Lecture I. The Duty of Preaching the Gospel to the Slaves in the West Indies
(Preached at the Cathedral, Barbados, Jan. 8, 1832.)
THE duty which is enforced in this brief command has for its object a greater change in the condition and character of mankind, and a larger production of good, both temporal and eternal, than any other in the whole range of Christian obligation. The command is peremptory, and imposes a solemn charge on all who profess the Christian faith--on the ministers of Christ in its direct application; hut indirectly, and in its more extended meaning, on all believers in Christianity--on the people as well as on the priest.
That the dispensation of the word of God is entrusted to the care, and charged on the responsibility, of the authorized ministers of religion, no one will dispute. They are under a distinct and especial call to preach the word--to be instant in season, out of season--to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. Necessity is therefore laid upon them to preach the gospel, and woe unto them if they preach not the gospel.
But while the public ministrations of religion are confided to the duly appointed teacher, and it devolves upon him to preach the word openly and before the congregation; it is also an obvious inference from the text, supported by many a collateral passage in scripture, that it is the duty of every private Christian to assist in enlarging his Master's kingdom, and in bringing home the wandering and neglected sheep, so that there may be one fold and one shepherd.
"Thy kingdom come," is a petition familiar to the lips, and I would hope to the hearts also of all our lay brethren, implying their earnest desire to have all men brought under the spiritual rule of Christ, so that "his way may be known upon earth, his saving health among all nations." Should any one use this petition, conscious at the time that he is hindering a fellow-creature from be coming Christ's faithful soldier and servant; or that when the opportunity is forced upon him, he refuses to afford encouragement to the reception of the gospel by the heathen in the land; or that he is even an unmoved spectator of the spiritual darkness, and unholy living of those around him, and dependent upon him that man practises hypocrisy before the searcher of the thoughts of men. He utters that with his lips which is opposed to the real wishes and intentions of his heart.
It belongs to the ecclesiastical historian to describe the progress of Christianity in the early ages of the church. Small was the number of the professed believers in the Messiah on the day of Pentecost. A few obscure and despised individuals, unsupported by fortune, or rank, or worldly attainments, were with one accord in one place. They were the seed (small, it is true, and unnoticed, and apparently even buried in the earth,) from which afterwards the church of Christ sprung forth, and became the tree in the midst of the earth, which grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth.
PREACH THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE, was the injunction which animated the first Christians in their dangerous service of conversion, and imposed on them the necessity of declaring to the world the doctrine of Christ crucified. During the first ages, they had many a trial of cruel mockings and scourgings; they were stoned, and tempted, and slain with the sword; they wandered about, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. Yet, notwithstanding every worldly discouragement, the word of God mightily grew and prevailed. It is a strong, but not an unsuitable, or exaggerated figure, that the blood of the martyrs be came the seed of the church of Christ.
In the fourth century, the gospel was triumphant throughout the civilized world. But England was at this time, and to a much later period, in a state of almost complete barbarism. In some of its darker features it resembled the native shores of the negro in our own days. A slave trade similar to that which for more than two hundred years has been the reproach of Christian Europe, and the unmerited scourge of Africa, depopulated the coasts of Britain, and gave a sanction to crimes of unnatural ferocity among the people. It happened in these times of our national debasement, that Saint Gregory, who was afterwards raised to the popedom, and was, for his piety and services rendered to religion, deservedly surnamed the great, beheld in the slave-market at Rome a number of English youths exposed for sale. "He was struck by the appearance of the boys, their fine clear skin, the beauty of their flaxen or golden hair, and their ingenuous countenances, so that he asked from what country they came; and when he was told from the Island of Britain, where the inhabitants in general were of that complexion and comeliness, he inquired if the people were Christians, and sighed for compassion at hearing that they were in a state of pagan darkness." This accidental discovery of the heathenism which prevailed among the inhabitants of Eng land, led to the successful introduction of Christianity into our mother country, and eventually to the civilization of our Saxon forefathers. Britain, in return, communicated the new faith to the forests and wilds of Germany, and now again in our own days, awakening as it were from a long repose, an island which the haughty Romans had despised as separated from the rest of mankind by a tempestuous ocean, is communicating a better civilization than they could imagine--the enlightening and purifying truths of the gospel, to a world unknown to the ancients. But it is foreign to my purpose to proceed with the history of the Church in England. The few observations which I have advanced on the subject are introductory to a short course of lectures, in which I propose to take a review of the establishment of the Church of Christ in these colonies, and of the benefits, whether immediate or remote, resulting from it. The subject opens to us a wide field of interesting and useful inquiry. If considered impartially, it will produce in us mixed feelings of regret and exultation--regret, when we view the niggard and unchristian spirit which, during so long a period, has either withheld, or most sparingly doled out, religious instruction to those who perhaps more than any other class of our fellow creatures, needed its consolations and promises-and exultation, when we find that at length the attention of the several communities in the West Indies has been directed to this peremptory call of duty, and that there is daily an increase to our hopes of a general diffusion of the gospel among the heathen in our land.
In the sketch which I am about to give of the progress of Christianity in these colonies, from their earliest settlement down to the present time, I may perhaps be led, from the very nature of the subject, to express opinions apparently severe and uncharitable. I must in all such instances intreat your indulgence, and a favourable construction of my motives. Whatever may escape from me either in this lecture, or in those which may follow it, which has the semblance of harshness, will occur, through inadvertency, and not design. My prayer is, that nothing may he spoken by me which is riot from "the holy Scriptures, or agreeable to the same," and that those who hear me, may have grace to receive meekly, and charitably, whatever may conduce to the good of their own souls, or to the welfare, whether temporal or eternal, of those in trusted to their charge.
The first settlers in these colonies brought with them the Protestant religion from England, and with few exceptions, they were all professedly members of the established church. In this, and in the other old settlements, the erection of churches, and the appointment of authorized and regularly ordained ministers, to the care of distinct parishes, marked the desire, which at that time existed, of maintaining in the colonies the forms of worship prescribed in the mother country. It is pleasing to notice, in some of the early legal enactments, the spirit of personal and practical holiness which seems to have prevailed among the colonists at that period. "That God Almighty may be served and glorified, and that he give a blessing to our labours," (I quote the preamble of one of the oldest laws in this colony,) it is required "that all masters and overseers of families have prayers openly said or read, every morning and evening, with his family." Attendance at public worship on the Lord's day is expressly enjoined, and a distinct prohibition is recorded, against frequenting taverns and victualling houses, during the hours of divine service, and against all wanton and profane swearing.
I observe, however, with regret, that while the first settlers and planters in this colony were impressed with the importance of a religious establishment, the benefits of which might ex tend to themselves and to their white or indented servants, they appear to have been altogether regardless of the duty which devolved more immediately on their ministers, but which was imperative also on themselves, of preaching or publishing the gospel to the imported African slaves. The law was silent on this duty; and as far as the records of the island inform us, we have no authority for supposing that it was considered necessary, or even desirable, to admit this part of their population to a participation in the blessings of the religion of that Redeemer, whose offering of himself upon the cross they acknowledged, with the church to which they belonged, to be a propitiation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. On the contrary, we find that, with lamentable inconsistency in the few instances where the endeavour was made by proprietors to christianize their slaves, according to their own belief and form of worship, the opposition to the measure was so strong, that it led to repeated prohibitory laws, some of which possess the harshest features of persecution. I allude to the pious, though unsuccessful exertions of the early colonists of the Society of Friends. Theirs is the praise of having first at tempted, amidst obloquy and suffering, to preach the gospel in this island to the heathen African slave.
Nearly about this time, a clergyman of the Church of England, distinguished by his connexion with the most important college in the university of Oxford, arrived in this colony, and earnestly endeavoured to obtain the acknowledgment that the African was one of the human species, and therefore, as descended from Adam, entitled to be admitted into the blessings of the gospel covenant which was ratified by the blood of the second Adam, the Lord from heaven. His efforts were openly opposed by the lay proprietors in Barbados; nor have we reason to believe that he received much active co-operation from his brethren in the minis try. His individual and unaided exertions were consequently almost entirely fruit less; and he has recorded his failure in a work which may still be read with a melancholy interest.
The Moravians, at a later period, entered on the instruction of the slaves in our \Vest Indian settlements; and though forced to endure many difficulties and severe privations in the prosecution of their pious undertaking, yet by quiet perseverance, and a conciliatory and yielding deportment, they succeeded where a more uncompromising zeal would probably have failed. Their rule of conduct in the West Indies has been to "labour in stillness," and though this stillness may in some in stances be identified with the absence of practical and effective instruction, yet even their opponents must allow that they were among the earliest in the field, and that they have borne much of the burden and heat of the day. The results of their labours have established the fact, that a Christian slave is far more valuable than one who remains in a state of heathen ignorance, and that the contentment inculcated by the gospel is the best safe guard against insurrection and bloodshed.
Of the Dissenting teachers who have more recently toiled, with a partial and qualified success, in the same spiritual wilderness, it is difficult to speak without incurring the suspicion of either too much liberality, where there may be cause for censure, or of too little, where forbearance may be required, or even commendation he due. The zealous minister of our church in these lands will seldom complain of having his sphere of usefulness narrowed by the exertions of these seceders from our communion. In some of the colonies the field is too wide to admit of much collision; and if in others, with a culpable intrusion they attempt to build on another man's foundation, the orthodox doctrines, and primitive discipline of our church, maintained earnestly and discreetly, will scarcely fail to secure the ascendancy. I deprecate the virulence of party spirit. The clamours of intolerance too often arise from the consciousness of inferior zeal, and where reproaches are vehement, it may be fair to inquire whether there is not as much fault in the remissness of one party, as in the obtrusiveness of the other.
I ought not to dismiss the subject with out adding a few words on dissent in general. I speak in no uncharitable spirit, and my desire is to use also the language of charity.
It may be assumed, without much fear of contradiction, that the ecclesiastical establishment of a country is entitled not only to acquiescence, but even to zealous support, whenever it is founded on the authority of God's word, or on the known discipline of the early church. Any departure from the truths of the gospel, any demands on our belief or practice, which are inconsistent with the plain language of the scriptures, any at tempt to teach and impose for doctrines the commandments of men, will authorize--not the hatred which stirreth up strifes, for this is unchristian--but quiet remonstrance; or, if this fails, the peace able separation from that church which c1e and obstinately continues in error. Though we, says the Apostle, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
It was when papal Rome preached and enforced another gospel than that which the apostles had preached, that the reformed churches of Europe, and England was prominent among them, withdrew from the spiritual rule which she had abused, and exercised the right of self-judgment.
But when in all essential matters the Word of God is made the rule of doc trine in the constitution of a church; when there are no leading errors, no oppressive forms, no harsh and uncharitable practices, it becomes the duty of every member of the community to submit for conscience sake. Any hasty and capricious separation is schismatical, and is immediately destructive of that unity and peace which Christ so frequently and so earnestly enjoined on his followers.
I presume not to judge those, however mistaken in their opinions, who, after a calm and dispassionate inquiry, conscientiously, and from motives purely disinterested, dissent from our church. Much less should I consider any act of violence, or any spirit of hostility against them, justified in a sincere follower of Him who was meek and lowly, and required his disciples to love even their enemies. We may pray for them. We may try with all meekness and sobriety to convince them; but we cannot, without identifying ourselves with the Church of Rome in some of its worst and most unchristian practices, take up the sword of persecution against them, and endeavour to extort from them an unwilling obedience
When I look around me and behold various denominations of Christians, all labouring to attain the same great object--all striving to be the instruments of giving light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death--though some with less knowledge, and in a temper less disciplined than others; I grieve not at the sight. I grieve when any are found who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which we have received--but I grieve not at seeing the door of faith opened to the heathen in our land by ministers of other denominations. St. Paul could say, Some indeed preach Christ of envy and strife, and some also of good will. . . . What then? Notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. There are rents in the church universal. The Christian will pray that they reach not to the foundation--that they affect not the corner-stone. Various are the branches which shoot forth from the parent and sustaining vine. The Christian will rejoice if even the least vigorous and perfect are enabled, through the blessing of God, to bear fruit.
I have noticed the unwillingness of the first holders of slave property to extend a saving knowledge of the gospel to the imported African. We might infer from allusions to the subject by early writers on the West Indies, that a mistaken interpretation of the laws relating to colonial slavery greatly increased this indisposition to supply the spiritual wants of the slave. I have spoken of the conduct of the Friends as a praiseworthy exception. I should be unjust were I not to admit that from time to time, individuals of our own communion were desirous of conveying to their slaves a knowledge of the truths, and a practical sense of the duties, of religion. But they either miscalculated the appropriate means of obtaining an influence in spiritual matters over the African mind, or they wanted firmness of purpose to enable them to persevere amidst the ridicule of their neighbours, and the disappointment which attended a first attempt. The result too frequently led to the assertion that the negro was debased by an almost brutal incapacity, and was not susceptible of those religious feelings and impressions which are characteristic of a rational being, and thus a plausible excuse was afforded for the dereliction of a positive precept. It is also not impossible that among the profligate and irreligious many were found who were unwilling that the negro should exhibit a sincerity of belief, and a corresponding uprightness of practice, to which his master was a stranger, and they therefore strenuously opposed every attempt to meliorate his character by the influence of Christianity.
It has been asserted, and I fear not without reason, that the ministers of the established church in these colonies have seldom been distinguished, until lately, for their zeal in preaching the gospel to the slave inhabitants of their parishes. The laity scrupled to regard this part of the population as falling within the spiritual care of the parochial minister, and the minister himself paid too great a deference to these worldly and unholy scruples. The fear of man which bringeth a snare, was often stronger with him than the fear of God.
These times are happily passed. The assertion is no longer openly made, that the African is degraded below the level of human nature, and is therefore neither qualified nor designed for the enjoyment of the blessings of the gospel. The advocates for his admission into the church are no longer withstood on the ground that he is not of the same descent with the European; nor are arguments now brought forward to invalidate the declaration of St. Paul, that God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth. The most superficial examination of our coloured schools will enable us to repel the insinuation of an inferiority of intellect in the negro. I can assert, with the confidence arising from long and attentive observation, that, with equal advantages, he shows a capacity equal in every respect to that of his white brethren for mental improvement, and for all the moral excellencies which distinguish man from the beasts of the field.
This truth is not new to our parochial clergy, and it has led irresistibly to the conclusion, that the minister dares not, without a glaring and an unpardonable dereliction of his duty, neglect the spiritual instruction of the negro population. The tie which binds him to the faithful performance of the work committed to him cannot be capriciously dissolved. ALL persons who reside within the limits of his parish, are under his ministerial care; and he dares not, without violating the most solemn engagements by which man can be bound, and to which he is pledged in the presence of the great Searcher of hearts, renounce this charge, or evade the duties annexed to it, by any mental reservation of his own, or even by the concurrent and avowed approval of others.
I have said that the ministers of the established church, who resided formerly in these colonies, have been charged with neglecting the spiritual interests of their brethren of a darker complexion. The charge, however, cannot be extended to the clergy of the mother country. Earnest and repeated were the appeals of our bishops and pastors in behalf of the uninstructed negro. The anniversary sermons, preached before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, abound with exhortations on the duty of teaching the slave the truths of our religion, and admitting him by baptism to the promised mercies of the gospel. [See more particularly sermons preached by Archbishops Secker, Moore, and Manners; by Bishops Berkeley, Gibson, Claggett, Butler, Drummond, Green, Tomline, and Porteus, and by Dean Stanhope.] I shall select one, which although long for a quotation, is, however, so clearly illustrative of the view entertained by our church on this subject, that I cannot refrain from bringing it before you. It is from a sermon preached by Bishop Fleetwood, in the year 1710, before the assembled rulers of our church; [This sermon was published by the Society, and widely distributed in our colonies.] and if some of the expressions should be considered harsh in an address from this pulpit, we must remember that those expressions were applied to the state of our colonies more than a hundred years ago, and it is injurious to the character of our inhabitants to suppose that they are calculated to give offence in our own times.
After speaking of the neglected condition of the slaves in all that regarded their religious instruction, and the remissness, and in many cases the unwillingness, of their masters to have them baptized, he indignantly asks, "What do these people think of Christ? what of their slaves? what of themselves?--What do they think of Christ? that he who came from heaven to purchase to himself a church with his own precious blood, should sit contented, and behold with unconcern those who profess themselves his servants, excluding from its gates those who would gladly enter if they might One may ask with indignation, what such people think of Christ? But it is far more proper to say, they think not at all of him. For if they would consider him in any quality or capacity whatever, as Saviour, Lawgiver, Head of his Church, or Judge, they would no more venture to lay an impediment in any one's way to conversion, than they would throw themselves into the fire deliberately. It would be as hard for them to give an account of what they think of those unhappy creatures whom they use thus cruelly. They see them equally the workmanship of God with themselves; endued with the same faculties and intellectual powers; bodies of the same flesh and blood, and souls as certainly immortal. These people were made to be as happy as themselves, and are as capable of being so; and however hard their condition be in this world, with respect to their captivity and subjection, they were to be as just and honest, as chaste and virtuous, as godly and religious as them selves. They were bought with the same price; purchased with the same blood of Christ their common Saviour and Redeemer; and in order to all this, they were to have the means of salvation put into their hands; they were to be instructed in the faith of Christ, to have the terms and conditions fairly offered and proposed to them. Let any of these cruel masters tell us what part of all these blessings were not intended for their un happy slaves by God, purchased for them by the blood of Christ, and which they are not equally capable of enjoying with themselves! What account then will these masters give of themselves, who were the occasion, and the instruments of bringing these unhappy people from a country where the name of Christ is never heard, or called upon, into a country where Christians govern all, and Christ is called their Lord and Master, and yet will not permit these slaves to he instructed, and become the servants of this heavenly master; who bring them as it were into sight of the waters of life, and then withhold them from receiving any benefit from them! They hope, it is likely, God will be merciful to these unhappy creatures, though they themselves will not be so. Their hope is good; but they have reason to fear God may deny that mercy to themselves which they deny to others; and no man living can assign a better and more justifiable cause for God's withholding mercy from a Christian, than that Christian withholding the mercy of Christianity from an unbeliever."
I believe I am right in assuming that the sentiments expressed in this passage have always been common to the clergy of the established church in England; and I trust I may add, that they would be echoed at the present moment by every minister of our church, now exercising the sacred functions of his office in the West Indies. They would be echoed also with, I believe, the sanction and con current voice of every respectable and enlightened lay proprietor. Strong is the conviction of the great body of our colonial clergy, and it is no longer brooded over in secret, that necessity is laid upon them to preach the gospel to every creature within the sphere of their ministerial charge. They are zealous with a discreet and disciplined zeal in effecting the establishment and proper regulation of schools; in encouraging domestic instruction, and in promoting the erection of places of worship in number and size proportionate to the population of their parishes.
The demands on their time, and attention, and personal labour, are still most urgent. Much of our spiritual soil is even now without culture, or any visible improvement. Though the work has been commenced, and has made a perceptible, and even a satisfying progress, yet it is far from being complete. Many who live around us, and are daily before our eyes, are aliens from the church of Christ. Though the light of the gospel shines in the land, its rays penetrate not to them. Though the streams of living water flow, they drink not of it. Yet to them as well as to us is the promise offered. To them as well as to us, the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
The mandate, PREACH. THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE, is of universal obligation. No sincere believer, however private his station, or apparently inadequate his means of acting, will withdraw himself from the duty imposed by this last command of his. Saviour. He is not required to preach openly, and before the congregation; to perform in his own person those functions which exclusively belong to the authorized minister of the gospel. He is not in the figurative but intelligible and expressive language of Scripture, a watchman set over the people--a messenger of the church of Christ--a steward of the mysteries of the gospel: but he is bound, AS A BELIEVER IN CHRIST, to support and zealously co operate with those who are ambassadors for Christ, to whom God has committed the word of reconciliation. No worldly or mercenary scruples of his own; no sanction afforded by the public voice, chiming in with his own previous indisposition to exertion, or with even a leaning on his part to obstruct the progress of the gospel, can absolve him from the unquestionable duty of assisting to win souls to Christ, and to convert the sinner from the error of his way.
I speak thus of the duty of Christian believers throughout the whole world. The obligation is surely not withdrawn or diminished in these colonies. The largeness of the population uneducated, and often most demoralized; their superstitious practices associated with the remains of a heathen creed; or what perhaps is even worse, their absolute ignorance of any kind or form of religion, and their almost brutal indifference to the state, whether present or future, of their immortal souls--above all, their condition of entire dependence on the will of others, which enthrals the mind even more than the body, and incapacitates it for spontaneous exertion; all combine to throw a more than ordinary share of responsibility on those who exercise authority over them, and to increase the obligation to make known among them the glad tidings of salvation through Jesus Christ.
To those of my brethren whose lot it has been to be born and nurtured in bondage, I would offer, before I conclude, a few words of advice. You who are at present within these walls, and are hearers of this discourse, have enjoyed, it is presumed, the advantages of a Christian education, afforded you by masters whose anxiety for your welfare has extended to the salvation of your souls. Let not, then, so pious a work, springing from the best arid purest of motives, be frustrated by any wilful misconduct; any hardened unbelief; any obstinate impenitence on your parts. Your legal owners and proprietors have discharged their duty towards you in this momentous affair. Let the slave fail not in the duty which he owes to himself. To his master he is bound by a heavy debt of gratitude for bringing him out of spiritual darkness and the bondage of sin, arid directing him on the road to life and immortality The most powerful incentives to good conduct, whether they arise from a desire to return benefits for benefits received, or from a sense of the duty which he owes to his God and his Saviour, or from feelings of self-interest, (for his eternal welfare depends now, under God's restraining and directing grace, on the use he is disposed to make of the blessings vouchsafed to him,) every imaginable inducement and persuasion to perform his duty towards God and towards man, ought to be present to him, and to give a holy bias to his thoughts and to his actions. Let him pray to God for the assistance needful to support him in his Christian course, and to gain for him the high prize of his calling. Let him pray that, "forasmuch as without him he is riot able to please him, he would mercifully grant that his Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule his heart." If he be sincere in his prayer, and if by faith he cleave to the Lord Jesus, then let him not repine at the bondage of this transitory life, for he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freed man; he has become, as far as concerns his eternal interests, no longer a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ, according to the promise, for we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, and neither country nor descent, neither condition nor complexion, will exclude any whom God has translated into the kingdom of his dear Son, from the inheritance of the saints in light; for the civil and political distinctions of society are unknown to the church; there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: but we are all one in Christ Jesus.