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Covenanters and Slavery - Part 8: 'justice, your religion, requires that you should cease to be slave-holders'

By Angela Wittman

As we conclude Alexander McLeod's Discourse: Negro Slavery Unjustifiable, let us learn from his words and the spilled blood of Americans in the War Between the States that God will not be mocked. If only God's people had heeded the words of Pastor McLeod preached 60 years earlier and followed the direction given on how to repent and extricate themselves from the sin of slave-holding, the War may have been avoided or at the very least would not have been as bloody as it was (the total death count has been estimated at 600,000 and perhaps even up to 700,000 men).

[Emphasis in bold text is mine, AW]
III. To make some improvement.

In his walk of faith, the Christian considers himself bound to the practice of every known duty. By the test of obedience, the nature of his love to God is tried. This is the love of Gods that ye keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.[17] This disposition inclines and fits him for making a practical improvement of just theory. And the view we have now had of the evils of the slave-trade may be improved for several uses.

1. We should lament over the distressing sufferings of our brethren in bondage. True piety does not blunt the feelings of benevolence. Commiseration with the wretched is strongly inculcated. Weep with those that weep. Evangelic principle forms the soul to it. For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye, runneth down with tears.[18] The situation of the African is miserable. In his native country he is in darkness. He has no vision, no well-grounded hope—the inhabitant of a waste wilderness, without God in the world. He becomes acquainted with foreigners on whom a Christian education has been bestowed. They profess the religion which breathes peace and good will towards men. He knows them to his sorrow. New occasions for war are afforded, and new and terrible instruments for prosecuting war provided, for the already ferocious tribes of the wilderness. He is taken captive, and is sold for a bauble. He is chained in the suffocating dungeon of a floating prison. He is brought into a strange country. The whip is brandished over his head. With its lash his back is furrowed. In a land boasting of civilization, and enlightened by the gospel luminary, he is doomed to ignorance, to rudeness and wretchedness. There is power on the side of the oppressor, but on his side there is no power.[19] His genius is cramped; the energies of his mind are suppressed; his moral feelings are eradicated; his soul, his immortal soul, is left to perish without the knowledge of Jesus. "Oh, slavery, thou art a bitter draught!" Miserable African, we lament over your condition. We are sensible of your sufferings. We sympathise with you. We recognise you as a brother. We recommend you to the protection of our Heavenly Father. We consign you to the arms of our dear Redeemer. God of mercy! Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee: according to the greatness of thy power, preserve thou those that are appointed to die.[20]

2. We may improve the view we have taken of the negro slave-trade, in order to stimulate us to present duty.

The benevolence of the Christian is not like the sensibility of a writer of romance, ready to be exercised on imaginary objects, but blind to objects of reality. While we drop the tear of compassion over the slave, let us inquire whether or no we can do any thing to alleviate his sorrows. Cannot your agency diminish the number of slaves, and your behaviour be an example to others to contribute their influence to the same desirable end?

I cannot demand of you, my brethren, to sacrifice your property imprudently in purchasing the liberty of your neighbour’s slaves; but justice, your religion, requires that you should cease to be slave-holders yourselves. With respect to the young, arrangements may be made, to defray, by their services, the expense of their support and their education, before they are emancipated. To this you have a right, and to no more. The middle-aged has already repaid your expenditures. If he has been purchased, charity would recommend it to you, nevertheless, to set him at liberty: and justice demands that you should retain him in bondage no longer than is sufficient to recompence you for your trouble and expense. With reference to the old, the inactive and the infirm, godly wisdom will direct the conscientious to such measures as may be best calculated to secure their advantage, and enable you to maintain an honourable testimony against this abominable usurpation. Be merciful to them. Cultivate their understandings. Make them feel themselves to be men. Raise them to the rank which God has assigned them. Teach them the doctrines of the gospel. Give them habits of industry. Pray for them. Sacrifice the property, which the civil law gives you in them, on the altar of religion. Seek for a recompence from on high. Heaven can reward you. Godliness is profitable unto all things. It has the promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come.[21]

3. The preceding discussion may be improved for discovering the duty of gospel ministers.

These occupy an important office in the house of God. They are ambassadors for Jesus Christ. They are commissioned not so much to please as to teach. The volume of revelation contains their instructions. In negociating a treaty between heaven and earth, they are not to neglect its directions. It contains no useless articles to be expunged or neglected. Much prudence, much prayer, and large communications of the divine spirit, are indeed necessary to constitute fallible man a wise steward of the manifold grace of God. This is promised; and he faithful who promised, and able to perform.[22] Mankind have no right to be offended at ministers for directing them on the head of slavery. My text is in the Bible. I have an undoubted right to discuss it. Is the discussion scriptural, and is it well timed? are the only questions men have a right to ask. My brethren in the ministry, if you lament over this evil, let your voice be raised aloud against it. The subject is important, To handle it rashly may be dangerous. Offence may be undesignedly given, and unjustly taken, which may mar the peace of the church, and hinder the propagation of the gospel. Offences must come. Woe to him by whom they are introduced. This should make you vigilant, but not silent. Some, indeed, have pushed their opposition to political evils too far. This may have had an influence in deterring others from going as far as duty directed. There is a timidity natural to some characters, which detains them from prosecuting public subjects. Some, who are traitors to their Master’s cause, neglect some articles in their instructions, while negociating in his name; and there is a meekness and diffidence cherished by true piety, which render ministers more disposed to evangelic discussions than to inveigh against public immoralities. But remember, brethren, that in preaching the gospel you are not to neglect the law. It is to be used as a schoolmaster to lead men to Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believeth. And you are also to teach, that the gospel is designed to establish the law, and dispose men to obey its dictates. You may comfort yourselves, probably, while neglecting your duty upon such subjects, by classing yourselves with an apostle, in desiring to know nothing but Jesus, and him crucified. Be assured, however, that the resolution of that inspired writer was not recorded with a view to militate against the express precept of our arisen Lord. He commanded his ambassadors not only to preach the gospel to all nations, but also to teach them all things whatsoever he commanded.[23] Considering the guilt and the danger accompanying the practice of holding our brethren in perpetual slavery, it will be serving God in your generation prudently to exercise the right of giving public warning against it. Let us do our duty, leaving the consequences to God.

4. The view we have taken of this subject also affords a practical lesson to our legislators and statesmen. To you belongs the maintenance of justice and order in society. Your influence, your authority, your wisdom, can be of signal service to the nation, if they are all exerted in the cause of righteousness. Engage yourselves speedily in rectifying this evil practice of holding your brethren in slavery. It is inconsistent with the natural rights of man; it is condemned by the scriptures; it is at war with your republican institutions; it ruins the minds and the morals of thousands; and it leaves you exposed to the wrath of heaven. It is easy to see tint, although it supports indolence and the pride of families, it is truly detrimental to the wealth, the industry, the population and the safety of the commonwealth.[24] It may be difficult to point out a safe mode of redressing the evil. Every plan is accompanied with difficulties. To export them to Africa would be cruel. To establish them in a separate colony would be dangerous. To give them their liberty, and incorporate them with the whites, would be more so, The sins of the fathers, it is to be feared, will be visited on their children. But it is more safe to adopt any one of those plans than continue the evil. By a national repenting and forsaking, we may find mercy. Providence can dispose of all things in our favour. We have a right to expect that he will ward off or mitigate the threatening consequences, if the nation would venture upon his kindness to do their duty.

It must appear ridiculous to Europeans "to hear of an American patriot signing with one hand declarations of independency, and with the other brandishing a whip over an affrighted slave." Can you be sincere friends to liberty and order, and tolerate this dreadful traffic?

From repeated and accurate calculations it has been found that slavery is unfavourable to the wealth of nations.

Listen to the remarks of a writer of observation and eminence. "With what execration should the statesman be loaded, who, permitting one half of the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies—destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae, of the other! With the morals of the people, their industry also is destroyed. Of the proprietors of slaves a small proportion is ever seen to labour, And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the public that their liberties are the gift of God? that they are not to be violated but with his wrath? indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just that his justice cannot sleep for ever—that an exchange of situation is among possible events—that it may become probable by supernatural interference."[25] You will find it true, that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is a reproach to any people.[26]

In concluding this discourse, let me warn my hearers to consider the evil hand they may have in the system of slavery, and especially that they are by nature in the worst of slavery themselves. Come for deliverance from the bondage of sin into the Son of God: for, whom the Son makes free, shall be free indeed. Standing fast in this liberty, use it in the service of God and of man. You are no more your own; ye are bought with a price: Glorify God in your bodies and spirits which are his. Amen.


[17] Romans 12:15.

[18] Lamentation 1:16.

[19] Eccles. 4:1.

[20] Psalm 79:11.

[21] 1 Timothy 4:8.

[22] Hebrews 10:2,3. Romans 4:21.

[23] Matthew 28:19,20.

[24] "From repeated and accurate calculations, it has been found that the expense of maintaining a slave, if we include the purchase-money, is much greater than that of maintaining a free man; and the labour of the free man, influenced by the powerful motive of gain, is at least twice as profitable to the employer as that of the slave. Besides, slavery is the bane of industry. It renders labour among the whites not only unfashionable, but disreputable. Industry is the offspring of necessity rather than of choice. Slavery precludes this necessity, and indolence, which strikes at the root of all social and political happiness, is the consequence." Morse’s Geography, p. 65.

If these observations be just, it appears that slavery is impolitic as well as immoral; and they will hold true except in cases in which the negroes are treated in some degree as men, and in which they enjoy considerable portion of freedom: and even where this is the case, there is a great disadvantage accompanying negro slavery. It renders service of any kind disreputable. All the white people cannot be masters, and yet even the poor are very unwilling to serve. When they do engage in service it is difficult to deal with them. If you assume an authority over them they resent it; if you have work to do which is disagreeable, your hired man or woman spurn at the thought of being more meanly employed than yourself; nay, they will not be called servants, for this would be reducing them to a level with the blacks. This is prevalent throughout the country, except in those places in which different customs have introduced different ideas. The want of subordination and faithfulness in the white servants in America, has long been a subject of remark to Europeans. In the slavery of the blacks we see the cause of it—a cause more powerful than even mistaken notions of liberty.

[25] Jefferson’s Notes.

[26] Proverbs 14:34.

Let us be realists as we look back on our nation's history and not romanticize our wicked past of slave-holding; but let us look ahead to the time that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. (Isaiah 2:2)

Series to be continued.


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