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well meaning, but I do not think far seeing people are attempting to destroy." “ These would be the first consequences of the measure.
Let us follow it a little farther, and see the ultimate issues. What will be the effect of such accounts, on the public mind, respecting the safety of familiar intercourse between brother-in-law and sister-in-law? What especially will be their effect on Wives? Can any one doubt, that a prodigious revolution will be wrought in their mode of thinking and acting? The reason of that hearty welcome which they give to their destitute sisters, is as we have already observed, the confidence that no harm can possibly follow. The fame of sisterly affection burns bright, and clear,without being damped by one unfriendly suspicion. But now the aspect of things is entirely altered. The good lady, begins to think, that peradventure she has introduced a rival into the family circle! She will take shrewd notice of her sister's conduct. She will scan her husband's glances,—and mark as accurately every tone of his voice, as a grocer does the chinking of a suspicious dollar. The charm in short is broken. The poor sister is metamorphosed into a serpent, who when a little more thawed, will sting its benefactor to death, and gladly is the first opportunity embraced of casting her out to the tempest, from which she had a little before, been hospitably rescued. This may be strong language; but I appeal to your good sense Sir, and ask, whether it be too strong; whether the certain operation of the state of things I am supposing, will not be the turning of many an orphan sister out of doors? It must be so. In numberless instances it ought to be so, for reasons which need not be mentioned: and in the most favourable case a prudent woman will exercise her hospitality with great caution and reserve.”
“ Thus two evils stare us in the face; 1st. There would be frequent instances of family impurity; and 2dly. these by a natural reaction on married women, would infuse coldness and distrust towards female relatives: The doors would be shut of that asylum which Providence has appointed for the most interesting class of our fellow beings. No kindness then is shewn to a female, in permitting her to marry her sister's husband, On the contrary it is real cruelty, as few will ever have the opportunity of forming this connection, and thousands will suffer, because it is made lawful."
“ I have sometimes heard it alledged as an argument for such marriages, that women have been known, who earnestly recom
not take the oath, she could not rest in her grave. I confess, I have always seen in such requests, a powerful corroboration of my reasonings. The dying wife is anxious that the husband marry her sister. Good! Then this dying wife must be presumed to love this sister tenderly,—to put entire confidence in her as one who will faithfully discharge the duty of Mother to her babes.And how was this love and confidence produced? Undoubtedly, by long observation and experience. It is not a Sister as such, it is not any Sister she recommends; but one who has probably resided under her roof,-with whom she has long been in habits of tender intimacy,--and whom she knows, (at least this is her thought) to the heart's-core. Now I affirm, that if at the outset, this sister had been considered as in no sense a sister of the husband, and attentions to her not more criminal than to a stranger, -the opportunity of generating such kindly feelings, would probably never have been afforded. She would not have been admitted to the family; or if admitted, the possibility of what I need not mention, would be always present to the imagination of the wife, and prevent her from doing justice to the other's merit. To make this evident, I will ask a single question. Would this dying wife make the request, --if she knew that for the last two or three years her husband and sister had been deliberating on the subject themselves?”
Can any one hesitate a moment to acknowledge, that it is from having experienced the benefit of the law of Incest during their whole matrimonial life, women who make these requests, are so anxious on their death bed to break it? They are Women not philosophers; that is our excuse for them: Otherwise they would not sit under the shade, and enjoy the fruits of a venerable old tree for ten-twenty-or thirty years, and shew their gratitude on a death bed, by solemnly adjuring their husbands to cut it down. I am bold to say, that when it becomes fashionable for men to marry their sisters-in-law,-husbands will cease to be troubled with the dying requests of wives on this subject.”
Domesticus concludes his letter in the following language, in which he deprecates any alteration in the Confession of the Presbyterian church, on this subject.
“I fondly hope, the various Presbyteries of the Church will support the good old regulations of our forefathers, and shew,that if there be a spirit abroad, delighting in innovation, and in its
rage for improvement sparing not the most sacred and accredited institutions,—this spirit has not obtained the mastery in their walls. I hope above all, that they will not tamper with foundation stones of the social fabric,_nor cut away what cannot be ip
jurious, and is certainly safe. Such I think Sir, is the prohibition of marriage betwee. a husband and his wife's sister. It may do good. It cannot do harm. It has done good. It did good before we were born,-it is doing good now,—and I hope will be spared to do good, when we are no more.”
Thus have we endeavoured to set before our readers a full view of the argument, on this subject, from the word of God, and from expediency. From either it is, in our view, clear and convincing; from both combined, we think it irresistible by every unbiassed mind. Is this then, an ordinance of God, the violation of which has brought down his heaviest judgments on the heathen? Is the marriage in question, by the law of God, incest, a crime of which the Corinthian church was required to clear herself, by casting out the incestuous person? and shall a christian church in our day hesitate about the path of duty, in cases of the same nature, and thus make herself a partaker of such crimes? The criminal wavering and indecision of some churches, on this subject, in violation of their own standards, have, we fear, done much injury, and brought much guilt and misery* on the land. And yet, it is now seriously proposed, to erase the law from these standards, and thus legalize a crime which the word of God so strongly condemns. On the same principle, might we erase every law from the statute book, and then, truly, we should have a virtuous community; for, “where no law is, there is no transgression." Let it be remembered, however, that no body of men can remove this law from the statute book of God, nor give to the violation of it any other character, in his sight, than he has given to it. They may indeed set open the flood gates of iniquity, and lull to sleep the consciences of transgressors, in a course of sin, but for all these things, the righteous Lord will dispense righteous judgment. Still, however, should the course proposed take effect, it can scarcely be worse, and it will be vastly more consistent, than that which has, for some time past, marked the proceedings of the Presbyterian church, on this subject.For our own part we had no idea, till lately, and perhaps we are not yet fully informed, of the extent to which the evil has abounded in that body, and which, there cannot be a doubt, has been fostered by the indecision of her courts, respecting it. Dr. Ely, in a late number of the Philadelphian, has published, “Considerations on the proposed erasure," the sum and amount of which, is this,--that as there are some who think that the marriages in question, are not forbidden in the scriptures; others, that they are not so clearly forbidden, as to require the excom* See note, page 523.
munication of those who contract them, and as the Confession does not condemn the eating of opium and the free use of tobacco and whiskey, which many think to be wrong, as well as the marrying of a deceased wife's sister; and above all, as the Presbyterian church has had a great deal of trouble with appeals on this subject, about the decision of which her ministers cannot agree, and are still likely to troubled in the same way, so long as this troublesome clause stands in her Confession; therefore, it were better it should be erased!
By way of showing how difficult it has been for the Assembly to agree, in cases of this kind, Dr. E. cites Eight different cases from the Records of the Assembly, from 1797 to 1824, brought before that body, in all of which it appears they have been greatly perplexed to know what it was best to do; that is, whether or not they should judge according to their standards, which they solemnly declare they believe to be founded on the word of God; for, say they, “So great diversity of opinion exists on such questions in different parts of the church, that no absolute rule can be enjoined with regard to them, which shall be universally binding and consistent with the peace of the church.” Such cases consequently they have generally left” to the inferior judicatories, under their care, to act according to their own best“ lights, and the circumstances in which they find themselves placed.”Now what are we to think, what is the church at large, and what is the world to think, when it is known, that one of the cases thus disposed of, is one expressly forbidden in SO MANY WORDS, (Lev. xviii. 16.) viz. a man's marrying his brother's wife? We give the extract respecting this case entire, as furnisned by Dr. Ely.
“ In 1805, W. A. appealed from a decision of the Synod of Pittsburgh to the Assembly. He had married his brother's widow. His character in other respects was fair, and exemplary. The Synod pronounced his marriage unlawful: and the Assembly Resolved, that, 'Whereas frequent decisions on marriages of a similar ture have been given by the late Synod of New-York and Philadelphia, and by the General Assembly; and whereas it has appeared on these occasions, that while such marriages are offensive to some, to others they appear lawful,--Th refore this Ashe may be; and leave it to their decision to act according to their own best lights, and the circumstances in which they find themselves placed.” Records of Assembly, vol. ii. p. 122.
What, we would ask, would be received as evidence, that such marriages are contrary to the law of God, when the express testimony of God himself, in his law, is disregarded? Leaving those whom it concerns, to answer this question, we conclude the subject, for the present, by subjoining some just and pertinent remarks on Dr. Ely's paper, and the conduct of the Assembly as related by him, by a West Jerseyman, in the Philadelphian of the 16th ultimo, entitled, “ Thoughts on the Marriage Question.”
“ This question has been discussed by the Rev. Dr. Ely, in the Philadelphian of the 20 inst. But he has not arrived at that conclusion, which I judge to be consistent with the word of God. I do not mean to enter the lists of controversy, but as I shall be under the necessity of voting in Presbytery upon this question, and as I should like to see unanimity prevalent among our brethren upon this point, both to show why I differ from my respected brother, and to contribute my mite towards producing the unanimity, which I desire, I shall briefly state my reasons for thinking that the section in question should not be erased. I am, sir, a great admirer of good old things, and of good old
I have, therefore a very considerable degree of veneration for our Confession, and for the learned and pious men who produced it. Yet my reverence for one or the other is not so great, as to lead me to an implicit adoption of their errors. When I solemnly professed my reception and adoption of the Confession of Faith, as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture, I believed it to contain that system of divine truth, and as yet I see no reason to alter my opinion. I cannot help considering the past indecision of the General Assembly as in a degree dishonourable to it, and as occasioning all that trouble respecting cases of marriage within the degrees of affinity interdicted by the 4th sect. of Chap. xxiv., of which complaint has been made, and which is even offered as a reason for its erasure. I conceive, but I may be mistaken, that the General Assembly had no right to