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Christianity and Slavery;
In a Course of Lectures Preached at the Cathedral and Parish Church of St. Michael, Barbados.

By Edward Eliot, B.D.
Archdeacon of Barbados.

London: J. Hatchard, 1833.

Lecture II. The Progress of the Gospel in the West Indies

(Preached at the Cathedral, Barbados, Jan.22, 1832.)

2 THESS. iii. 1.

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.

THE subject of my last lecture led to a brief consideration of the introduction of the religion of Christ, first, into the mother country, and at a later period, when the discovery of Columbus opened a new world to the spirit of adventure, into these distant and valuable appendages to the British empire. It was painful to me to advert to the culpable indifference, which, for almost two centuries, had been a barrier to the reception of the gospel by the slave population of the British possessions in the West Indies, and to notice, in some instances, the undisguised and persecuting hostility to the religious and moral improvement of this portion of our fellow creatures. It was not in a spirit of unkindness, or with any view to excite feelings of irritation, that I drew your attention to evils so indefensible, of the times that are past. A recurrence to the history of faults committed by those who have lived before us is calculated to guard us against similar failures in our own duty; and though the past is irrevocable, and can therefore only be the subject of regret, yet the future is within our power, and former omissions may, in some degree, be compensated by a double portion of diligence exercised by ourselves, and by those who succeed us.

In continuation of the subject, I propose now to examine the system of instruction hitherto pursued in these colonies, and to state the success which has attended the attempt to bring our slave population into subjection to the law of Christ. I shall unavoidably be led to notice what is still defective in this import ant work; and it will be my duty freely to express my opinion on the means which may be adopted, without detriment to any private interests, and with unquestionable good to the community at large, for giving free course to the word of the Lord among your slaves and dependents.

The instruction afforded by catechists, under the superintendence of the Bishop of the diocese, although retarded by local obstacles, has been productive of evident and acknowledged good. I mean not to say that this mode of imparting to the negro the first principles of our religion had not been attempted previously to the exercise of episcopal authority in these islands; but that which was before confined and partial in its operation, has become, under the regulations introduced by our diocesan, comparatively general, and far more effective.

I am ready to admit that catechetical instruction is imperfect as a permanent system of teaching, and is very inadequate to the spiritual wants of the negro population around us: still with all its imperfection and disadvantages, it has been the means of working a perceptible improvement in the moral character and habits of many of our slaves. Where before there was almost total darkness, there are now many cheering rays of light; where before the name of God and Christ was seldom heard, but in the coarsest imprecations, there is now not unfrequently a firm persuasion, and sometimes an influential belief of the vital truths of revelation.

There is evidently an increased de sire on the part of the slaves to join in the public services of the church, and we even behold them approaching, with every mark of sincere devotion, the table of the Lord. In former times, (I speak from the report of those whose recollection will go back to the period of almost complete spiritual darkness among this class of our brethren,) their attendance in the house of God was very rare, and, except in the principal towns, neither expected nor desired. The limited accommodation of the country churches almost excluded them there, from a participation in the rites of public worship.

It was with a view to meet the influx of the slave and free coloured inhabitants into our churches, that additional places of worship, open to the free and the slave, to the white and the black, have recently been erected in this and in some of the neighbouring islands. These consecrated buildings, lately the ornament and just pride of this colony, and a pleasing evidence of the increase of piety among our people, have sunk under the desolating storm of the past year. The "besom of destruction" which swept so fearfully over the land, has made of them a heap of ruins. Their downfall is a subject of deep and general lamentation, but we must not relinquish the hope that the same pious feelings which led in the first instance to their erection, will, if the means are attainable, prompt the inhabitants of the colony to replace them, with out any decrease in number, or diminution in size. [I have the satisfaction of being able to state, that since this sermon was preached, through the liberal assistance afforded by private subscriptions and by pecuniary grants from certain of the religious societies in England, nearly all the chapels will be rebuilt. Some have been already opened for divine service. The churches are still in ruins.]

In enumerating the means by which the word of God is made more generally known in the land, I ought not to omit the improved tone and character of preaching among our clergy. The cold and unscriptural appeals to virtue which levelled the discourses of the Christian minister to the standard of mere gentile exhortation, are giving place to the sound and influential doctrines of our holy religion. The dry bones of a heathen morality are now animated by the breath of the gospel, and Christ crucified is no longer forgotten by the preacher, or revealed by him, hut partially to an untaught and unenlightened congregation.

I may observe also, that, generally, in discourses from the pulpit, there is a greater adaptation to the capacity and information of the least instructed of our hearers. These have yet to learn the first principles, the earliest rudiments of the religion of Christ. They are as babes, who must be fed with milk, with the elementary and most intelligible doctrines of the gospel. They must be taught that there is a just and holy God, of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity that man is a sinner, very far gone from original righteousness, and therefore a vessel of wrath and fitted to destruction--that while thus lying in wickedness, and with the judgment of death upon him, a Saviour is offered to him in Jesus Christ the Son of God, who hath suffered for his sins, the just for the unjust--that by grace he is saved; and that not of himself: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast--and that every required aid in obtaining and preserving this grace, is supplied by the Holy Spirit, and is granted to all who truly repenting of their former sins, and having a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, ask for it humbly and fervently in prayer. Thus being made free from sin, and become servants to God, they have their fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

These are the essential and fundamental truths of our religion. They can be rendered intelligible, even to the most ignorant among rational and responsible beings, and they involve belief in God the Father who has created us, in the Son who has redeemed us, and in the Holy Ghost who sanctifies every real believer.

Whenever the minister has been earnest in enforcing these leading doctrines of the gospel, and has drawn his instructions from the scriptures of inspiration, and not from the enticing words of man's wisdom, he has seldom failed to create a desire in those who most need his teaching, of frequenting the house of God, and partaking in the services of our church.

And let it not he thought by the more improved and enlightened part of our congregations, that because these truths are familiar to them, their declaration from the pulpit with the earnestness of solemn and reiterated admonition, is not required also for their edification and growth in grace. It is a painful consideration, that the advantages arising out of the Christian dispensation are often not duly appreciated by even the most intelligent class of our bearers. Though admitted by the under standing as truths, they are seldom brought home to the heart with the feelings of joy and thankfulness, which ought to spring from this inestimable boon from the Creator to his creatures. The light which burst forth amidst the moral darkness and the shadow of death, having lost the excitement of novelty, is now viewed with much of the indifference with which we regard the ordinary phenomena of nature; and that glorious luminary who arose with healing in his wings, though he still continues to spread far and wide the beams which nourish and support spiritual life, shines, however, like the material sun, without a due acknowledgment of his bounties, and often even with out notice from those who are indebted to him for blessings incalculably greater than light and heat, and even daily existence.

The increased number of our schools, and the more approved system of educa tion pursued in them, have contributed much to give free course to the word of God in our colonies. In every school supported at the expense of his Majesty's government in England, or from the funds of the Society for the Conversion of Ne gro Slaves, free and slave children are indiscriminately admitted, and equally share in the advantages of the instruction afforded.
The earliest attempt to give gratuitous school instruction to the coloured children in this colony, was made by an officer in his Majesty's service. [Lieut. Lugger, Royal Artillery, in 1818.] During a short residence on duty in Barbados, he observed, with concern, the ignorance and vice, to which, from want of an early education, this class of the inhabitants were peculiarly exposed. Nor was he satisfied with the mere expression of pity and un availing regret at their condition. By engaging the assistance of others in his work of charity, he succeeded in establishing a school for the coloured poor, which, independently of its acknowledged and extensive usefulness, has the merit of being the first institution of the kind in this part of the West Indies. Many who are at present within these walls, are mainly, if not solely indebted to this school for the knowledge they possess of the truths of our religion, and for the further instruction which has enabled them to obtain respectability and useful employment in life.

What was thus auspiciously begun by a layman, who adorned the profession of a soldier with the spirit and ardent zeal of a Christian, has been carried into extensive and efficient operation, by the present head of our church establishment in these colonies. There is now scarcely a town, I believe I may say scarcely a village, throughout the diocese, where a knowledge of the Christian duties, accompanied with instruction in reading and writing, is not brought within reach both of the free coloured and of the slave inhabitants. I augur much lasting good, under the blessing of Providence, from these widely diffused, and well regulated schools in connexion with our church. The seed is there sown, which will, in due time, ripen into the fruit of practical holiness. The good may not be immediately and strikingly perceptible; "it will spring and grow up we know not how, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear;" our labour in the Lord shall not he in vain; it will show itself in the piety, righteousness, and personal increase of holiness.

I have now noticed some of the leading improvements, which, as far as they involve the advancement of true religion, have resulted from the combined influence of a new zeal inspired into our church establishment, and a partial relinquishment of the prejudices which before stood in the way of any effective instruction. I could easily mention other beneficial changes, such as the better observance of the sabbath, and the commencement of marriage among the slaves; but as these are subjects of sufficient moment to demand our consideration, each in a separate lecture, I pass them by for the present.

I take a retrospect of what has been done, and thank my God that in his mercy he has at length visited the African descendant in these distant regions, and has opened to him the way of salvation. I, thank my God that the indifference or the opposition of man is yielding to the power of the gospel, and that the word of the Lord is beginning to be known among the heathen of our own land.

My brethren, deem it not presumption in me, nor regard it as an undue stretch of my ministerial duties, if I freely, hut in the spirit of Christian charity, declare to you from this place what yet remains to be done, to give full et to the preaching of the gospel among your people. Bear our exhortations with patience, and join with us in the prayer that the word of God may have free course and be glorified among you. The catechetical instruction of which I have spoken has been only partial in its operation. The want of adequate funds (for the pecuniary assistance obtained through local subscriptions is altogether trifling) has necessarily confined this mode of teaching within narrower limits than the urgency of the case demanded The time also al lowed from the labour of the estate has been generally insufficient, nor has the zeal of the proprietor and his subordinate agents always kept pace with our wishes, or even our reasonable expectations.

These impediments will account for the limited Success which has attended the labours of our catechist on plantations Even at the best, this mode of instruction is but a commencement in religious knowledge, preparatory only to a more enlarged and more useful system arising out of it. The slaves must be taught to read, or the few precepts urged on them by the catechist, after long intervals of time, and often at seasons when their attention is distracted by bodily weariness, will either pass unheeded, or cause at best but a slight and transient impression.

In many of our West India Colonies there is no objection on the part of the proprietor to extend the privilege of reading to his slaves. The trial has been made repeatedly, and no evil has in any one instance resulted from it. On the contrary, the improved morality of the slave consequent on the increase of his religious knowledge, and on a greater respect for his own personal character, has even in a worldly and mercenary view, added greatly to his worth. But I urge not this as a constraining motive with the master. I would not press on him inferior considerations, when those of the highest authority are ready at hand.

Search the scriptures is the command of our Lord and Saviour. Can the with holder of this necessary branch of instruction from his dependents read these words, or hear them read to his slaves, without being painfully reminded that he, as far as in him lies, prohibits them from obeying this mandate of their common Redeemer? Shall the minister offer up the petition to which every individual in the house of God is expected to assent, "Grant, blessed Lord, that we may read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest thy holy scriptures," when the master who is present knows that he has issued the command, 'Read not, mark not, learn not, and therefore inwardly digest not?' It is alleged in excuse, that instruction carried thus far may affect injuriously the master's interests, by affording the slaves an opportunity of reading works of a demoralizing and otherwise dangerous tendency. But this argument weighs not with him in the education of his own children; nor does he ever debar those who are connected with him by the ties of legitimate relationship, from the knowledge of reading and writing, through a dread that they may possibly turn this knowledge to a pernicious use. The apprehension is equally groundless in the case of his slaves. It is not the contingent and barely possible evil which ought to be contemplated, but the obvious and almost certain good; and what God has commanded, man may assuredly with safety perform.

Let us not be told in any land professedly Christian, that the attempt to improve the understanding, and increase the knowledge of the poor--even of the poorest, and meanest, and most abject among us--will render them discontented with their condition, and averse from the labour legally demanded at their hands. Let us not be told that it will create new wants, awaken their dormant passions, and lead eventually to the violent disturbance of society, and the overthrow of the existing institutions which uphold it--for such have been among the evils anticipated from affording even the simplest instruction to our inferiors and dependents; and these apprehensions have not unfrequently been backed (more especially in this country) by the cold and repulsive ad vice, that we should let well alone, and not pretend to be wiser than our fore fathers---advice which, if acted on in the world, would confine man for ever to the savage state--would interpose a barrier to every civil or moral improvement, and would destroy, or render useless, those faculties by which we are distinguished from the beasts of the field. The brute remains stationary-in his habits, nor is one generation ever marked by superiority of knowledge to another; while it is the distinguishing privilege of man to be progressive--to advance from the rudest state of ignorance to the highest improvement of his intellectual powers, and to all the enjoyments of cultivated and civilized life.

It may be assumed as an unquestionable truth, that no one will perform the duties of life, whether religious or moral, or social, whether public or private, the worse for knowing them. No one will become a careless or disobedient servant from being able to read in the writings inspired by God himself the following exhortation:--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. Exhort servants to be obedient unto their masters, and to please them well in all things, not answering again, not purloining, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doc trine of God our Saviour in all things. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

To promote the objects which I have strongly, but I would hope not obtrusively recommended, mere oral instruction is obviously insufficient. It may open the road, but it cannot bring the hearer to the desired end of the journey. It ought in every instance to be followed by the establishment of a school for the young on the plantation and this school might be usefully conducted (under the superintendence of the proprietor and the minister of the parish) by some respectable tenant on the estate. I cannot regard the immediate agency of the hook-keeper, or of others with a delegated authority, as desirable in the work of instruction. The teacher should appear in the character of the friend, and not of the task-master or punisher of the slaves. Above all, his moral character should be free from reproach or exception. Subordinate instructors might easily be found among the slaves themselves, and they would require but little training to attain the necessary qualifications for assisting in, or even conducting, a school on the plantation. [Schools of the description here recommended have recently been opened on some of the plantations in Barbados. I hope soon to see the number greatly increase.]

I consider the Sunday parochial school as an useful auxiliary to this plan of daily instruction for the young. The children whose age qualifies them for active employment in the field, and who therefore remain no longer under the charge of the domestic teacher, may here keep up the knowledge they have gained in their earlier years, and may be taught, under the personal superintendence of their minister, "all things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health."

I have not sufficient personal knowledge of the success which has attended the establishment of infant schools in the mother country, to recommend positively and confidently their adoption in these colonies. But the arguments which have been brought forward in support of these new institutions, and which have led to their zealous patronage by the benevolent in our mother country, are at least as applicable to the condition of the poor in the West Indies; for where is the infant, in all that regards the moral discipline and controul of the mind, more untaught, than among our slave, and free coloured inhabitants; and where is the influence of early example more dangerous, than in the dwellings of the poor white, the poor free-coloured; and the neglected slave of our land? It is not in the precocious development of intellect, but in the early habits of industry, and obedience, and self-controul, that we are to look for the practical good of infant schools.

I am satisfied that the religious improvement of the slaves would he greatly promoted, if the minister deemed it an essential part of his duty to visit the negro population of his parish in their huts--to enter into their little distresses with the earnest and kindly interest of a friend--and to show a readiness to assist them with his counsel, comfort them with the hopes and promises of the gospel, and promote by every legitimate and allow able means their temporal, no less than their spiritual welfare. It was in anticipation of benefits of this kind which the clergyman might be able to confer on the slaves under his ministerial charge, that the highly distinguished individual, to, whom the British West India Colonies generally, and this island in an especial degree, are so deeply indebted, enjoined that "the scholars maintained at his college, should he obliged to study and practise physic and chirurgery, as well as divinity; that by the apparent usefulness of the former to all mankind, they might both endear themselves to the people, and have the better opportunities of doing good to men's souls, whilst they were taking care of their bodies." [General Codrington.]

In these his parochial visits, the minister should appear in the character of the kind and sympathizing friend. He should throw aside all the authority which distinguishes them master from his slaves. I am anxious to avoid the expression of any opinion which may savour of harshness, or may expose me to the charge of being prejudiced myself at a time when I am endeavouririg to subdue the prejudices of others; but the subject now under consideration obliges me to declare that the faithful discharge of the duties of the minister in these colonies, is, in my judgment, in with the active superintendence of slave property. If it were possible, I should rejoice to see every clergyman in the diocese un fettered with the possession, or even the controul, of a single slave.

No well-disposed person will deny that the minister may reasonably expect, and that he certainly ought to receive, the ready co-operation of the lay proprietors around him. The plantations, which often contain each a population not inferior to that of a moderate parish in England, should be open to him at all times. No unnecessary difficulties should impede his visiting the hut of the negro, and aiding him with ministerial advice and consolation. His endeavours to assemble the slaves in the house of God on the sabbath should he backed by the master's authority, parentally exerted on the occasion. We are frequently told that any interference, even to the length of advice, on religious matters, is a controul which the master is unwilling to exercise over his slaves; and that it would be unpardonable severity to compel them to observe the sanctity of the sabbath, and to join in its religious ser vices. But when the direct authority of the master coerces in every other respect the will and conduct of his dependents, it is no admissible excuse, that from feelings of humanity, the same authority is not exerted in promoting a due attention to their moral and religious duties. I would allow them the fullest liberty of conscience I would force none to adopt any opinions, or join in any outward form of worship, from which they are averse on principle. But since a vast majority of them are in the condition of children, with minds almost a perfect blank; untaught in any religious creed, and unbiassed by any preconceived opinions or impressions, it surely is no outrage to their feelings, and no unauthorized and culpable stretch of power, to deal with them as we should not scruple to do with our own sons and daughters--to admonish, entreat, and even peremptorily require them to be moral in their habits, and observant of the prescribed forms of religion.

Nor can I omit to press earnestly on your consideration the duty of assembling your slaves each morning and evening for family or plantation prayer, that with one voice and in one common spirit of holiness, the blessing of God may be invoked on both master and servant. The congregated negroes will by this daily recurring service he taught to acknowledge their dependence on, and final responsibility to, their Creator; to rely on the atoning blood of Christ their Redeemer, and to make supplication for the sanctifying influence of the holy Spirit, so that strength may be given them to continue in the way that leadeth to life everlasting.

My brethren, you are Christians your selves. Your children and all who are near to you in relationship, and dear to you in affection, have been early admitted into Christ's church by baptism, and have been subsequently taught the duties and the obligations of the Christian faith. Pray for us, nor be content with prayer alone: act zealously with us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and he glorified among your slaves, even as it is with you, and with your children, for it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones, now entrusted to your charge, should perish.

It is the will and known command of the Almighty that every one, rich or poor, high or low, free or bond, should come to Jesus Christ for salvation; and whoever keeps from his slaves and dependents the view of that blessed Redeemer, who came into the world that all men through him might he saved; who ever refuses the waters of life to the spiritually thirsty, and allows those who are about him and are ministering by their labour to his comforts, to perish eternally for lack of knowledge; that man obeys not, regards not his God and his Saviour. Awfully will the words sound in his ears, when he is asked at the great day of account and general retribution, "Where are the souls committed to thy charge?" Thy God hath said, " Let him that is athirst come, and let him take the water of life freely;" and hast thou interposed thy fleeting power, and said 'Come not, taste not?' Thy Saviour offered himself for all men, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life; and hast thou declared, if not in words, yet in thy deeds, that those over whom power was given thee, should not believe in the Saviour, should not even know that "he died for their sins, and rose again for their justification." Where are the souls over whom thou hast exercised an almost unbounded controul, while with their bodies they were serving thee--those whom human laws made thy slaves, yet who are by creation and by redemption thy brethren?

The man whose conscience tells him, that those who were dependent on him, have, through his wilful neglect, died in utter ignorance of Christ and his religion, may well tremble at questions such as these.

But among those who now hear me, many, I would hope very many, will be able to reply, 'Lord here are thine own. We have made them acquainted with thy Holy Word. We have ourselves taught them, or have carefully provided that others should teach them, in whom they were to believe, and what they were to do, to obtain eternal life. If any have been lost, the fault is not ours; for we were willing that they should be saved.'

My prayer is, that every proprietor or agent in the management of slave property may he able thus faithfully to account for the trust reposed in him. May the word of God, through their instrumentality, have free course where before it was impeded, and be glorified in this and in every neighbouring colony.

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