EXAMINATION OF SCRIPTURE TESTIMONY
Stringfellow (March 6, 1788 – March 6, 1869) was the pastor
of Stevensburg Baptist Church in Culpeper County, Virginia. This
essay was, as the extended title suggests, first published in the
Religious Herald and then separately published, by request. The
text is taken from the "Documenting the American South" website at the University of North Carolina.|
There are actually three documents here:
"Elder Galusha" is probably Elon Galusha (1790--1856), a New York attorney and Baptist preacher who was active in the early abolitionist movement.
Circumstances exist among the inhabitants of these United States, which make it proper that the Scriptures should be carefully examined by Christians in reference to the institution of Slavery, which exists in several of the States, with the approbation of those who profess unlimited subjection to God's revealed will.
It is branded by one portion of people, who take their rules of moral rectitude from the Scriptures, as a great sin; nay, the greatest of sins that exist in the nation. And they hold the obligation to exterminate it, to be paramount to all others.
If slavery be thus sinful, it behooves all Christians who are involved in the sin, to repent in dust and ashes, and wash their hands of it, without consulting with flesh and blood. Sin in the sight of God is something which God in his Word makes known to be wrong, either by preceptive prohibition, by principles of moral fitness, or examples of inspired men, contained in the sacred volume. When these furnish no law to condemn human conduct, there is no transgression. Christians should produce a "thus saith the Lord," both for what they condemn as sinful, and for what they approve as lawful, in the sight of Heaven.
It is to be hoped, that on a question of such vital importance as this to the peace and safety of our common country, as well as to the welfare of the church, we shall be seen cleaving to the Bible, and taking all our decisions about this matter, from its inspired pages. With men from the North, I have observed for many years a palpable ignorance of the divine will, in reference to the institution of slavery. I have seen but a few, who made the Bible their study, that had obtained a knowledge of what it did reveal on this subject. Of late, their denunciation of slavery as a sin, is loud and long.
I propose, therefore, to examine the sacred volume briefly, and if I am not greatly mistaken, I shall be able to make it appear that the institution of slavery has received, in the first place,
1st. The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age.
2d. That it was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated from God.
3d. That its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and
4th. That it is full of mercy.
Before I proceed further, it is necessary that the terms used to designate the thing, be defined. It is not a name, but a thing, that is denounced as sinful; because it is supposed to be contrary to, and prohibited by, the Scriptures.
Our translators have used the term servant, to designate a state in which persons were serving, leaving us to gather the relation, between the party served and the party rendering the service, from other terms. The term slave, signifies with us, a definite state, condition, or relation, which state, condition, or relation, is precisely that one which is denounced as sinful. This state, condition, or relation, is that in which one human being is held without his consent by another, as property; to be bought, sold, and transferred, together with the increase, as property, forever. Now, this precise thing, is denounced by a portion of the people of these United States as the greatest individual and national sin that is among us, and is thought to be so hateful in the sight of God, as to subject the nation to ruinous judgments, if it be not removed. Now, I propose to show, from the Scriptures, that this state, condition, or relation, did exist in the patriarchal age, and that the persons most extensively involved in the sin, if it be a sin, are the very persons who have been singled out by the Almighty as the objects of his special regard--whose character and conduct he has caused to be held up as models for future generations. Before we conclude slavery to be a thing hateful to God, and a great sin in his sight, it is proper that we should search the records he has given us with care, to see in what light he has looked upon it, and find the warrant, for concluding that we shall honor him by efforts to abolish it; which efforts, in their consequences, may involve the indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent and the guilty, the master and the servant. We all believe him to be a Being who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
The first recorded language which was even uttered in relation to slavery, is the inspired language of Noah. In God's stead he says, "Cursed be Canaan;" "a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren." "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." "God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." Gen. ix. 25, 26, 27. Here language is used, showing the favor which God would exercise to the posterity of Shem and Japheth, while they were holding the posterity of Ham in a state of abject bondage. May it not be said in truth, that God decreed this institution before it existed; and has he not connected its existence, with prophetic tokens of special favor, to those who should be slave owners or masters? He is the same God now, that he was when he gave these views of his moral character to the world; and unless the posterity of Shem and Japheth, from whom have sprung the Jews, and all the nations of Europe and America, and a great part of Asia, (the African race that is in them excepted,)--I say, unless they are all dead, as well as the Canaanites or Africans, who descended from Ham, then it is quite possible that his favor may now be found with one class of men, who are holding another class in bondage. Be this as it may, God decreed slavery--and shows in that decree, tokens of good-will to the master. The sacred records occupy but a short space from this inspired ray on this subject, until they bring to our notice a man, that is held up as a model, in all that adorns human nature, and as one that God delighted to honor. This man is Abraham, honored in the sacred records with the appellation, "Father" of the "faithful." Abraham was a native of Ur of the Chaldees. From thence the Lord called him to go to a country which he would show him; and he obeyed, not knowing whither he went. He stopped for a time at Haran, where his father died. From thence he "took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance, that they had gathered, and the souls they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan." Gen. xii. 5.
All the ancient Jewish writers of note, and Christian commentators agree, that by the "souls they had gotten in Haran," as our translators render it, are meant their slaves, or those persons they had bought with their money in Haran. In a few years after their arrival in Canaan, Lot with all he had was taken captive. So soon as Abraham heard it, he armed three hundred and eighteen slaves that were born in his house, and retook him. How great must have been the entire slave family, to produce at this period of Abraham's life, such a number of young slaves able to bear arms. Gen. xiv. 14.
Abraham is constantly held up in the sacred story as the subject of great distinction among the princes and sovereigns of the countries in which he sojourned. This distinction was on account of his great wealth. When he proposed to buy a burying-ground at Sarah's death of the children of Heth, he stood up and spoke with great humility of himself as "a stranger and sojourner among them," (Gen. xxiii. 4,) desirous to obtain a burying-ground. But in what light do they look upon him? "Hear us, my Lord, thou art a mighty prince among us." Gen. xxiii. 6. Such is the light in which they viewed him. What gave a man such distinction, among such a people? Not moral qualities, but great wealth, and its inseparable concomitant, power. When the famine drove Abraham to Egypt, he received the highest honors of the reigning sovereign. This honor at Pharaoh's court was called forth by the visible tokens of immense wealth. In Genesis xii. 15, 16, we have the honor that was shown to him, mentioned, with a list of his property, which is given in these words, in the 16th verse: "He had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels." The amount of his flocks may be inferred from the number of slaves employed in tending them. They were those he brought from Ur of the Chaldees, of whom the three hundred and eighteen were born; those gotten in Haran, where he dwelt for a short time; and those which he inherited from his father, who died in Haran. When Abraham went up from Egypt, it is stated in Genesis xiii. 2, that he was "very rich," not only in flocks and slaves, but in "silver and gold" also.
After the destruction of Sodom, we see him sojourning in the kingdom of Gerar. Here he received from the sovereign of the country, the honors of equality; and Abimelech, the king, (as Pharaoh had done before him,) seeks Sarah for a wife, under the idea that she was Abraham's sister. When his mistake was discovered, he made Abraham a large present. Reason will tell us, that in selecting the items of this present, Abimelech was governed by the visible indications of Abraham's preference in articles of wealth--and that above all, he would present him with nothing which Abraham's sense of moral obligation would not allow him to own. Abimelech's present is thus described in Gen. xx. 14, 16: "And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and men-servants, and women-servants, and a thousand pieces of silver, and gave them unto Abraham." This present discloses to us what constituted the most highly-prized items of wealth, among these eastern sovereigns in Abraham's day.
God had promised Abraham's seed the land of Canaan, and that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. He reached the age of 85, and his wife the age of 75, while as yet, they had no child. At this period, Sarah's anxiety for the promised seed, in connection with her age, induced her to propose a female slave of the Egyptian stock, as a secondary wife, from which to obtain the promised seed. This alliance soon puffed the slave with pride, and she became insolent to her mistress--the mistress complained to Abraham, the master. Abraham ordered Sarah to exercise her authority. Sarah did so, and pushed it to severity, and the slave absconded. The divine oracles inform us, that the angel of God found this runaway bond-woman in the wilderness; and if God had commissioned this angel to improve this opportunity of teaching the world how much he abhorred slavery, he took a bad plan to accomplish it. For, instead of repeating a homily upon doing to others as we "would they should do unto us," and heaping reproach upon Sarah, as a hypocrite, and Abraham as a tyrant, and giving Hagar direction how she might get into Egypt, from whence (according to Abolitionism) she had been unrighteously sold into bondage, the angel addressed her as "Hagar, Sarah's maid," Gen. xvi. 1--9; (thereby recognizing the relation of master and slave,) and asks her, "whither wilt thou go?" and she said "I flee from the face of my mistress." Quite a wonder she honored Sarah so much as to call her mistress; but she knew nothing of abolition, and God by his angel did not become her teacher.
We have now arrived at what may be called an abuse of the institution, in which one person is the property of another, and under their control, and subject to their authority without their consent; and if the Bible be the book, which proposes to furnish the case which leaves it without doubt that God abhors the institution, here we are to look for it. What, therefore, is the doctrine in relation to slavery, in a case in which a rigid exercise of its arbitrary authority is called forth upon a helpless female; who might use a strong plea for protection, upon the ground of being the master's wife. In the face of this case, which is hedged around with aggravations as if God designed by it to awaken all the sympathy and all the abhorrence of that portion of mankind, who claim to have more mercy than God himself--but I say, in view of this strong case, what is the doctrine taught? Is it that God abhors the institution of slavery; that it is a reproach to good men; that the evils of the institution can no longer be winked at among saints; that Abraham's character must not be transmitted to posterity, with this stain upon it; that Sarah must no longer be allowed to live a stranger to the abhorrence God has for such conduct as she has been guilty of to this poor helpless female? I say, what is the doctrine taught? Is it so plain that it can be easily understood? and does God teach that she is a bond-woman or slave, and that she is to recognize Sarah as her mistress, and not her equal--that she must return and submit herself unreservedly to Sarah's authority? Judge for yourself, reader, by the angel's answer: "And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return unto thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands." Gen. xvi. 9.
But, says the spirit of abolition, with which the Bible has to contend, you are building your house upon the sand, for these were nothing but hired servants; and their servitude designates no such state, condition, or relation, as that, in which one person is made the property of another, to be bought, sold, or transferred forever. To this, we have two answers in reference to the subject, before giving the law. In the first place, the term, servant, in the schedules of property among the patriarchs, does designate the state, condition, or relation in which one person is the legal property of another, as in Gen. xxiv. 35, 36. Here Abraham's servant, who had been sent by his master to get a wife for his son Isaac, in order to prevail with the woman and her family, states, that the man for whom he sought a bride, was the son of a man whom God had greatly blessed with riches; which he goes on to enumerate thus, in the 35th verse: "He hath given him flocks, and herds, and silver, and gold and men-servants, and maid-servants, and camels, and asses;" then in verse 36th, he state the disposition his master had made of his estate: "My master's wife bare a son to my master when she was old, and unto him he hath given all that he hath." Here, servants are enumerated with silver and gold as part of the patrimony. And, reader, bear it in mind; as if to rebuke the doctrine of abolition, servants are not only inventoried as property, but as property which God had given to Abraham. After the death of Abraham, we have a view of Isaac at Gerar, when he had come into the possession of this estate; and this is the description given of him: "And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great; for he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants." Gen. xxvi. 13, 14. This state, in which servants are made chattels, he received as an inheritance from his father, and passed to his son Jacob.
Again, in Gen. xvii., we are informed of a covenant God entered into with Abraham; in which he stipulates, to be a God to him and his seed, (not his servants,) and to give to his seed the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession. He expressly stipulates, that Abraham shall put the token of this covenant upon every servant born in his house, and upon every servant bought with his money of any stranger. Gen. xvii. 12, 13. Here again servants are property. Again, more than 400 years afterwards, we find the seed of Abraham, on leaving Egypt, directed to celebrate the rite, that was ordained as a memorial of their deliverance, viz: the Passover, at which time the same institution which makes property of men and women, is recognized, and the servant bought with money, is given the privilege of partaking, upon the ground of his being circumcised by his master, while the hired servant, over whom the master had no such control, is excluded until he voluntarily submits to circumcision; showing clearly that the institution of involuntary slavery then carried with it a right, on the part of a master to choose a religion for the servant who was his money, as Abraham did, by God's direction, when he imposed circumcision on those he had bought with his money,--when he was circumcised himself, with Ishmael his son, who was the only individual, beside himself, on whom he had a right to impose it, except the bond-servants bought of the stranger with his money, and their children born in his house. The next notice we have of servants as property, is from God himself, when clothed with all the visible tokens of his presence and glory on the top of Sinai, when he proclaimed his law to the millions that surrounded its base: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." Ex. xx. 17. Here, is a patriarchal catalogue of property, having God for its author, the wife among the rest, who was then purchased, as Jacob purchased his two, by 14 years' service. Here, the term servant, as used by the Almighty, under the circumstances of the case could not be understood by these millions, as meaning anything but property, because the night they left Egypt, a few weeks before, Moses, by divine authority, recognized their servants as property, which they had bought with their money.
2d. In addition to the evidence from the context of these, and various other places, to prove the term servant to be identical in the import of its essential particulars with the term slave among us, there is unquestionable evidence, that, in the patriarchal age, there are two distinct states of servitude alluded to, and which are indicated by two distinct terms, or by the same term, and an adjective to explain.
These two terms, are first, servant or bond-servant; second, hireling or hired servant: the first, indicating involuntary servitude; the second, voluntary servitude for stipulated wages and a specified time. Although this admits of the clearest proof under the law, yet it admits of proof before the law was given. On the night the Israelites left Egypt, which was before the law was given, Moses, in designating the qualifications necessary for the passover, uses this language, Exod. xii. 44, 45: "Every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof." This language carries to the human mind, with irresistible force, the idea of two distinct states--one a state of freedom, the other a state of bondage: in one of which, a person is serving with his consent for wages; in the other of which, a person is serving without his consent, according to his master's pleasure.
Again, in Job iii., Job expresses the strong desire he had been made by his afflictions to feel, that he had died in his infancy. "For now," says he, "should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest. There (meaning the grave) the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and the great are there; and the servant is free from his master." Job iii. 11, 13, 17, 18, 19. Now, I ask any common-sense man to account for the expression in this connection, "there the servant is free from his master." Afflictions are referred to, arising out of states or conditions, from which ordinarily nothing but death brings relief. Death puts an end to afflictions of body, that are incurable, as he took his own to be, and therefore he desired it.
The troubles brought on good men by a wicked, persecuting world, last for life; but in death the wicked cease from troubling,--death ends that relation or state out of which such troubles grow. The prisoners of the oppressors, in that age, stood in a relation to their oppressor, which led the oppressed to expect they would hear the voice of the oppressor until death. But death broke the relation, and was desired, because in the grave they would hear his voice no more.
All the distresses growing out of inequalities in human condition; as wealth and power on one side, and poverty and weakness on the other, were terminated by death; the grave brought both to a level: the small and the great are there, and there, (that is, in the grave,) he adds, the servant is free from his master; made so, evidently, by death. The relation, or state, out of which his oppression had arisen, being destroyed by death, he would be freed from them, because he would, by death, be freed from his master who inflicted them. This view of the case, and this only, will account for the use of such language. But upon a supposition that a state or relation among men is referred to, that is voluntary, such as that between a hired servant and his employer, that can be dissolved at the pleasure of the servant, the language is without meaning, and perfectly unwarranted; while such a relation as that of involuntary and hereditary servitude, where the master had unlimited power over his servant, and in an age when cruelty was common, there is the greatest propriety in making the servant, or slave, a companion with himself, in affliction, as well as the oppressed and afflicted, in every class, where death alone dissolved the state, or condition, out of which their afflictions grew. Beyond all doubt, this language refers to a state of hereditary bondage, from the afflictions of which, ordinarily, nothing in that day brought relief but death.
Again, in chapter 7th, he goes on to defend himself in his eager desire for death, in an address to God. He says, it is natural for a servant to desire the shadow and a hireling his wages: "As the servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as the hireling looketh for the reward of his work," so it is with me, should be supplied. Job vii. 2. Now, with the previous light shed upon the use and meaning of these terms in the patriarchal Scriptures, can any man of candor bring himself to believe that two states or conditions are not here referred to, in one of which, the highest reward after toil is mere rest; in the other of which, the reward was wages? And how appropriate is the language in reference to these two states.
The slave is represented as earnestly desiring the shadow, because his condition allowed him no prospect of anything more desirable; but the hireling as looking for the reward of his work, because that will be an equivalent for his fatigue.
So Job looked at death, as being to his body as the servant's shade, therefore he desired it; and like the hireling's wages, because beyond the grave, he hoped to reap the fruit of his doings. Again, Job (xxxi.) finding himself the subject of suspicion (see from verse 1 to 30) as to the rectitude of his past life, clears himself of various sins, in the most solemn manner, as unchastity, injustice in his dealings, adultery, contempt of his servants, unkindness to the poor, covetousness, the pride of wealth,&c. And in the 13th, 14th, and 15th verses, he thus expresses himself: "If I did despise the cause of my man-servant or my maid-servant, when they contended with me, what then shall I do when God rises up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb, make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?" Taking this language in connection with the language employed by Moses, in reference to the institution of involuntary servitude in that age, and especially in connection with the language which Moses employs after the law was given, and what else can be understood than a reference to a class of duties that slave owners felt themselves above stooping to notice or perform, but which, nevertheless, it was the duty of the righteous man to discharge; for, whatever proud and wicked men might think of a poor servant that stood in his estate, on an equality with brutes, yet, says Job, he that made me made them, and if I despise their reasonable causes of complaint, for injuries which they are made to suffer, and for the redress of which I only can be appealed to, then what shall I do, and how shall I fare, when I carry my causes of complaint to him who is my master, and to whom only I can go for relief? When he visiteth me for despising their cause, what shall I answer him for despising mine? He means that he would feel self-condemned, and would be forced to admit the justice of the retaliation. But on the supposition that allusion is had to hired servants, who were voluntarily working for wages agreed upon, and who were the subjects of rights, for the protection of which their appeal would be to "the judges in the gate," as much as any other class of men, then there is no point in the statement. For doing that which can be demanded as a legal right, gives us no claim to the character of merciful benefactors. Job himself was a great slaveholder, and, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, won no small portion of his claims to character with God and men from the manner in which he discharged his duty to his slaves. Once more: the conduct of Joseph in Egypt, as Pharaoh's counsellor, under all the circumstances, proves him a friend to absolute slavery, as a form of government better adapted to the state of the world at that time, than the one which existed in Egypt; for certain it is, that he peaceably effected a change in the fundamental law, by which a state, condition, or relation, between Pharaoh and the Egyptians was established, which answers to the one now denounced as sinful in the sight of God. Being warned of God, he gathered up all the surplus grain in the years of plenty, and sold it out in the years of famine, until he gathered up all the money; and when money failed, the Egyptians came and said, "Give us bread;" and Joseph said, "Give your cattle, and I will give for your cattle, if money fail." When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said, "There is not aught left in sight of my Lord, but our bodies and our lands. Buy us and our lands for bread." And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh.
So the land became Pharaoh's, and as for the people, he removed them to cities, from one end of the borders of Egypt, even to the other end thereof. Then Joseph said unto the people, "Behold! I have bought you this day, and your land for Pharaoh;" and they said, "we will be Pharaoh's servants." See Gen. xlvii. 14, 16, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25. Having thus changed the fundamental law, and created a state of entire dependence, and hereditary bondage, he enacted in his sovereign pleasure, that they should give Pharaoh one part, and take the other four parts of the productions of the earth to themselves. How far the hand of God was in this overthrow of liberty, I will not decide; but from the fact that he has singled out the greatest slaveholders of that age, as the objects of his special favor, it would seem that the institution was one furnishing great opportunities to exercise grace and glorify God, as it still does, where its duties are faithfully discharged.
I have been tedious on this first proposition, but I hope the importance of the subject to Christians as well as to statesmen will be my apology. I have written it, not for victory over an adversary, or to support error or falsehood, but to gather up God's will in reference to holding men and women in bondage, in the patriarchal age. And it is clear, in the first place, that God decreed this state before it existed. Second. It is clear that the highest manifestations of good-will which he ever gave to mortal man, was given to Abraham, in that covenant in which he required him to circumcise all his male servants, which he had bought with his money, and that were born of them in his house. Third. It is certain that he gave these servants as property to Isaac. Fourth. It is certain that, as the owner of these slaves, Isaac received similar tokens of God's favor. Fifth. It is certain that Jacob, who inherited from Isaac his father, received like tokens of divine favor. Sixth. It is certain, from a fair construction of language, that Job, who is held up by God himself as a model of human perfection, was a great slaveholder. Seventh. It is certain, when God showed honor, and came down to bless Jacob's posterity, in taking them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, they were the owners of slaves that were bought with money, and treated as property; which slaves were allowed of God to unite in celebrating the divine goodness to their masters, while hired servants were excluded. Eighth. It is certain that God interposed to give Joseph the power in Egypt, which he used, to create a state, or condition, among the Egyptians, which substantially agrees with patriarchal and modern slavery. Ninth. It is certain, that in reference to this institution in Abraham's family, and the surrounding nations, for five hundred years, it is never censured in any communication made from God to men. Tenth. It is certain, when God put a period to that dispensation, he recognized slaves as property on Mount Sinai. If, therefore, it has become sinful since, it cannot be from the nature of the thing, but from the sovereign pleasure of God in its prohibition. We will therefore proceed to our second proposition, which is--
Second. That it was incorporated in the only national constitution emanating from the Almighty. By common consent, that portion of time stretching from Noah, until the law was given to Abraham's posterity, at Mount Sinai, is called the patriarchal age; this is the period we have reviewed, in relation to this subject. From the giving of the law until the coming of Christ, is called the Mosaic or legal dispensation. From the coming of Christ to the end of time, is called the Gospel dispensation. The legal dispensation is the period of time we propose now to examine, in reference to the institution of involuntary and hereditary slavery; in order to ascertain, whether, during this period, it existed at all, and, if it did exist, whether with the divine sanction, or in violation of the divine will. This dispensation is called the legal dispensation, because it was the pleasure of God to take Abraham's posterity by miraculous power, then numbering near three millions of souls, and give them a written constitution of government, a country to dwell in, and a covenant of special protection and favor, for their obedience to his law until the coming of Christ. The laws which he gave them emanated from his sovereign pleasure, and were designed, in the first place, to make himself known in his essential perfections; second, in his moral character; third, in his relation to man; and fourth, to make known those principles of action by the exercise of which man attains his highest moral elevation, viz: supreme love to God, and love to others as to ourselves.
All the law is nothing but a preceptive exemplification of these two principles; consequently, the existence of a precept in the law, utterly irreconcilable with these principles, would destroy all claims upon us for an acknowledgment of its divine original. Jesus Christ himself has put his finger upon these two principles of human conduct, (Deut. vi. 5--Levit. xix. 18,) revealed in the law of Moses, and decided, that on them hang all the law and the prophets.
The Apostle Paul decides in reference to the relative duties of men, that whether written out in preceptive form in the law or not, they are all comprehended in this saying, viz: "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." With these views to guide us, as to the acknowledged design of the law, viz: that of revealing the eternal principles of moral rectitude, by which human conduct is to be measured, so that sin may abound, or be made apparent, and righteousness be ascertained or known, we may safely conclude, that the institution of slavery, which legalizes the holding one person in bondage as property forever by another, if it be morally wrong, or at war with the principle which requires us to love God supremely, and our neighbor as ourself, will, if noticed at all in the law, be noticed, for the purpose of being condemned as sinful. And if the modern views of abolitionists be correct, we may expect to find the institution marked with such tokens of divine displeasure, as will throw all other sins into the shade, as comparatively small, when laid by the side of this monster. What, then, is true? has God ingrafted hereditary slavery upon the constitution of government he condescended to give his chosen people--that people, among whom he promised to dwell, and that he required to be holy? I answer, he has. It is clear and explicit. He enacts, first, that his chosen people may take their money, go into the slave markets of the surrounding nations, (the seven devoted nations excepted,) and purchase men-servants and women-servants, and give them, and their increase, to their children and their children's children, forever; and worse still for the refined humanity of our age--he guaranties to the foreign slaveholder perfect protection, while he comes in among the Israelites, for the purpose of dwelling, and raising and selling slaves, who should be acclimated and accustomed to the habits and institutions of the country. And worse still for the sublimated humanity of the present age, God passes with the right to buy and possess, the right to govern, by a severity which knows no bounds but the master's discretion. And if worse can be, for the morbid humanity we censure, he enacts that his own people may sell themselves and their families for limited periods, with the privilege of extending the time at the end of the 6th year to the 50th year or jubilee, if they prefer bondage to freedom. Such is the precise character of two institutions, found in the constitution of the Jewish commonwealth, emanating directly from Almighty God. For the 1,500 years, during which these laws were in force, God raised up a succession of prophets to reprove that people for the various sins into which they fell; yet there is not a reproof uttered against the institution of involuntary slavery, for any species of abuse that ever grew out of it. A severe judgment is pronounced by Jeremiah, (chapter xxxiv. see from the 8th to the 22d verse,) for an abuse or violation of the law, concerning the voluntary servitude of Hebrews; but the prophet pens it with caution, as if to show that it had no reference to any abuse that had taken place under the system of involuntary slavery, which existed by law among that people; the sin consisted in making hereditary bond-men and bond-women of Hebrews, which was positively forbidden by the law, and not for buying and holding one of another nation in hereditary bondage, which was as positively allowed by the law. And really, in view of what is passing in our country, and elsewhere, among men who profess to reverence the Bible, it would seem that these must be dreams of a distempered brain, and not the solemn truths of that sacred book.
Well, I will now proceed to make them good to the letter, see Lev. xxv. 44, 45, 46: "Thy bond-men and thy bond-maids which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you: of them shall ye buy bond-men and bond-maids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land. And they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession, they shall be your bond-men forever." I ask any candid man, if the words of this institution could be more explicit? It is from God himself; it authorizes that people, to whom he had become king and law-giver, to purchase men and women as property; to hold them and their posterity in bondage; and to will them to their children as a possession forever; and more, it allows foreign slaveholders to settle and live among them; to breed slaves and sell them. Now, it is important to a correct understanding of this subject, to connect with the right to buy and possess, as property, the amount of authority to govern, which is granted by the law-giver; this amount of authority is implied, in the first place, in the law which prohibits the exercise of rigid authority upon the Hebrews, who are allowed to sell themselves for limited times. "If thy brother be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond servant, but as a hired servant, and as a sojourner he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee until the year of jubilee-- they shall not be sold as bond-men; thou shalt not rule over them with rigor." Levit. xxv. 39, 40, 41, 42, 43. It will be evident to all, that here are two states of servitude; in reference to one of which, rigid or compulsory authority, is prohibited, and that its exercise is authorized in the other.
Second. In the criminal code, that conduct is punished with death, when done to a freeman, which is not punishable at all, when done by a master to a slave; for the express reason, that the slave is the master's money. "He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall surely be put to death." Exod. xxi. 11, 12. "If a man smite his servant or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished; notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished, for he is his money." Exod. xxi. 20. Here is precisely the same crime: smiting a man so that he die; if it be a freeman, he shall surely be put to death, whether the man die under his hand or live a day or two after; but if it be a servant, and the master continued the rod until the servant died under his hand, then it must be evident that such a chastisement could not be necessary for any purpose of wholesome or reasonable authority, and therefore he may be punished, but not with death. But if the death did not take place for a day or two, then it is to be presumed, that the master only aimed to use the rod, so far as was necessary to produce subordination, and for this, the law which allowed him to lay out his money in the slave, would protect him against all punishment. This is the common-sense principle which has been adopted substantially in civilized countries, where involuntary slavery has been instituted, from that day until this. Now, here are laws that authorize the holding of men and women in bondage, and chastising them with the rod, with a severity that terminates in death. And he who believes the Bible to be of divine authority, believes these laws were given by the Holy Ghost to Moses. I understand modern abolition sentiments to be sentiments of marked hatred against such laws; to be sentiments which would hold God himself in abhorrence, if he were to give such laws his sanction: but he has given them his sanction; therefore, they must be in harmony with his moral character. Again, the divine Lawgiver in guarding the property right in slaves among his chosen people, sanctions principles which may work the separation of man and wife, father and children. Surely, my reader will conclude, if I make this good, I shall force a part of the saints of the present day to blaspheme the God of Israel. All I can say is, truth is mighty, and I hope it will bring us all to say, Let God be true, in settling the true principles of humanity, and every man a liar who says slavery was inconsistent with it, in the days of the Mosaic law. Now for the proof: "If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years shall he serve thee, and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing; if he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him; if his master have given him a wife (one of his bond-maids) and she have borne him sons and daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself." Exodus, xxi. 2, 3, 4. Now, the God of Israel gives this man the option of being separated by the master, from his wife and children, or becoming himself a servant forever, with a mark of the fact, like our cattle, in the ear, that can be seen wherever he goes; for it is enacted, "If the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him unto the judges, (in open court,) he shall also bring him unto the door, or unto the door post, (so that all in the court-house, and those in the yard may be witnesses,) and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever." It is useless to spend more time in gathering up what is written in the Scriptures on this subject, from the giving of the law until the coming of Christ.
Here is the authority, from God himself, to hold men and women, and their increase, in slavery, and to transmit them as property forever; here is plenary power to govern them, whatever measure of severity it may require; provided only, that to govern, be the object in exercising it. Here is power given to the master, to separate man and wife, parent and child, by denying ingress to his premises, sooner than compel him to free or sell the mother, that the marriage relation might be honored. The preference is given of God to enslaving the father rather than freeing the mother and children.
Under every view we are allowed to take of the subject, the conviction is forced upon the mind, that from Abraham's day, until the coming of Christ, (a period of two thousand years,) this institution found favor with God. No marks of his displeasure are found resting upon it. It must, therefore, in its moral nature, be in harmony with those moral principles which he requires to be exercised by the law of Moses, and which are the principles that secure harmony and happiness to the universe, viz: supreme love to God and the love of our neighbor as ourself. Deut. vi. 6.--Levit. xix. 18. To suppose that God has laid down these fundamental principles of moral rectitude in his law, as the soul that must inhabit every preceptive requirement of that law, and yet to suppose he created relations among the Israelites, and prescribed relative duties growing out of these relations, that are hostile to the spirit of the law, is to suppose what will never bring great honor or glory to our Maker. But if I understand that spirit which is now warring against slavery, this is the position which the spirit of God forces it to occupy, viz.: that God has ordained slavery, and yet slavery is the greatest of sins. Such was the state of the case when Jesus Christ made his appearance. We propose--
Third. To show that Jesus Christ recognized this institution as one that was lawful among men, and regulated its relative duties.
Having shown from the Scriptures, that slavery existed with Abraham and the patriarchs, with divine approbation, and having shown from the same source, that the Almighty incorporated it in the law, as an institution among Abraham's seed, until the coming of Christ, our precise object now is, to ascertain whether Jesus Christ has abolished it, or recognized it as a lawful relation, existing among men, and prescribed duties which belong to it, as he has other relative duties; such as those between husband and wife, parent and child, magistrate and subject.
And first, I may take it for granted, without proof, that he has not abolished it by commandment, for none pretend to this. This, by the way, is a singular circumstance, that Jesus Christ should put a system of measures into operation, which have for their object the subjugation of all men to him as a law-giver--kings, legislators, and private citizens in all nations; at a time, too, when hereditary slavery existed in all; and after it had been incorporated for fifteen hundred years into the Jewish constitution, immediately given by God himself. I say, it is passing strange, that under such circumstances, Jesus should fail to prohibit its further existence, if it was his intention to abolish it. Such an omission or oversight cannot be charged upon any other legislator the world has ever seen. But, says the Abolitionist, he has introduced new moral principles, which will extinguish it as an unavoidable consequence, without a direct prohibitory command. What are they? "Do to others as you would they should do to you." Taking these words of Christ to be a body, inclosing a moral soul in them, what soul, I ask, is it?
The same embodied in these words of Moses, Levit. xix. 18: "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;" or is it another? It cannot be another, but it must be the very same, because Jesus says, there are but two principles in being, in God's moral government, one including all that is due to God, the other all that is due to men.
If, therefore, doing to others as we would they should do to us, means precisely what loving our neighbor as ourself means, then Jesus has added no new moral principle above those in the law of Moses, to prohibit slavery, for in his law is found this principle, and slavery also.
The very God that said to them, they should love him supremely, and their neighbors as themselves, said to them also, "of the heathen that are round about you, thou shalt buy bond-men and bond-women, and they shall be your possession, and ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your bond-men forever." Now, to suppose that Jesus Christ left his disciples to find out, without a revelation, that slavery must be abolished, as a natural consequence from the fact, that when God established the relation of master and servant under the law, he said to the master and servant, each of you must love the other as yourself, is, to say the least, making Jesus to presume largely upon the intensity of their intellect, that they would be able to spy out a discrepancy in the law of Moses, which God himself never saw. Again: if "do to others as ye would they should do to you," is to abolish slavery, it will for the same reason, level all inequalities in human condition. It is not to be admitted, then, that Jesus Christ introduced any new moral principle that must, of necessity, abolish slavery. The principle relied on to prove it, stands boldly out to view in the code of Moses, as the soul, that must regulate, and control, the relation of master and servant, and therefore cannot abolish it.
Why a master cannot do to a servant, or a servant to a master, as he would have them do to him, as soon a wife to a husband or a husband to a wife, I am utterly at a loss to know. The wife is "subject to her husband in all things" by divine precept. He is her "head," and God "suffers her not to usurp authority over him." Now, why in such a relation as this, we can do to others as we would they should do to us, any sooner than in a relation, securing to us what is just and equal as servants, and due respect and faithful service rendered with good will to us as masters, I am at a loss to conceive. I affirm then, first, (and no man denies,) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command: and second, I affirm, he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction, under the gospel dispensation; and that the principle relied on for this purpose, is a fundamental principle of the Mosaic law, under which slavery was instituted by Jehovah himself: and third, with this absence of positive prohibition, and this absence of principle, to work its ruin, I affirm, that in all the Roman provinces, where churches were planted by the Apostles, hereditary slavery existed, as it did among the Jews, and as it does now among us, (which admits of proof from history that no man will dispute who knows anything of the matter,) and that in instructing such churches, the Holy Ghost by the Apostles, has recognized the institution, as one legally existing among them, to be perpetuated in the church, and that its duties are prescribed.
Now for the proof: To the church planted at Ephesus, the capital of the lesser Asia, Paul ordains by letter, subordination in the fear of God,--first between wife and husband; second, child and parent; third, servant and master: all, as states, or conditions, existing among the members.
The relative duties of each state, are pointed out; those between the servant and master in these words: "Servants be obedient to them who are your masters, according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart as unto Christ; not with eye service as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will, doing service, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And ye masters do the same things to them, forbearing threatening, knowing that your master is also in heaven, neither is there respect of persons with him." Here, by the Roman law, the servant was property, and the control of the master unlimited, as we shall presently prove.
To the church at Colosse, a city of Phrygia, in the lesser Asia,--Paul in his letter to them, recognizes the three relations of wives and husbands, parents and children, servants and masters, as relations existing among the members; (here the Roman law was the same;) and to the servants and masters he thus writes: "Servants obey in all things your masters, according to the flesh: not with eye service, as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong he has done; and there is no respect of persons with God. Masters give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that you also have a master in heaven."
The same Apostle writes a letter to the church at Corinth;--a very important city, formerly called the eye of Greece, either from its location, or intelligence, or both, and consequently, an important point, for radiating light in all directions, in reference to subjects connected with the cause of Jesus Christ; and particularly, in the bearing of its practical precepts on civil society, and the political structure of nations. Under the direction of the Holy Ghost, he instructs the church, that, on this particular subject, one general principle was ordained of God, applicable alike in all countries and at all stages of the church's future history, and that it was this: "as the Lord has called every one, so let him walk." "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he is called." Let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God." 1 Cor. vii. 17, 20, 24. "And so ordain I in all churches;" vii. 17. The Apostle thus explains his meaning: "Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised.
"Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.
"Art thou called, being a servant? Care not for it, but if thou mayst be made free, use it rather;" vii. 18, 21. Here, by the Roman law, slaves were property,--yet Paul ordains, in this and all other churches, that Christianity gave them no title to freedom, but on the contrary, required them not to care for being slaves, or in other words, to be contented with their state, or relation, unless they could be made free, in a lawful way.
Again, we have a letter by Peter, who is the Apostle of the circumcision--addressed especially to the Jews, who were scattered through various provinces of the Roman empire; comprising those provinces especially, which were the theatre of their dispersion, under the Assyrians and Babylonians. Here, for the space of 750 years, they had resided, during which time those revolutions were in progress which terminated the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Macedonian empires, and transferred imperial power to Rome. These revolutionary scenes of violence left one half the human race (within the range of their influence,) in abject bondage to the one half. This was the state of things in these provinces addressed by Peter, when he wrote. The chances of war, we may reasonably conclude, had assigned a full share of bondage to this people, who were despised of all nations. In view of their enslaved condition to the Gentiles; knowing, as Peter did, their seditious character; foreseeing, from the prediction of the Saviour, the destined bondage of those who were then free in Israel, which was soon to take place, as it did, in the fall of Jerusalem, when all the males over seventeen, were sent to work in the mines of Egypt, as slaves to the State, and all the males under, amounting to upwards of ninety-seven thousand, were sold into domestic bondage;--I say, in view of these things, Peter was moved by the Holy Ghost to write to them, and his solicitude for such of them as were in slavery, is very conspicuous in his letter; (read carefully from 1st Peter, 2d chapter, from the 13th verse to the end;) but it is not the solicitude of an abolitionist. He thus addresses them: "Dearly beloved, I beseech you." He thus instructs them: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." "For so is the will of God." "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." 1st Peter ii. 11, 13, 15, 18. What an important document is this!-- enjoining political subjection to governments of every form, and Christian subjection on the part of servants to their masters, whether good or bad; for the purpose of showing forth to advantage, the glory of the Gospel, and putting to silence the ignorance of foolish men, who might think it seditious.
By "every ordinance of man," as the context will show, is meant governmental regulations or laws, as was that of the Romans for enslaving their prisoners taken in war, instead of destroying, their lives.
When such enslaved persons came into the church of Christ let them (says Peter) "be subject to their masters with all fear," whether such masters be good or bad. It is worthy of remark, that he says much to secure civil subordination to the State, and hearty and cheerful obedience to the masters, on the part of servants; yet he says nothing to masters in the whole letter. It would seem from this, that danger to the cause of Christ was on the side of insubordination among the servants, and a want of humility with inferiors, rather than haughtiness among superiors in the church.
Gibbon, in his Rome, vol. 1, pages 25, 26, 27, shows, from standard authorities, that Rome at this time swayed its sceptre over one hundred and twenty millions of souls; that in every province, and in every family, absolute slavery existed; that it was at least fifty years later than the date of Peter's letters, before the absolute power of life and death over the slave was taken from the master, and committed to the magistrate; that about sixty millions of souls were held as property in this abject condition; that the price of a slave was four times that of an ox; that their punishments were very sanguinary; that in the second century, when their condition began to improve a little, emancipation was prohibited, except for great personal merit, or some public service rendered to the State; and that it was not until the third or fourth generation after freedom was obtained, that the descendants of a slave could share in the honors of the State. This is the state, condition, or relation among the members of all the apostolic churches, whether among Gentiles or Jews; which the Holy Ghost, by Paul for the Gentiles, and Peter for the Jews, recognizes as lawful; the mutual duties of which he prescribes in the language above. Now, I ask, can any man in his proper senses, from these premises, bring himself to conclude that slavery is abolished by Jesus Christ, or that obligations are imposed by him upon his disciples that are subversive of the institution? Knowing as we do from contemporary historians, that the institution of slavery existed at the time and to the extent stated by Gibbon--what sort of a soul must a man have, who, with these facts before him, will conceal the truth on this subject, and hold Jesus Christ responsible for a scheme of treason that would, if carried out, have brought the life of every human being on earth at the time, into the most imminent peril, and that must have worked the destruction of half the human race?
At Rome, the authoritative centre of that vast theatre upon which the glories of the cross were to be won, a church was planted. Paul wrote a long letter to them. On this subject it is full of instruction.
Abolition sentiments had not dared to show themselves so near the imperial sword. To warn the church against their treasonable tendency, was therefore unnecessary. Instead, therefore, of special precepts upon the subject of relative duties between master and servant, he lays down a system of practical morality, in the 12th chapter of his letter, which must commend itself equally to the king on his throne, and the slave in his hovel; for while its practical operation leaves the subject of earthly government to the discretion of man, it secures the exercise of sentiments and feelings that must exterminate everything inconsistent with doing to others as we would they should do unto us: a system of principles that will give moral strength to governments; peace, security, and good will to individuals; and glory to God in the highest. And in the 13th chapter, from the 1st to the end of the 7th verse, he recognizes human government as an ordinance of God, which the followers of Christ are to obey, honor, and support; not only from dread of punishment, but for conscience sake; which I believe abolitionism refuses most positively to do, to such governments as from the force of circumstances even permit slavery.
Again. But we are furnished with additional light, and if we are not greatly mistaken, with light which arose out of circumstances analogous to those which are threatening at the present moment to overthrow the peace of society, and deluge this nation with blood. To Titus whom Paul left in Crete, to set in order the things that were wanting, he writes a letter, in which he warns him of false teachers, that were to be dreaded on account of their doctrine. While they professed "to know God," that is, to know his will under the gospel dispensation, "in works they denied him;" that is, they did, and required others to do, what was contrary to his will under the gospel dispensation. "They were abominable," that is, to the church and state, "and disobedient," that is, to the authority of the Apostles, and the civil authority of the land. Titus, he then exhorts, "to speak the things that become sound doctrine;" that is, that the members of the church observe the law of the land, and obey the civil magistrate; that "servants be obedient to their own masters, and please them well in all things," not "answering again, not purloining, but showing all good fidelity that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things," in that which subjects the ecclesiastical to the civil authority in particular. "These things speak, and exhort and rebuke with all authority; let no man despise thee. Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates." Titus i. 16, and ii. from 1 to 10, and iii. 1. The context shows that a doctrine was taught by these wicked men, which tended in its influence on servants, to bring the Gospel of Christ into contempt, in church and state, because of its seditious and insubordinate character.
But at Ephesus, the capital of the lesser Asia, where Paul had labored with great success for three years--a point of great importance to the Gospel cause--the Apostle left Timothy for the purpose of watching against the false teachers, and particularly against the abolitionists. In addition to a letter which he had addressed to this church previously, in which the mutual duty of master and servant is taught, and which has already been referred to, he further instructs Timothy by letter on the same subject: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed." 1 Tim. vi. 1. These were unbelieving masters, as the next verse will show. In this church at Ephesus, the circumstances existed, which are brought to light by Paul's letter to Timothy, that must silence every cavil, which men, who do not know God's will on this subject, may start until time ends. In an age filled with literary men, who are employed in transmitting historically, to future generations, the structure of society in the Roman Empire; that would put it in our power at this distant day, to know the state or condition of a slave in the Roman Empire, as well as if we had lived at the time, and to know beyond question, that his condition was precisely that one, which is now denounced as sinful: in such an age, and in such circumstances, Jesus Christ causes his will to be published to the world; and it is this, that if a Christian slave have an unbelieving master, who acknowledges no allegiance to Christ, this believing slave must count his master worthy of all honor, according to what the Apostle teaches the Romans, "Render, therefore, to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor." Rom. xiii. 7. Now, honor is enjoined of God in the Scriptures, from children to parents-- from husbands to wives--from subjects to magistrates and rulers, and here by Jesus Christ, from Christian slaves to unbelieving masters, who held them as property by law, with power over their very lives. And the command is remarkable. While we are commanded to honor father and mother, without adding to the precept "all honor," here a Christian servant is bound to render to his unbelieving master "all honor." Why is this? Because in the one case nature moves in the direction of the command; but in the other, against it. Nature being subjected to the law of grace, might be disposed to obey reluctantly; hence the amplitude of the command. But what purpose was to be answered by this devotion of the slave? The Apostle answers, "that the name of God and his doctrine (of subordination to the law-making power) be not blasphemed," as they certainly would by a contrary course on the part of the servant, for the most obvious reason in the world; while the sword would have been drawn against the Gospel, and a war of extermination waged against its propagators, in every province of the Roman Empire, for there was slavery in all; and so it would be now.
But, says the caviler, these directions are given to Christian slaves whose masters did not acknowledge the authority of Christ to govern them; and are therefore defective as proof, that he approves of one Christian man holding another in bondage. Very well, we will see. In the next verse, (1 Timothy vi. 2,) he says, "and they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren, but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit." Here is a great change; instead of a command to a believing slave to render to a believing master all honor, and thereby making that believing master in honor equal to an unbelieving master, here is rather an exhortation to the slave not to despise him, because he is a believer. Now, I ask, why the circumstance of a master becoming a believer in Christ, should become the cause of his believing slave despising him, while that slave was supposed to acquiesce in the duty of rendering all honor to that master before he became a believer? I answer, precisely, and only, because there were abolition teachers among them, who taught otherwise, and consented not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Timothy vii. 3: and "to the doctrine which is according to godliness," taught in the 8th verse, viz: having food and raiment, servants should therewith be content; for the pronoun us, in the 8th verse of this connection, means especially the servants he was instructing, as well as Christians in general. These men taught, that godliness abolished slavery, that it gave the title of freedom to the slave, and that so soon as a man professed to be subject to Christ, and refused to liberate his slaves, he was a hypocrite, and deserved not the countenance of any who bore the Christian name. Such men, the Apostle says, are "proud, (just as they are now,) knowing nothing," (that is, on this subject,) but "doating about questions, and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself." 1 Tim. vi. 4, 5.
Such were the bitter fruits which abolition sentiments produced in the Apostolic day, and such precisely are the fruits they produce now.
Now, I say, here is the case made out, which certainly would call forth the command from Christ, to abolish slavery, if he ever intended to abolish it. Both the servant and the master were one in Christ Jesus. Both were members of the same church, both were under unlimited and voluntary obedience to the same divine lawgiver.
No political objection existed at the time against their obedience to him on the subject of slavery; and what is the will, not of Paul, but of the Lord Jesus Christ, immediately in person, upon the case thus made out? Does he say to the master, having put yourself under my government, you must no longer hold your brother in bondage? Does he say to the slave, if your master does not release you, you must go and talk to him privately, about this trespass upon your rights under the law of my kingdom; and if he does not hear you, you must take two or three with you; and if he does not hear them then you must tell it to the church, and have him expelled from my flock, as a wolf in sheep's clothing? I say, what does the Lord Jesus say to this poor believing slave, concerning a master who held unlimited power over his person and life, under the Roman law? He tells him that the very circumstance of his master's being a brother, constitutes the reason why he should be more ready to do him service; for, in addition to the circumstance of his being a brother who would be benefited by his service, he would as a brother give him what was just and equal in return, and "forbear threatening," much less abusing his authority over him, for that he (the master) also had a master in heaven, who was no respecter of persons. It is taken for granted, on all hands pretty generally, that Jesus Christ has at least been silent, or that he has not personally spoken on the subject of slavery. Once for all, I deny it. Paul, after stating that a slave was to honor an unbelieving master, in the 1st verse of the 6th chapter, says, in the 2d verse, that to a believing master, he is the rather to do service, because he who partakes of the benefit is his brother. He then says, if any man teach otherwise, (as all Abolitionists then did, and now do,) and consent not to wholesome words, "even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now, if our Lord Jesus Christ uttered such words, how dare we say he has been silent? If he has been silent, how dare the Apostle say these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, if the Lord Jesus Christ never spoke them? Where or when, or on what occasion he spoke them, we are not informed; but certain it is, that Paul has borne false witness, or that Jesus Christ has uttered the words that impose an obligation on servants, who are abject slaves, to render service with good will from the heart, to believing masters, and to account their unbelieving masters as worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. Jesus Christ revealed to Paul the doctrine which Paul has settled throughout the Gentile world, (and by consequence, the Jewish world also,) on the subject of slavery, so far as it affects his kingdom. As we have seen, it is clear and full.
From the great importance of the subject, involving the personal liberty of half the human race at that time, and a large portion of them at all times since, it is not to be wondered at, that Paul would carry the question to the Savior, and plead for a decisive expression of his will, that would forever do away the necessity of inferring anything by reasoning from the premises laid down in the former dispensation; or in the Patriarchal age; and at Ephesus, if not at Crete, the issue is fairly made, between Paul on the one side, and certain abolition teachers on the other, when, in addition to the official intelligence ordinarily given to the Apostles by the Holy Ghost, to guide them into all truth, he affirms, that the doctrine of perfect civil subordination, on the part of hereditary slaves to their masters, whether believers or unbelievers, was one which he, Paul, taught in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
The Scriptures we have adduced from the New Testament, to prove the recognition of hereditary slavery by the Savior, as a lawful relation in the sight of God, lose much of their force from the use of a word by the translators, which by time, has lost much of its original meaning; that is, the word servant. Dr. Johnson, in his Dictionary, says: "Servant is one of the few words, which by time has acquired a softer signification than its original, knave, degenerated into cheat. While servant, which signified originally, a person preserved from death by the conqueror, and reserved for slavery, signifies only an obedient attendant." Now, all history will prove that the servants of the New Testament addressed by the Apostles, in their letters to the several churches throughout the Roman Empire, were such as were preserved from death by the conqueror, and taken into slavery. This was their condition, and it a fact well known to all men acquainted with history. Had the word which designates their condition, in our translation, lost none of its original meaning, a common man could not have fallen into a mistake as to the condition indicated. But to waive this fact, we are furnished with all the evidence that can be desired. The Savior appeared in an age of learning--the enslaved condition of half the Roman Empire, at the time, is a fact embodied with all the historical records--the constitution God gave the Jews, was in harmony with the Roman regulation on the subject of slavery. In this state of things, Jesus ordered his Gospel to be preached in all the world, and to every creature. It was done as he directed; and masters and servants, and persons in all conditions, were brought by the Gospel to obey the Savior. Churches were constituted. We have examined the letters written to the churches, composed of these materials. The result is, that each member is furnished with a law to regulate the duties of his civil station-- from the highest to the lowest.
We will remark, in closing under this head, that we have shown from the text of the sacred volume, that when God entered into covenant with Abraham, it was with him as a slaveholder; that when he took his posterity by the hand in Egypt, five hundred years afterwards to confirm the promise made to Abraham, it was done with them as slaveholders; that when he gave them a constitution of government, he gave them the right to perpetuate hereditary slavery; and that he did not for the fifteen hundred years of their national existence, express disapprobation towards the institution.
We have also shown from authentic history that the institution of slavery existed in every family, and in every province of the Roman Empire, at the time the gospel was published to them.
We have also shown from the New Testament, that all the churches are recognized as composed of masters and servants; and that they are instructed by Christ how to discharge their relative duties; and finally, that in reference to the question which was then started, whether Christianity did not abolish the institution, or the right of one Christian to hold another Christian in bondage, we have shown, that "the words of our Lord Jesus Christ" are, that so far from this being the case, it adds to the obligation of the servant to render service with good will to his master, and that gospel fellowship is not to be entertained with persons who will not consent to it!
I propose, in the fourth place, to show that the institution of slavery is full of mercy. I shall say but a few words on this subject. Authentic history warrants this conclusion, that for a long period of time, it was this institution alone which furnished a motive for sparing the prisoner's life. The chances of war, when the earth was filled with small tribes of men, who had a passion for it, brought to decision, almost daily, conflicts, where nothing but this institution interposed an inducement to save the vanquished. The same was true in the enlarged schemes of conquest, which brought the four great universal empires of the Scriptures to the zenith of their power.
The same is true in the history of Africa, as far back as we can trace it. It is only sober truth to say, that the institution of slavery has saved from the sword more lives, including their increase, than all the souls who now inhabit this globe.
The souls thus conquered and subjected to masters, who feared not God nor regarded men, in the days of Abraham, Job, and the Patriarchs, were surely brought under great obligations to the mercy of God, in allowing such men as these to purchase them, and keep them in their families.
The institution when ingrafted on the Jewish constitution, was designed principally, not to enlarge the number, but to ameliorate the condition of the slaves in the neighboring nations.
Under the Gospel, it has brought within the range of Gospel influence, millions of Ham's descendants among ourselves, who, but for this institution, would have sunk down to eternal ruin; knowing not God, and strangers to the Gospel. In their bondage here on earth, they have been much better provided for, and great multitudes of them have been made the freemen of the Lord Jesus Christ, and left this world rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. The elements of an empire, which I hope will lead Ethiopia very soon to stretch out her hands to God, is the fruit of the institution here. An officious meddling with the institution, from feelings and sentiments unknown to the Bible, may lead to the extermination of the slave race among us, who, taken as a whole, are utterly unprepared for a higher civil state; but benefit them, it cannot. Their condition, as a class, is now better than that of any other equal number of laborers on earth, and is daily improving.
If the Bible is allowed to awaken the spirit, and control the philanthropy which works their good, the day is not far distant when the highest wishes of saints will be gratified, in having conferred on them all that the spirit of good-will can bestow. This spirit which was kindling into life, has received a great check among us of late, by that trait which the Apostle Peter reproves and shames in his officious countrymen, when he says: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busy-body in other men's matters." Our citizens have been murdered--our property has been stolen, (if the receiver is as bad as the thief,)-- our lives have been put in jeopardy--our characters traduced--and attempts made to force political slavery upon us in the place of domestic, by strangers who have no right to meddle with our matters. Instead of meditating generous things to our slaves, as a return for Gospel subordination, we have to put on our armor to suppress a rebellious spirit, engendered by "false doctrine," propagated by men "of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth," who teach them that the gain of freedom to the slave, is the only proof of godliness in the master. From such, Paul says we must withdraw ourselves; and if we fail to do it, and to rebuke them with all the authority which "the words of our Lord Jesus Christ" confer, we shall be wanting in duty to him, to ourselves, and to the world.