Brother Beebe: I am an old man; it is about fifty-five years since I believe God began a work of grace in my heart. I was then about ten years old. I retired to the woods to try to pray the Lord to have mercy on me, a poor sinner; and I am one of those who believe that where God has began a good work, He will perform it. I have taken your valuable paper nearly eight years, in which time I do not recollect that I have troubled you for your views on any part of the scriptures - but now I am going to make a request of you to preach and print a sermon. Select your own text on the subject of “Slavery”. Was it an appointment of our heavenly Father? And what is the duty of the slave to his master, and of the master to the slave. **** O, my dear brother, is it not time for all of God’s children to cry unto Him both night and day to save us from the impending storm which threatens our common country? Our slaves, where they have good masters, are the most happy people in the world. I have this morning been reading about the poor in Philadelphia, and I know our slaves are better off than they. I try to treat my slaves kindly, and I do believe they are better off than they would be if free. I give my men crops, and have their crops worked for them. I have one man who will make $75 or $80 this year, which he can dispose of as he pleases. He is my foreman. I give him more than the rest. I have no white overseer this year. I do not allow my foreman to correct them, but to report them to me, and it is very seldom I correct them. Two of my slaves are in the same Church with me, and I do hope the good Lord has began a good work with another; for his walk is like that of a Christian. There is much distress in some parts of this country from the failure of the crops, many are making comparatively nothing. I propose to be one of five to give one hundred bushels of corn to feed the poor widows and orphans of the county in which I live; and I intend to do this whether any other will or not. Brother Beebe, I have not had the pleasure of seeing you - but I hope to meet you in the world of glory, where sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Your poor unworthy brother in Christ.
Reply: Three important questions are involved in the subject on which we are requested to write. First: Is slavery an institution of God, existing by His appointment, under His direction, and having His expressed approval? If so, second, What is the duty of the slave to his master? And third, What is the duty of the master to his slave?
Before prosecuting our investigation of this subject, we will attempt to define the meaning of the word slave. We are not aware of the occurrence of the term but twice in the scriptures, namely in Jer. ii. 14, and Rev. xviii. 13. In the first it is placed in italics, and used as equivalent to the term servant, but in a sense implying degredation. “Is Israel a servant? Is he a home born slave? Why is he spoiled?” In Rev. xviii. 13, slaves are mentioned among the commodities of anti-christian merchandise. Such is cinnamon, odours, ointments, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, beasts, sheep, horses, chariots and slaves, and souls of men, and this word slaves is rendered in the margin bodies, and so connected with the souls of men. Webster defines a slave to be first, “A person who is wholly subject to the will of another.” Second, “One who has lost the power of resistance, or one who surrenders himself to any power whatever.” Third, “A mean person, one in the lowest state of life.” Fourth, “A drudge; one who labors like a slave.” According to Webster’s definition, we see no propriety in confounding the terms slave and servant. But in a scriptural sense the two words mean the same thing; and mean a person who is in a subordinate capacity, having a master whom he is bound to obey. Servants in the scriptures are variously classified. Some are hired servants, bound by a voluntary covenant to obey their masters for hire; as Paul says, “His servants ye are, to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey,” etc. Another class of servants are presented in the case of those insolvent Israelites which were sold into bondage to satisfy the legal demands of their creditors. This class of servants were regarded as the property of those who bought them, but their right of property in them did not hold beyond an appointed day of Jubilee, when they were invariably to be released from personal bondage and reinstated in their families, and real estate, and during the limited period of their bondage, their owners were forbidden to rule them with rigor, as they were allowed to rule those servants which were bought of the heathen nations. The third class which we will mention is probably that to which our correspondent alludes - bought of the heathen nations, as the African servants were. In this class of servants, the owners had a bonified right of property, to rule them with rigor, or to transmit them as an inheritance to their posterity forever. There were still other classes of servants mentioned in the scriptures, such as minor children, who differed not from servants until the time appointed of the father, etc. But as the class which exists in our country, and which are improperly called slaves are those concerning which our correspondent enquires, we will pass to the proposed investigation.
Question 1. Is Slavery thus defined an institution of God, existing by his appointment, under his direction, and having his approval?
Before proceeding further, we will ask, is this subject a proper one for discussion in a religious journal? Our own impression is that whatever the Bible teaches belongs legitimately to the subject of religion, and that it is not only our privilege but our duty as the children of God, and disciples of Christ, prayerfully, to investigate, and therefore a proper subject for discussion in the columns of the Signs of the Times. With the political clamor and confusion which now agitates our beloved country and shakes the foundation of our national union, we do not design to meddle; at least any farther than an exhibition of what God has revealed in his word may conflict with the fanatical theories which have been profanely dragged into the politics of the day. But to the question.
That human bondage of a portion of the human family is an institution of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, we think is fully proved in the circular of the Corresponding Association of Old School Baptists, published in our last number. The prophetic assignation of the respective destinies of the three sons of Noah, very clearly indicated the purpose of God in making the descendants of Ham the servants of servants forever. That Noah spoke by inspiration when thrice declaring, (Gen. ix. 25, 26, 27) that Canaan should be a servant to his brethren, including both the other divisions of the human family from the date of the flood, the subsequent history of the world has demonstrated beyond all successful contradiction. Thus proving that the institution was of God, for Noah, as a man, had no power to control the matter beyond his own day. But we are not left to infer that what is now called slavery is an institution of God from the prophetic declarations of Noah concerning Ham, or Canaan, but turn to the record of the Levitical institutions, and among other precepts from the mouth of God we have his law upon this subject in so many words. Thus, after the institution of laws for the Jubilee release of the Israelitish bondmen and bondwomen, at the end of every sixth year God says, “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. 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 bondmen for ever; but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.” Leviticus xxv. 44-46. If this is not an institution and command of God, where in the whole range of the Levitical code shall we find one? We could multiply our quotations on the subject, but we are sure that any who are not convinced by the foregoing have no fear of God before their eyes.
Having proved beyond all cavil that it is an institution of God, it must follow that it exists by his appointment. Do we believe that Jehovah is a God of providence - that he doeth his pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, - that he raise monarchs to their thrones from the dunghill, and brings them down to the dust as seemeth him good? - then how can we doubt that the institution of what is this day called slavery exists by the appointment of God. That God has appointed and commanded its existence we have clearly proved, and that it does now exist, and that it always has existed from the days of the flood, is too obvious to need any further proof. No man of intelligence and candor will read the Bible and deny it. But does God approve of it? - Will any man so far outrage his own common sense as to believe that God has made laws and enjoined their observance, of which he does not approve? He must either approve or disapprove. How has he indicated his approbation or disapprobation of the institution? Did he rebuke Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, or any of the patriarchs or prophets, any of the Old Testament or New Testament saints for holding bondmen or bondwomen as property, to be bought and sold, and to be transmitted as an inheritance to their children, the same as any kind of property? If so, the inspired writers have utterly failed to record it. But instead of any expression of divine disapprobation, God has expressly recognized it as existing by his authority in the covenant of circumcision, including all who were born in Abraham’s house or bought with his money in the rights and privileges of that covenant. Also in two precepts of the decalogue, he has recognized its lawful existence. And in the signal blessings bestowed upon the patriarchs of flocks and herds, of men servants and maid servants, together with corn, wine, and oil in great abundance.
We pass to the second enquiry. What is the duty of the servant to his master? In the Old Testament, the absolute authority of the master over the servant clearly implies the duty of the servant to obey implicitly all the commands of his master; to honor, fear, reverence, and love his master; such appears to have been the case with Abraham’s servants, especially his eldest servant who could be entrusted with a large amount of treasure, and with business of the greatest importance.
But we come to examine the New Testament for instruction on the subject of the relative duties of servants and masters. For although the former covenant has waxed old, and with all its types and shadows, has passed away, the relationship of servants and masters, like those of husbands and wives, children and parents, magistrates and people, have not passed away, nor are they at all annulled by the setting up of the Redeemer’s kingdom and bringing in of the better covenant. The King of Zion has issued his proclamation that his kingdom is not of this world. No allegiance to the instituted powers of the world, such as human governments are in the least impaired by the setting up of his kingdom. Nor has the legitimate administration of the governments of the nations of the earth anything to do with his kingdom. To those who are called by grace to enter, by the new birth, and due allegiance to the King of Zion, the spiritual kingdom, the King has, by his apostle, officially proclaimed, “Art thou called being a servant, care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, choose it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s free man: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price, be not ye the servants of men.” I Cor. vii. 21-23. It is evident that their calling to be servants of Christ did not annul their relationship, but if thou mayest be made free, choose it rather: nor does the apostle mean that they are not to be servants to their masters as formerly; but in this redemption with a price they are redeemed unto God; and religiously or in spiritual things, the disciples are to call no man on earth master, but to serve their Master in heaven with singleness of heart. That this is clearly the meaning of the apostle, he adds in the next verse, “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” Nothing can be more plain than the instructions which this same apostle has given to servants; and as we have many thousands of our brethren in the United States who are called being servants, under the yoke, and many of them who take our paper, as we recognize such in a spiritual relation as brethren in our common Lord, and heirs together with us of the grace of life, as we regard your spiritual welfare, we charge you before God to read carefully what he has addressed to you in 1 Tim. vi. 1-5: “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them,” (or be any the less dutiful, respectful, or obedient to them) “because they are brethren; but rather do them service,” (the more service, or serve them the more cheerfully and faithfully) “because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things,” (Paul directs Timothy to) “teach and exhort,” (and the writer of this article is under the same command, and so are all the true ministers of our Lord Jesus Christ.) “If any man teach otherwise,” (alas! what multitudes at this day do) “and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (as Paul was inspired by the Holy Ghost, these words are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ) “and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting 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 gain to be godliness. From such withdraw thyself.” Have we not seen the truth of the apostle’s words exemplified, and do we not see it to an alarming extent, in the strife, contention, envy, railings, perverse disputings of the same description of proud know nothings, who are continually doting about words, whereof all this clamor and fanaticism proceeds.
Here the duty of servants under the yoke, or called by grace, being servants, is plainly laid down.
There were many servants which were under the yoke in the church in the apostles’ days. Under the Roman laws, the captives taken in war, whether black or white, were frequently sold into slavery, and in a slavery to which nothing in our country can compare; for the masters and owners of servants were allowed to abuse and torture, and even to put them to death. But still the apostles constantly exhorted the servants to patiently submit, and to count their masters worthy of all honor. In giving Titus instruction to speak the things which become sound doctrine, Paul says, “Exhort servants to be obedient to their own masters, and to 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 Savior in all things.” Titus ii. 9, 10. Again, in writing to Colossians, Paul, after exhorting wives and husbands, parents and children, to a faithful observance of all their relative duties, says: “Servants, obey, in all things, your masters, according to the flesh, not with eye service.” That is, not requiring to be watched; but let your masters see that you, as Christians, are just as conscientiously honest, dutiful, diligent, and obedient in their absence, as though you were all the time in their sight - “not with eye service as men pleasers,” - (you have a higher, holier calling; your business is to please God, by doing your duty faithfully to your masters, according to the flesh) - “but with singleness of heart fearing God,” (knowing that he requires this of you). “And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men.” That is, you do it heartily, because God in his holy providence has assigned to you, in this world, the position and duties of a servant, for his glory and for your own good, and therefore as you love and fear God, faithfully serve your masters after the flesh. “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 which he hath done, and there is no respect of persons.” Col. iii. 22-25. No respect of persons - the wife, the husband, the parent or child, the master and the servant alike are accountable to God, and all shall receive of his hand for the wrong which they do.
The same exhortation is also given in Eph. v. and vi. chapters to the saints in all the various conditions and positions of life. “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters, according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ.” The fear and trembling here evidently means, in reference to Christ, as those who fear the Lord tremble at his word, and render their obedience to him with fear and trembling, lest through the deceitfulness of our corrupt nature we may fail to honor him as our Lord. The servant may have all confidence in his master, love him and respect him, but is not required to dread him, if obedient to the apostle’s admonition, “Not with eye service as men pleasers,” (or as those who vainly suppose that if they can make their masters believe they are diligent and faithful, that that is all they need care for; but remember when the eye of your earthly masters is not watching, the eye of God is upon you: “Thou, God, seest me;”) - “but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” Eph. vi. 5, 6. Peter, also, by the same apostolic authority, commands, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward; for this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” - 1 Peter ii. 18-20. There are some masters which are not good and gentle, as there are some servants who are unruly. But because a Christian, who is a servant, has even a froward, hard, severe, or wicked master, still he is, by the law of Christ, bound to respect, honor and obey him nevertheless, and for their encouragement they are assured that with their patient submission, God is well pleased. What higher, holier, or more desirable incentive can a child of God, whether bond or free, have than this? O, to know that God is pleased, we can well afford to breast the fiercest storm and endure the sharpest affliction!
We have presented some of the duties which the gospel enjoins on servants that are under the yoke. We feel an assurance that such of our African brethren and sisters who are under the yoke will appreciate our candor and faithfulness .in calling their attention to what God has said upon the subject. While hypocrites may flounce, and speculating demagogues, who care not the snap of the finger for their welfare, but wish to stir up strife, to sow the seeds of discontent among them, may rave and blaspheme, we know our African brethren of the Old School Baptist communion in the South too well to apprehend that they will, willingly or knowingly, disregard the admonitions which their Lord and Master has given them through his inspired apostles.
One word further to those who are under the yoke. Dear brethren in Christ, the writer of this article has traveled extensively in twenty-three of the States of our blessed Union, and speaks that which he does know, and testifies that which he has seen, when he assures you that your condition, as God in his all wise providence has placed you, is far preferable to the condition of any of your race in any of the Northern States, or in the Canadas; and you are far more happy, free from care, from suffering and want, and enjoy religious as well as temporal privileges to a far greater extent than you could have anywhere else than where God, in his holy providence, has placed you. Remember, then, that godliness with contentment is great gain.
Our third and last division of the subject calls on us to show, from the Holy scriptures, what is the duty of masters to their servants, and this we will endeavor to do in the same unreserved and candid manner in which we have written the foregoing. And first we will remark, it is to Christian masters that we write - for as Christians we have no power or authority to enjoin gospel rules on the world or on ungodly men. The divine law providing and regulating the relationship of master and servants under the old dispensation allowed Hebrew masters to rule with rigor their servants which were bought of the heathen nations, but not those which were of their brethren. If by rigorous treatment the servant even die under his master’s hand, the master shall be punished; but if he continue a day or two, the master shall not be punished, “for he is his money,” or property; see Exodus xxi. 20, 21. But let it be remembered that this was the ngor of that law which gave an eye for an eye, a hand for a hand, and a tooth for a tooth, as the same chapter provides. But a very different course is enjoined on the disciples of Christ in his sermon on the Mount, and throughout the New Testament. In Eph. vi, after enjoining upon servants to serve their masters cheerfully, and as doing so from a solemn sense of duty to their Master in heaven, the apostle says, “And ye, masters, do the same things unto them.” That is, Let your deportment towards them, and government of them be in like manner with a conscientious regard to the will and teachings of your Master in heaven; for as he adds, “Knowing that your Master also is in heaven, neither is there respect of persons with him.” Eph. vi. 9. Your Master in heaven has the same love, care, and regard for his children who are in bondage as for their masters; for he has redeemed them with the same precious blood, loved them with the same love, and chosen them to the same spiritual inheritance in glory. He will therefore judge the master as well as the servant, the parent as well as the child, the husband as well as the wife, the rulers as well as the ruled. These distinctions of authority are to continue only during our time state, but in the ultimate glory of the saints, the bond as well as the free, shall be raised up in the perfect image of the glorified body of the Lord Christ. From these considerations the apostle commands the master to forbear threatening, and to treat servants with that kindness which you would wish them to show to you if your relations to each other were reversed. Again, “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” Col. iv. 1. As to what is just and equal, there may be differences of judgment, even among Christians; but let the Christian master remember that his Master in heaven is the judge between him and his servants, and will not pass unnoticed any injustice done by the master to the servant. As God in his holy providence has committed them to your care, a solemn responsibility rests on you; from their birth to their death, you are bound to support and provide them food and clothing, and, if sick or lame, to provide good nursing, medicine and care; and for all your care and expense, you are entitled to their faithful service as long as they have ability to serve you. Their living is an equitable remuneration for their faithful services, and this should not be withheld from them.
The epistle of Paul to Philemon, whose fugitive servant was brought to the knowledge of the truth, under the ministry of Paul, and whom the apostle would not detain without Philemon’s consent, and although he needed his service, yet as a matter of right sent him home to his master, shows a spirit of pure Christianity, and the kind manner in which Paul exhorts Philemon to reinstate the returning fugitive, not only as a servant in the flesh, but, now that he was manifestly a subject of saving grace, to receive him also in the love and fellowship of the gospel of Christ, that he might now be profitable to him, both in the flesh and in the spirit. Ye masters, agreeably to the instructions of the gospel, treat your servants with kindness, tenderness, and with a conscientious regard for their good, in the fear of the Lord. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” Rom. xvi. 17, 18. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, pure, lovely, and of good report, think on these things. Phil. iv. 8. And the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
October 1, 1860.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 402 - 413