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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 V. Giving unto Servants That Which Is Just and Equal

(Preached at the Cathedral, Barbados, April 15, 1832.)

COL. I 1.

Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that ye also have a master in heaven.

THE precepts of the religion of our divine Master are distinguished from the instruction conveyed by heathen moralists, not so much by the specific nature of the duties enjoined, as by the authority on which they rest, and the motives revealed to enforce the observance of them. The heathen I might argue well on the reasonableness and propriety of giving to our servants that which is just and equal; and he might subjoin the additional, and more cogent reason, arising from the best interests of the master being involved in the merciful treatment of the slave, and from the great body of civilized society being joint sufferers with the sufferings of even its weakest members. The Christian teacher will adduce the same, or similar arguments in support of the prescribed rule of conduct for the master, but he will make them all subordinate to the command of God. From his sovereign will there can be no appeal to inferior and merely worldly motives.

It is thus the apostle Paul, when calling on Christian masters to be just to their servants, urges not merely the secular evils resulting from the neglect of this duty, for he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he has done, but he bids them remember that they also have a master in heaven. As they judge, so shall they be judged; as they give, so shall it be given unto them.

I have lately directed your attention to certain practices morally and religiously wrong, which have been allowed to prevail in this and in other British colonies in the West Indies. With the Scriptures for my guide, and uninfluenced by measures of supposed political right and expediency, I have endeavoured to urge the discontinuance of every usage which is opposed to the known will of God. Whether the offence be sabbath-breaking, or impure and forbidden concubinage, or withholding the bread of life from the people, and confining them to spiritual darkness and the shadow of death, I have attempted to show that such practices are a direct violation of God's commands, and that they must be accompanied with his displeasure.

Resting still on the authority of the Scriptures, I propose in the present lecture to lay before you certain benefits which a due regard to the precepts of the gospel will induce every master to confer on his dependents, and which are not only compatible with his secular interests, but have an evident tendency to promote them.

Let no one suppose that I mean to advance from the pulpit opinions of a political character. With the civil institutions of society in these islands I can have no concern, and it would argue a culpable departure from my own duty, were I to dwell more especially in this place on subjects unconnected with any Christian obligation, and bearing solely on the civil and political weal of my fellow men.

But when prominent duties of social life are either distinctly laid down in the Holy Scriptures, or by a just and obvious inference are deducible from them, it would be an unworthy compromise in me were I studiously to pass them by in the present lectures; and I should be wanting in Christian charity were I to anticipate opposition to any conclusions drawn from the word of God. Yet if opposition should arise, through a misconception of the subject, or a mistaken view of my motives, I shall deem it preferable to the sickening stillness of in difference. Some advance can always be made on our seas against an opposing wind, but in a calm we are motionless.

I have already explained at some length, and in a separate discourse, the duty of affording religious instruction to our slave inhabitants. "The laudable and pious zeal of propagating the Christian religion" was one of the reasons as signed for granting originally the right of proprietorship in these colonies, and no one can deny that the obligation continues to he morally binding on all holders of property in these dependencies on the mother country. [See the preamble of the charter granted to the Earl of Carlisle in 1627.]

I have also incidentally noticed certain benefits arising in the first instance to the dependent, but ultimately and more indirectly to the master, from the intercourse which ought to prevail, without any restriction or impediment, between the minister and the slave population of his parish. On this subject I must be allowed to explain my views more fully and distinctly than I have yet done.

It is well known that masters are commonly unwilling to sanction even the semblance of interference on their estates, and that they consider the discipline of their people hazarded by any intermediate authority, however slight or indirect, which turns their attention from absolute coercive power, to the influence of advice or moral control. I cannot, however, believe, that any consequences, tending to lessen the duty of obedience in the slave, would arise from the occasional visits of the clergyman on the plantation. I would fearlessly maintain, that if the master wishes his dependents to be sober, ho nest, and industrious, (and what master has not this wish?) be cannot employ a more successful instrument in producing these qualities, and in rivetting them permanently in the slave, than the minister who on the authority of God's word is bound to enforce sobriety, honesty, and industry in all men; and who, with the Bible in his hands, must press on the slave the especial duty of his condition, which is to be subject to his master with all fear, not only to him who is good and gentle, but also to the froward.

I think it must be allowed that if the clergyman is obliged to obtain in every in stance a formal permission to enter on the estate, it will often operate as an indirect prohibition; and if the unfettered discharge of his parochial duties is viewed with distrust, may we not ascribe it to the apprehension of publicity, where, if all were right, publicity would be courted?

Think not that I am fancifully pressing a duty which is of trifling importance, and which may he observed or neglected at the will of the minister, or at the caprice of those through whose per mission his ministerial exertions are rendered available. The poor, we are told, have the gospel preached to them, and those who are most poor in their worldly means, and most degraded in their condition, are peculiarly the objects of his pastoral care and when under the control of a superior, to that superior they are entitled to look for the means of religious instruction, as one of those things which are just and equal, and therefore, according to the apostolic precept, due from the master to his servants.

It may be inferred from what I have said on the subject in a former discourse, that the master's known approval will always be an incitement to the adult to attend the house of God on the sabbath and that in the case of children on a plantation, the same coercive power may justly, and without any imputation of harshness, be exercised, which the proprietor would not hesitate, for the enforcement of this duty, to exert over the younger members of his own family.

I must not refrain from expressing my satisfaction that the prejudices which had drawn, with no very tolerant, and certainly with no christian spirit, the line of demarcation in our churches, have partially subsided among us. They are singularly unbecoming in the presence of him with whom there is no respect of persons. I urge not the surrender of any legitimate and established rights; but I maintain it to he an unquestionable duty to give up to others in the house of God that which is unappropriated, and unused by ourselves. The eye of the preacher rests on the wide and unoccupied aisle; and a feeling of regret is raised, that where the wants are so pressing, and the means of supplying them so easy, more is not done to render the house of public worship open to all classes of our inhabitants, and attractive to them from its appropriate and required accommodation.

I pass on to another subject, on which the Bible may teach us a very important duty in our conduct towards those who are dependent on us for protection, and for the maintenance of their legitimate and natural rights in society. I allude to the condition of our females Suffer, my brethren, I beseech you, the word of exhortation on a subject seldom introduced to your notice in this place, hut not on that account deserving either your censure or your indifference; and if you deem it folly in me thus to innovate on the character of our pulpit addresses, I would say in the words of St. Paul, would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly, and indeed hear with me.

I mean not to insist on the common and irritating subjects of discussion, in relation to this part of our population; but on religious grounds, and with an especial regard to the moral welfare of the community, I would suggest, that if female slaves were more encouraged in their domestic relations and privileges, and a more discriminating regard were paid to their sex, they would learn (to use a scriptural expression) to guide their houses, and to extend their maternal cares not merely to the bodily wants, but to the formation of the moral and religious character of their children.

It is an apostolic direction that young women should be sober, love their husbands, love their children,--that they should be discreet, chaste, and keepers at home: and shall it be said that this discretion is inapplicable to the females of our labouring population, and that in their present servile condition they are necessarily debarred from performing those duties, and exercising those privileges, which, if the authority of scripture were wanting, even nature would point out as belonging to the mother of a family? Urge not this defence, for it would argue greater evils in a state of servitude, than I am willing to allow, to assume that it is incompatible with those kindlier feelings--those softer and more feminine duties, which in every other state distinguish the female sex, and draw an evident line between the man and the woman. The neglect of these natural discriminations, which, when duly observed, give to all their respective and appropriate employments, is clearly subversive of the moral decencies of life, and is often a check to the regular increase of our population.

I may take the present occasion to ob serve, that a practice has prevailed, (though I would hope that in this colony it is now comparatively rare,) which is immediately destructive of the domestic ties and relations to which I have referred, as involving some of the best jute rests of the community. I allude to the compulsory disunion of families by either public or private sale--to the withdrawing of parents by violence from the natural care of their children, and to the coerced and unauthorized separation, (I use the word unauthorized with reference to the laws of God, and not to the laws of man,) of the husband from his acknowledged and attached wife. I am unwilling to dwell on a subject, on which I may hope there can be no difference of opinion among us. The laws of the colony may tolerate the abuse, and under the shelter of these laws much wrong may occasionally be committed but the voice of a Christian community must always be raised loudly and solemnly against so clear a violation of the laws of nature.

In the book of Leviticus we read of the person who sells himself into bondage, that after he is sold, HE MAY BE REDEEMED AGAIN. ANY THAT IS NIGH OF KIN TO HIM OF HIS FAMILY MAY REDEEM HIM, OR IF HE BE ABLE, HE MAY REDEEM HIMSELF. I am too well aware of the peculiarities of the Jewish law, imposed for special purposes by the Almighty, to regard any of the civil institutions arising out of it as binding on a Christian community. But where the harshness of servitude is qualified by an enactment in favour of future freedom, it surely deserves our attention, and it is not too much to add, that it deserves also our imitation.

It was no part of the religion of Christ to interfere with the existing institutions of society. The gospel was intended for all, whether Greek or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free; nor did it alter the condition, or affect the civil privileges or disabilities of any who accepted it. Art thou called (says St. Paul,) being a servant, (that is, a slave,) care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather, for lie that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freedman, likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant: words which imply that those who obey from the heart that form of doctrine which is delivered to them, experience in consequence no alteration in their worldly condition, whether that condition be liberty or bondage; but are spiritually changed, for they are made free from sin, and they become the servants of righteousness.

Still it is evident that the apostle, when viewing the temporal condition of his converts, preferred freedom to slavery whenever it could lawfully be obtained. If thou mayest be made free, USE IT RATHER. Connecting this passage with the one which I have already quoted, where freedom is unreservedly granted to the Jewish slave whenever he could purchase himself; and subjoining the great Christian obligation, which requires us to do to another that which we would that men should do, under similar circumstances, to ourselves; the inference may fairly be deduced, that the possessor of slaves is bound on Christian principles, (for he it remembered, I confine myself to the Scriptures,) to grant unhesitatingly freedom to his dependents, whenever they, or their friends, are able to purchase it. I may hope that few are the masters, professing the Christian faith in these lands, who would not join with me in the conclusion, that the detention of any one in slavery who is willing and able to redeem himself, however it may be sanctioned by the usage of earlier times, is religiously and morally unjust.

There is one subject more, connected with the improved condition of our bonds men, and involving at the same time the secular interests of the master, which ought on religious grounds to be pressed on every owner of slaves. I refer to the imperative and Christian duty binding on us all, to be merciful, for he shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy.

I would not assert (for it is not my belief) that the proprietor of slaves is in disposition more inclined to severity than the holder of any other species of property, whether in this or in any other part of the world. In the management of a plantation there is ample scope for the exercise of the kindlier feelings of our nature; and these feelings are often prominently and delightfully exhibited by individuals amongst us. Still, considering the weaknesses, the errors, and the passions to which even the best of men are subject, there is always danger attending the uncontrolled exercise of power over a dependent. I know not how this danger can be more successfully avoided, especially in the absence of effective prohibitory laws, than by the constant recollection that we also have a Master in heaven, with whom is no respect of persons, and that he requires us to be merciful, even as He is merciful.

When I maintain that our brethren in these lands are not necessarily more cruel in disposition than their fellow men, I must not be understood to imply that they are less so. In England acts of cruelty are often perpetrated. It is the same in other parts of the world, and there is no exemption in favour of the colonies. But in England, and generally in civilized Europe, cruelty is punished by the law. The offender is dragged forth to public notice, and to public abhorrence. We must allow that it is not always thus in our West Indian settlements. There is an unworthy timidity in the merciful in exposing and in reprobating the offences of the unmerciful. Deeds of inhumanity are allowed to pass not only unpunished, but from the veil which is studiously thrown over them, often even uncensured. The evil rests not with the individual case of oppression. The connivers at cruelty share in the guilt of it; and the guilt will inevitably draw down the displeasure of an avenging God. The immediate sufferer may be but one member of the community; but in the more remote and indirect results, all the members suffer with him.

While insisting thus strongly on the Christian duties of the master, I have not forgotten that there are also correlative duties of the servant.

Contentment in the station in which it has pleased God to place him, is urged on the bondsman as an obligation from which no desire of a better fortune or a superior condition can release him. He is not prevented from improving his circumstances, and exchanging servitude for freedom whenever he can legally do so; but to the laws of the land he must submit; not merely as a measure of worldly policy, and to avert the evils which resistance would probably bring upon him; but for conscience sake, and under the influence of the controlling principle that it is God's command. Let him listen to the following words, dictated by the Holy Spirit of God, and regulate his conduct by their obvious meaning. 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. Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

These apostolic precepts (and others of the same tenor might be adduced) sufficiently point out the specific and especial duties of the bondsman in the relation which he hears to his master. And the Christian slave who knows that it is his highest interest and feels it to be his delight to do the will of God from the heart, will need no external compulsion to urge him to the observance of these, and similar duties belonging to his station in life.

Before I conclude, I must again declare that the preachers of the gospel are not ministerially called on either to uphold or to condemn the existing condition of slavery. The religion of Christ meddles not with it, as a civil institution, any wore than it interferes with the different forms of government, varying, in all the intermediate gradations, from absolute tyranny down to tumultuous and unbridled democracy. It applies itself to the moral character of every individual, in every country, and under every condition of life. Whatever of an immoral, of a debasing, or of a cruel tendency exists in slavery, it unequivocally condemns, either by directions exclusively applicable to this state of society, or by precepts which embrace all conditions of men. The rule of doing to another whatsoever we would that he should do unto us, is universal; and no persons, rich or poor, free or bond, are exempt from it. The sins of adultery, fornication, drunkenness, lying, swearing--the sin of injury, or cruelty to another--and indeed all offences which expose us to the wrath of God, are condemned in all men, and in all ranks of life. These are the instances in which the religion of Christ is evidently calculated to improve the condition of the slave, and I must add, to improve also the condition of the master. These, moreover, are instances in which the spiritual no less than the temporal interests of both master and slave are essentially advanced and secured.

The objection may still be made that it becomes not the minister of the gospel to interfere with the rights of private property--that he is not likely to form a correct judgment of matters purely secular, arid that in attempting to judge at all he leaves his prescribed line of duty, and assumes an authority which in no way belongs to him in all ordinary cases this would be true, but it applies not to the subject under our present consideration, for the property here is MAN. I could meet, however, the arguments of even the most mercenary of our proprietors----of those among us whose thoughts are ever busied in the sordid computation of profit and loss; and I could show that whenever the slaves under our treatment are enfeebled in constitution, dissatisfied in temper, and deficient in the natural increase of population--whenever they are debarred from the legitimate comforts and privileges of social life, and the right is denied them of obtaining freedom through their own industry, or that of their relations and friends--whenever their minds are debased by ignorance, and they are brought to a level with the beasts that perish--untaught in their religious duties, and excluded from all knowledge of the salvation offered in the gospel through Jesus Christ--then will our interests proportionably decline. Distress, and poverty, and perhaps in the end entire and absolute ruin, will be dealt out to us as a just retribution in this life; and in the life to come what answer can we make, when called on to give an account of our stewardship? If, says holy Job, I despise the cause of my man servant or of my maidservant, when they contend with me, what shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him and did not one fashion us in the womb?

I trust it will not appear that the duty of giving unto servants that which is just and equal, has been needlessly introduced in a course of lectures, the main and ostensible purport of which is a review of the progress of Christianity in these lands. The connexion between the knowledge and the practice of those precepts which affect the social relations of life, is so close, that a consideration of the one almost necessarily involves the notice of the other, and I am too well acquainted with the prevalence of sound judgment and upright intentions among the enlightened inhabitants of these colonies, to be under any apprehension of their disapproval of this public enforcement of duties which rest on the authority of God's holy word. I content myself therefore with the assurance that I have not urged a single obligation which can be regarded as injurious, under any possible contingency, either to the master individually, or to the public as a body.

I must meet now an objection of an opposite character, for some of my hearers will probably consider that I have brought forward expediency too prominently as an inducement to the performance of Christian duties.

But the opinion that the meliorated condition of the slave will be injurious to the temporal interests of the proprietor is still so prevalent, that I feel myself to be warranted in combating an error which has long exercised a dangerous influence in our community. God forbid that I should ever recommend expediency as the motive for the performance of a positive duty, or that I should sanction the evasion of any of the commands of the Almighty, on the ground that injury may result to our existing interests by a strict observance of them. But when it can be proved that a scrupulous adherence to the precepts of Christ's holy religion is attended with great and undoubted benefit, even in this world, it is in accordance with the teaching of the Scriptures, to recommend it as profitable, and as having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.

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