery. (Matt xix, 8, 9.) Yet when a Christian man has obtained a divorce for some other cause, which is no cause by the Law of God, and marries a second wife, the first being by the Law of God just as much his wife as she ever was, they receive him into their communion, just as before.
27. In peaceable times Polygamy would naturally limit itself to a very few cases, because most men desire marriage. But as in all settled communities a considerable number more of women than men desire to marry, there is always a necessity of Polygamy, that they may obtain husbands.
28. The excess of women seeking marriage, gives to men an undue advantage in obtaining companions for life. Every man who desires a wife can get one, but many women must fail. As a consequence many women are led to make very unequal matches, in despair of a better opportunity; and others, whose greatest joy it would have been to surround themselves with a numerous posterity, waste their solitary lives on pet birds and kittens, rather than bear children to corrupt and degraded sires; who, had Polygamy existed to a very limited extent, would have been the mothers of eminent sons.
29. Many of the most eminent statesmen and scholars of modern times have died childless, or left only bastard children of degraded women, and slaves; who, had Polygamy been reputable, would, like the Patriarchs, have transmitted their virtues and their greatness to a numerous posterity.
30. And as the lowest order of intellect is most prolifick, unless some means is adopted of increasing the progeny of intellectual men, and securing that progeny from mothers of eminent talents, superiour virtues, and healthy persons, the effort to elevate the masses will be counteracted by the vast disproportion in the posterity of elevated and degraded.
31. That means is Polygamy; which will elevate the human race by making it possible for every virtuous woman, capable of bearing healthy, intelligent children, and exercising such selfcontrol that she can spend her days in love and kindness, with others like herself, to bear children to men possessed of every moral and intellectual excellence; and leaving jealous, envious, and petulent women, who cannot endure that a sister shall be beloved by the same husband, to pair themselves off with those of like disposition, or with such as have inferiour intellects, or bodies wasted upon strange women, or are infirm from hereditary corruptions.
32. Polygamy elevates man, by giving him more blessings in well doing, a higher reward for a faithful and virtuous life, a more numerous posterity to perpetuate his fame, and inherit his honours, and virtuous and intellectual society as the reward only of a well regulated life, and the devotion of superiour intellect to the publick service. It elevates woman, by making her mans companion, instead of a piece of furniture in the house as some, or a domestick drudge, as others are; by bringing marriage and suitable companionship in the reach of all; and making so many opportunities of a happy settlement in life, that an amiable and virtuous young woman cannot fail of finding an affectionate and worthy husband.
33. Under the Law of Monogamy, it is evident that matches are made with trifling regard to fitness. Women can have next to no choice. But men have little inducement to discriminate, and less to see to the proper ordering of their households, so as to make good wives of suitable women. If a woman, otherwise unexceptionable, is petulent and subject to violent outbursts of temper, her husband, expecting to have no other wife, may indulge her, rather than assume the unpleasant task of applying a correction. In the end his house becomes a bedlam, and his children are reared in the midst of a tempest. It is no wonder that his prayer is, that they be few; nor that many such seek quiet dalliance with unchaste women; or, with blasted hopes, waste their intellects over intoxicating potations.
34. Such a one, believing that a multitude of children were a crown of glory to an old man, and looking to the reward of a long and virtuous life, in a numerous posterity, all established in the affections of the people he served, would feel the necessity of curbing in himself, and in all his house, that illtemper which would render such a reward impossible.
35. It is common to hear Polygamy spoken against, as, at best, licensed lust. With many, indeed with all who make carnal indulgence the chief end, marriage is no less. But such are always opposed to Polygamy. If such a man seeks variety, Polygamy is too expensive. If he does not, one woman is sufficient; and will at the same time serve either as mistress of his house, or domestick drudge.
36. It is only men who seek congenial companionship in life, and children in their own images to live after them, who are willing to charge themselves with the care of several wives, and the government of great households; subjecting themselves to that rigid mental discipline which is necessary to keep proper order, and cultivate all the social virtues in such a family. The blindest can see that the carnal mind can find easier and cheaper modes of indulgence in unbridled lust.
37. The fact that houses of prostitution are unknown in countries where Polygamy prevails, while they exist everywhere in Monogamick countries, and cannot be suppressed, ought to put to shame those who object to Polygamy on the score of chastity. And, the further fact, that where Polygamy prevails, adultery is exceedingly rare, and in Monogamick countries so common as to scarcely call for a passing remark, should cause such objectors to seal their lips.
38. But however men may declaim against Polygamy in this life, all who attain to the life everlasting, will, in the presence of God, dwell with it forever. For Polygamick Abraham, and Jacob, whose seed we are by the adoption of faith, if we attain to that estate, and Gideon, David, and Solomon, will be there, and their wives, the mothers of Patriarchs, Princes and Prophets with them; who were joined to them in the mortal, and will not be sundered from them in the everlasting life.
*Now what shall be done in respect to such persons (Polygamists) when they give credible evidence of personal piety, and seek admission into the Christian Church? No case of this kind occurred in my own missionary experience. But some cases have occurred in India, and this difficulty will occur in numerous instances in the progress of the gospel. The subject will also have the consideration and decision of the highest authority, ecclesiastical and judicial, in India and England. My opinion is that the general practice in missions in respect to such cases will be as follows: When any man who has more than one wife to whom he has been legally married, wishes to be admitted into the Christian Church, he will be required to make a free and full statement of his domestick relations. He will be permitted to retain his marital connection with all his wives and his parental relation to all his children, subject to the discipline of the Church for the proper government of his household. Whether he may or may not cohabit with his different wives will be left, I believe, entirely to him and to them, to act according to their views of duty.[INDIA, ANCIENT AND MODERN. Geographical, Historical, Political, Social, and Religious; with a Particular Account of the State and Prospects of Christianity. By DAVID O. ALLEN, D. D., Missionary of the American Board for twenty five years in India, etc.; pp. 553_4.]
**The Calcutta Missionary Conference, (representing Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists,) consisting of the Missionaries of the various Societies which have Missionaries in that vicinity, after frequent consultations and much consideration on the subject of Polygamy, as it exists in India, were unanimous in the following conclusion: 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 keep them all; but such a person is not eligible to any office in the Church.[INDIA, ANCIENT AND MODERN, etc.; p. 601.]
***His wife was illtempered, and a drunkard, and he laid his case before the Theologians of Wittemburg. By an official determination, they allowed him to take another, though he could not divorce her; but asked him to keep the second marriage secret. Two of Luthers letters, of an earlier date, allow Polygamy to be scriptural. (Michelets Life of Luther.)
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