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laws of three different classes. First, those which are the expression of the will of God in reference to the peculiar circumstances of his ancient people; secondly, such as are expressions of his will in reference to duties of men in their relation to himself, or which arise out of his own nature; and thirdly, such as regard their permanent relations to each other. To which of these classes any particular command belongs, is to be determined partly from its nature, and partly from the reasons assigned for the command. These ineans are found to be sufficient, for there is scarcely any difference of opinion on the subject, except in reference to marriage, which some would except from the operation of a principle of interpreting the divine law which they admit in all other cases. They acknowledge that the command to love God, to honour our parents, to venerate the aged, to succour the afflicted, are binding not merely because such things are expedient, but because they are the commands of God, expressions of his will, having relation to nothing in the peculiar circumstances of the ancient Hebrews, but to permanent relations among men. The command, thou shalt have no other gods before me; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not commit adultery, were uttered upon Mount Sinai to the assembled multitudes of Israel; but the voice reaches to us; it reaches to all men, because it declares the duties not of Jews but of men. The same voice has said that near relatives must not intermarry; on what possible ground can the authority of this command be evaded? There is nothing in its nature to limit it to any one age or people. It is enforced by no reasons which are special and temporary. It declares the duty of relatives as relatives, as plainly as the command, thou shalt not steal, declares the duty of men as men. If one expresses the will of God, so does the other.
It is constantly argued that these laws cannot be moral and permanent, because it was sometimes right to violate them. It was right in the family of Adam; and right in the case of a brother's widow who was childless. Ii is said that what is sinful never can be made right. It is obvious that this argument proves too much. If the command that one brother should take the childless widow of another brother as his wife, proves that it is not wrong for a man to marry his sister-in-law, then the command to the immediate sons of Adam to marry their sisters, proves that it is right now for brothers to marry their sisters. This objection is
founded upon the confusion of two very diferent things. There are things which are inherently and essentially wrong, and can in no possible case be right; as hatred of God and malevolence towards men. The prohibitions of such things arise out of the very nature of God, and are as immutable as that nature. But there are other things which are wrong only in virtue of a divine prohibition; and this prohibition may be founded either on temporary considerations, or such as are permanent. But in either case, whenever the prohibition is removed or the opposite commanded, the guilt of the action ceases. It was a sin in
Israelite not to circumcise his child on the eighth day; but if God commanded any one to defer the rite or omit it altogether, it was of course his duty to comply. It was forbidden to the Hebrews to labour on the Sabbath, but in many cases, labour on that day was a duty. These are cases of positive commands. But further than this, it is sinful to take the property of others without their consent, but if God commanded the Israelites to take the property of the Egyptians, it was right for them to do so. It is a sin to kill a human being, yet God commanded the Hebrews to extirpate the Canaanites. We all admit that bigamy is a sin, but if any man will produce a command of God to marry two wives, no one will deny his right to do so. It is a sin for a brother to marry his sister, but if required by a divine command, it is a sin no longer. Thus, also, if any one can produce a divine command to marry his sister-in-law, the lawfulness of the marriage will be readily admitted. All these commands belong to the same class; they all express the will of God as to duties of men in the permanent relations of society, and are therefore of permanent obligation; yet any one or all of them may be set aside by him in whose hands are all his creatures, and whose nature and relations, and the resulting duties may be modified at will. That an Israelite, therefore, under peculiar circumstances and for specified reasons was commanded to marry his brother's wife, no more proves that the general law on this subject is not binding, than the command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac proves that the command, thou shalt not kill, is not moral and permanent.
That the Levitical law of marriage is still binding upon us, we think is proved by what has already been said." It is the expression of the will of God in reference to relationships which still exist among men. It tells us what is
the duty of near relatives. It tells us that brothers and sisters must not intermarry, not because they were Jews, but because of their relationship. It extends the prohibition to all who are near of kin, because they are near of kin. It is as much a law for us therefore as any other expression of the will of God. The binding authority of this law is recognized in the New Testament, just as the continued obligation of the original law of niarriage is recognized. We find no express assertion that marriage must be between one man and one woman, but the expression of the will of God at the creation, is held to bind all ages and nations. Thus though there is no express declaration that near relàtives must not marry, it is plain from the language of the apostle to the Corinthians, that he considered the original revelation on this subject as still our rule of duty.
The only remaining question is, whether the marriage of a man with the sister of his deceased wife is prohibited by this law? Perhaps nothing has contributed more effectually to produce the impression of the lawfulness of such marriages, than the translation of Leviticus, xviii. 18, adopted in our version. “ Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, besides the other in her life time." In the margin the translation is, one wife to another. If the former version is correct, then the implication would seem to be, that though it was unlawful to have two sisters at the same time, as wives, it was lawful after the death of a wife to marry her sister. If the translation in the margin is correct, there is of course no ground for this inference. There would probably be no dispute as to the meaning of this text, were it not for the impression that polygamy was lawful under the old dispensation. We know however from the authority of Christ that it never was lawful; that God in the beginning having made one man and one woman, thereby expressed his will against polygamy. That good men through ignorance sometimes violated this law, is no proof that it was not binding. It should be remembered also that the cases of polygamy recorded in the scriptures are comparatively few. The practice was by no means common among the Hebrews, and long before the advent seems to have ceased entirely. It has been supposed impossible that such men as David and Solomon should have erred in this matter, if there had been any express prohibition on this subject in the law of Moses. We give the ancient church however far too much credit for attention to
the law of God as contained in the pentateuch, if we suppose that all its prescriptions were rigidly observed. We know on the contrary that the law of Moses for many generations, was more or less neglected, and that even the pious portion of the people were far from observing all its directions. Besides, there is no more difficulty in reconciling the piety of David with his violating the law of Moses, than with the admission that his conduct was contrary to the revealed will of God. Those were times of ignorance in which God winked at many departures from his own law.' Things that are wrong in virtue of a divine prohibition, even when that prohibition is founded upon the nature of things as constituted by God, are obviously less wrong when the prohibition is imperfectly revealed, or partially suspended.
That this verse is a prohibition of polygamy, or that the marginal translation gives the true sense of the passage, seems plain from the fact that though the common Hebrew idiom 5 a man to his brother” or “a woman to her sister," occurs between thirty and forty times in the Bible, in no case has it any other meaning than “one to another.”' Why then should this uniform usage be violated in this solitary case? Who would presume to rest any doctrine on a translation at variance with the uniform sense of the words in all other passages of the Bible ? This is the more unwarrantable, inasmuch as the sense is perfectly simple and natural, if the words be taken in their ordinary meaning. “ Thou shalt not take one wife to another, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, besides the other in her life time.” One wife besides the other, is to say the least, as natural, as one sister besides the other. This passage, therefore, if explained according to the common rules of interpretation, gives no sanction to the marriage in question.
But as it is admitted that these chapters contain no prohibition in express words of the marriage of a man with the sister of his deceased wife, the question whether such marriage is prohibited depends upon the manner in which the law is to be interpreted. If the cases therein mentioned are to be taken as specific instances, which exclude all others, then this marriage is not prohibited. But if those cases are given only as examples of the degrees within which marriage should not take place, then this connexion is forbidden. As every thing at last turns upon this point, it is obvious that we must have better authority than our VOL. XIV.NO. III.
own, to decide upon the rule of interpretation. If the law does not explain itself; if it does not make it plain what it means to allow and what to forbid, we cannot give it the force of a divine rule. In turning to the law we find it begins with a general prohibition of marriage between those who are near of kin; and by kin we are to understand relationship in general, because nearly two to one of the specifications which follow relate to affinity and not to consanguinity. This law, therefore, as explained by itself, forbids marriage between near relations whether by marriage or by blood.
Again, when we come to examine the specifications, we find that the degree of relationship is the very ground of the prohibitions. A man must not marry his half sister because she is his sister, verse 11; a man must not marry his aunt, because she is nearly related to his father or mother, v. 12; a man must not marry his brother's wife, because she is so nearly related to his brother; a man must not marry the daughter or grand-daughter of his wife, “because they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness :” v. 17: relationship to his wife, is the very ground of the prohibition. Is not this a plain, explicit declaration that it is wrong in the sight of God for a man to marry the near kindred of his wife?
Besides, if we adopt the other rule of interpretation, a father may marry his own daughter. (Leviticus xviii. 17, forbids the marriage of a man with his mother, and not that of a daughter with her father, as it would seem from our version to do. The sense is plain by comparing v. 7 with vs. 8 and 16.) Now, as we know no rule of duty to bind the conscience but the word of God; and as that word, if interpreted on the principle contended for, does not forbid the grossest of all forms of incest, such incest can be no sin. But as it is a sin of the most shocking character, as all admit, this principle of interpretation, must be false.
In reviewing this case, therefore, we think it plain that the word of God does contain a law against incest ; that the law is binding upon us, and that this law, as interpreted by itself, does forbid marriage between a man and the near kindred of his wife.
Much has been said as to the severity of the sentence pronounced by the Presbytery. But according to our Book the case admitted of no other penalty. A mere reprimand would have answered none of the ends of punishment. The Presbytery was bound to express by their sentence