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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 VI. Souls Not Saleable

Mark viii. 37.

What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

THIS question implies even more forcibly than could be done by a positive affirmation, the inestimable value of the soul to its possessor, and satisfies us immediately that no accumulation of wealth, nor any other external advantage, can be placed in the balance against it. Supported by the supreme authority of the Son of God, this truth commands the acquiescence of every believer, and, even the proud infidel who rejects the gospel and trusts to his own reasonings will not refuse his assent to an inference so easily deducible from the facts that are before him.

The soul is allowed by all to be immortal. Ages after ages may pass away, and the imagination may be lost in the multi plied millions of years, during which its existence will be continued, and still it will he as far removed from annihilation as at the instant of its creation. The good things of this life, as they are called, are all transitory. Under the most favourable circumstances they possess no stability or permanence. Even life itself--justly considered to be the highest earthly good, since indispensable to the enjoyment of any--is held by a precarious tenure, and there is no one among the sons of men who may not unexpectedly receive the summons, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.

The soul is created for eternity--and it is an eternity of happiness or of misery; for there is no intermediate condition like the present reserved for it--no state of existence in which its faculties will be de void of consciousness: who then can deny, or doubt its pre-eminent value, who can imagine the equivalent which can be given in exchange for it? What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Such are the conclusions of unassisted reason, but what philosophy can only conjecture, religion proves to be true. Are we to believe then, that this distinguishing property of man--this thinking and reasoning part of him, which we call the Soul, can be made the subject to barter and traffic, and can be surrendered to another for any supposable price? The suggestions of reason, no less than the language of inspiration, forbid us thus to degrade that part of our nature which is a pledge to us of immortality--thus to vilify the souls of our fellow-creatures, which no less than our own have been bought with the precious blood of Christ, and which therefore are not now so much our own as his. I speak not with any design to impugn, or circumscribe human laws. That these laws tolerate, and even encourage, the bodily subjection of man to man, I readily admit; nor does it fall within my province, to question their expediency. I would merely maintain that the enactments which have been framed by human authority, with a view to secure the proprietory right of a master to the services of his slave, could never have contemplated the surrender of the soul of man into the hands of his fellow man. They may have given absolute and uncontrolled power over the body--even to the deprivation of life--but they can never sanction the right to seize on the soul for a possession, and to barter the eternal interests of the bondsmen for money.

I hope not to be misunderstood. I am not making it a political, but a religious question. I speak of what ought to be morally and religiously binding on every purchaser and holder of slaves in the Wrest Indies. I declare it as my opinion, that all laws framed by a Christian legislature, and designed for a Christian community, necessarily imply a freedom in the slave to save his soul alive. I am quite certain that it is the duty of the master never to construe the enactments, which uphold domestic or predial servitude, into a right to debar his dependents from the exercise of their Christian obligations, and to shut them out from the eternal blessings vouchsafed to those who know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.

It will be the object of the present lecture to state some of the more prominent instances in which every Christian proprietor ought to recognize the freedom of the souls of his slaves, in contradistinction to the controul which the law has given him over their bodily services. I am aware of the difficulty of drawing with precision the line which bounds the authority of the master, and I will admit that many doubts may arise, which can be removed only by a knowledge of each case separately, and not by any previously established rules or directions. On these disputable points I am anxious to say but little. The Christian master, who is accustomed to seek by prayer the teaching of the Holy Spirit, may safely judge for himself whenever they occur, and with the Bible for his guide, he will not fail to judge rightly. My purpose is to lay be fore you those duties which are obvious and unquestionable. If my suggestions appear to be at variance with any of the established usages of society in these islands, I can only plead in my excuse that no custom will sanction the violation of a Christian duty. The long continuance of an evil can never he regarded as a legitimate barrier against the attempt to remove it. I appeal throughout to the Scriptures for my authority, with the fullest assurance, that in a Christian community no ulterior appeal will be required.

That the negro slave has a soul, and that for the good or evil in which that soul has been employed here upon earth, he is accountable equally with the free European, no one of the present day will have the hardihood to deny. Need we ask wherein the salvation of his soul consists, and what are the grounds on which he is encouraged to rest his hopes of life and immortality? The Scriptures furnish us with an answer in requiring from him, as well as from every other human being, repentance, and faith, and the necessary fruit of genuine faith--obedience.

A few observations under these three several heads will make clear the meaning of my assertion that the soul of the slave should be left in a state of freedom, and should be subject to no impediments arising out of the temporal condition of servitude, which may endanger, its ever lasting salvation.

1. The slave must repent--for God commandeth all men every where to repent, because he will judge the world in righteousness, a reason which applies alike to all, without distinction of race or other external circumstances. Yet are not the instances painfully numerous in which this command has never reached the ears of the slaves on our West India plantations? or if the word repentance has by some accident become familiar to them, is it associated in their minds with any of the awful denunciations of God against impenitent sinners? They live in the habitual indulgence of the worst propensities of their nature, and yield themselves up to the full influence of the corruption of the human heart, yet they are ignorant that sin dwelleth in them, and that God requireth them to cast away from them all their transgressions, and to make them a new heart, and a new spirit.

Notwithstanding they dwell in a Christian land. The teachers of our holy religion are among them, and around them; and unless scandalously false to their trust, are willing to instruct them in the holy precepts of the gospel. On each returning sabbath the churches and chapels are thrown open, and the glad tidings of salvation preached to all who assemble therein. With these spiritual advantages so near to them, and apparently brought home to their doors, if they knew not that God hateth all the workers of iniquity, and that the soul that sinneth, it shall die; if they know not the guilt and the destructive nature of sin, there must be a thraldom of the soul. They are clearly under a spiritual bondage, either self-imposed, or the result of their external circumstances.

Are we to imagine then that they are more desperately wicked than other men, and that they obstinately close their eyes to the truth? Are we to imagine that with the usual opportunities of gaining Christian knowledge in a Christian country, they wilfully and perversely prefer ignorance? Or must we allow, that the master has indirectly debarred them from the means of becoming wise unto salvation, and has regarded their servile condition as incompatible with the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free? That such were the opinions, as well as the practice, of the early proprietors in these islands, I have already proved: and I should rejoice to have the assurance that these opinions had entirely ceased to exert any influence. I wish not to incur the charge of asperity by alluding with needless frequency to in stances of past or present neglect, but I must be permitted to say, and it is with sorrow that I say it, there are still proprietors who have not encouraged or authorized the baptism of a single negro; and that there are still plantations, where, though the administration of baptism has been allowed, the salutary consequences of that divine ordinance have, through neglect or opposition, been frustrated. The slaves, although nominally Christian, receive not in their early years, nor indeed at any period of their lives, the instruction by which they may know the obligations of their Christian calling. They consequently take not on themselves their vows of baptism in more advanced life. They frequent not the table of the Lord; not do they even join in any of the services of public worship. Deriving, as it would seem, no benefit from the appointed means of grace, and sitting in complete spiritual darkness, how can they repent? I willingly admit that many are the exceptions to the statement here given, and the master whose practice is opposed to the evils which I have noticed, will feel that my remarks are entirely inapplicable to him.

2. The slave must BELIEVE. Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, is a command which enforces on all men the pre-eminent duty of faith. Yet faith is not of spontaneous growth in the heart. In all ordinary cases it is the result of previous instruction, which, through the gracious aid and influence of the Holy Spirit, is blessed to the per son receiving it. Whosoever, says the apostle, shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved; but he immediately adds, how then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? If our slaves call not on the Saviour of mankind, and if they believe not in him, is it unreasonable to conclude, with our know ledge of the peculiarities of their condition, that it is because they have not heard of him, and have had no preacher or instructor to make known unto them the salvation offered in the name of Jesus? Even when the master consents to their being taught those things which "a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health," how are they to obtain the instruction unless through the active assistance and co-operation of those in authority over them? The master's bare acquiescence, unaccompanied by any personal exertion, or any change in the existing system of constraint, can avail but little. It is almost a mockery in us to say, we object not to our slaves being taught the fl of a Christian, when we add, but we cannot spare them time for the purpose. We object not to the clergyman, or his subordinate teacher, visiting them; but it must not be at unseasonable hours; and at hours which are seasonable, he must be prepared to find them engaged in the daily work of the plantation. We object not to their employing well the sabbath; but we can incur no expense in building or enlarging churches for them; nor will we use our authority or influence to prevent them from desecrating the Lord's day by their marketings or their dances, it is clear that where the slaves are unable of them selves to contribute either time or money towards their spiritual improvement, the mere negative permission of the master, unsupported by more substantial and effective encouragement, is nugatory: nor can we get rid of the obvious consequence, that the soul of the slave partakes of the bondage to which his body is subject.

But it may be said that faith comes by reading, as well as by hearing. I admit that it does so; and for this reason I have often pressed on the master with an importunate and painful earnestness the duty of allowing his slaves to be taught to read, in looking forward to the future, I rejoice in the promise that this permission will no longer be confined within the narrow limits by which it has hitherto been bounded. A more benevolent and enlightened spirit is apparent among us, and it is already working a beneficial change on both master and servant. Still I must not conceal the fact, that many are the instances where even now a suspicious apprehension of some contingent or fancied evil induces the proprietor to interpose his authority in prohibiting the knowledge of letters to his dependents. And is not such a prohibition a direct attempt to enslave the soul? Is it not followed, where so many other impediments to instruction prevail, by heathenish unbelief in the slave? For how can he believe in him of whom he has not heard or read? How can the gospel be the glad tidings of salvation to those from whom it is thus practically withheld? I repeat that it is mockery to say to any of our fellow creatures, Open ye the door, and enter therein, while we pertinaciously keep from them the key by which alone the door can be opened.

The slave must OBEY. He is required equally with those who are of free condition to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. He must add to this faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly love and charity. We may fear that the present condition of our dependents in the West Indies is not very favourable to the duty of Christian obedience. The same impediments which obstruct the sincere repentance, and the saving faith, of the slave, will necessarily prove an obstacle to his clue observance of the commandments of God. In vain shall we look for the obedient heart, if the only efficient principle of obedience be wanting. This will account for our finding it so difficult, even when we are supported by the master's countenance and authority, to withdraw the negro from his present habits of sensual indulgence, and from the wilful violation of the sanctity of the sabbath: for why should he impose restraint on himself; or sacrifice any portion of his petty and unhallowed gains, when he knows not that he is required on the authority of the great God of the universe, his Creator and his future Judge, to keep holy to the Lord one day in seven, and to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts?

But is it true the slave is always a free agent in the services required from the creature to the Creator? Is there no constraint on the soul arising out of the mistaken views of the extent to which the recognized bondage of the body gives authority to the proprietor over his servants? When services are required which involve an unavoidable violation of the sabbath--whether it be directly for the benefit of the master, [The law of this island expressly authorizes the master to employ his slaves in "the casking of sugar, until ten of the clock on Sunday morning."] or for the more immediate and necessary support of the slave--or when encouragement is given to the sale and barter of goods, or to the public dance on the Lord's day, on the plea that no other time can be spared for these purposes, it may with truth be affirmed, that the souls of the slaves are endangered through the unwillingness of the proprietor to relax his hold upon rights which trench on their spiritual welfare. And again, when the ordinance of marriage is discountenanced, because the owner of slaves is afraid that his worldly interests may Suffer by its recognition; and all the evils of an unhallowed concubinage are sanctioned, because it is deemed to be a state more in conformity with absolute servitude than the solemn and indissoluble bond which unites those who are of free condition; I cannot but admit that the slave is directly precluded from obeying the commands of the Al mighty, and that the master is exercising an undue, and I must add, if I am to regulate my expressions by the laws of God, rather than by the opinions Of man, an unauthorized, a sinful, control over the souls of his dependents. These and similar hindrances incidental to the condition of slavery in these colonies, and involving almost of necessity the breach of the divine commandments, assuredly ought not to exist in a Christian land, and among Christian masters.

Under the three several heads which I have noticed as forming the ground work of the Christian character, I have perhaps said enough to show that the proprietor who considers himself to he the purchaser of the souls of his slaves, will exercise his authority with a far less regard to their spiritual welfare, than if he limited his purchased rights to their manual and bodily labour alone. He will grudge the time necessary for the acquirement of a knowledge of their religious duties--or he will harbour undue suspicions of the application of this know ledge--or he will regard even the very precepts of our religion as calculated to interfere with his secular interests, and to diminish the productive labour of his people. There will be always present to him, the apprehension of some loss which will appear to be inadequately repaid by the increased integrity and superior moral worth of the dependent.

Is he called on by the authorized minister of God's word to allow the young and ignorant on his plantation to he instructed, so that the darkness of heathenism may give place to the light of the gospel, and their present indifference to spiritual things may be supplanted by an earnest desire to prepare for the coming of their Lord? Is the Bible brought forward, accompanied with the solemn charge of our Saviour, search the Scriptures, and does the spiritual guide of the parish urge the importance of teaching the children a knowledge of letters, that they may at their leisure read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the revealed word of God, and in seasons of sickness, or when labouring under the infirmities of old age, may have a sure solace in their affliction, and a most profitable employment to fill up the vacuity of their declining years? Hear the reply which the master who claims an absolute right to the souls of his slaves will confidently make, nor will his practice vary from it--"I can afford neither the time, nor the money, for the instruction of my people, nor am I sensible that a knowledge of the gospel truths will add to their value. I object to their being taught to read, because they will acquire a knowledge which is calculated to raise them above their present condition, and to inspire them with hopes of advancement in society. I object to it also, because they may read books of an injurious tendency, and may learn t be dissatisfied with the evils al most inseparable from servitude."

Does the parochial minister beg to have a free and unrestricted access to the dwellings of the negroes, that he may at all seasons give them spiritual counsel, and may teach and admonish them when ever they are not employed in their master's work? The reply is evasive, or perhaps altogether prohibitory. At fixed and prescribed times he may enter on the plantation; but he is not to have a discretionary power to visit it. It is possible that he may go there as a spy, or as a meddling suggester of grievances, or as the secret instigator of rebellion. There is no apparent good in these uncertain visits. There is much possible evil. They must not be permitted.

Would he thus think and act if he were brought to regard the dependent as master of his own soul, and as under an obligation to provide for its ever lasting welfare? I Look around me, and in the conduct of certain of the proprietors in this, and in the neighbouring colonies, I find a satisfactory answer. I have witnessed myself the change. I have seen the fallacious arguments which be fore provoked the master into opposition to the spiritual improvement of his slaves, yielding one by one to the force of gospel truth, and their place supplied by the conviction that he is bound to acquiesce in, and zealously support, every measure which has for its object the advancement of his dependents in Christian knowledge and practice. I have heard him indignantly rebut the insinuation that evil may arise from the privilege of reading being extended to the slaves, by pointing to those passages in holy writ which enforce contentment on all men, and which direct the servant to regard obedience to his earthly master as his peculiar and especial duty. He has solicited the frequent and uncontrolled communication of the minister with his bondsmen, and has encouraged them to regard him as a friend with whom they may deposit their earthly cares and sorrows, and to whom they may look for the consolation which arises from the prospect of a blessed eternity. Whom (he has been heard to say) can I trust, if the preacher of God's word is to he suspected? Great indeed must be the errors in the management of my slaves, if I dread to submit them to his inspection.

Impressed with these opinions, and influenced by Christian motives, he has laboured to have brought home to the understandings and the hearts of his dependents the vital truths of the corruption of human nature, and of the need which the gospel discloses of a deliverance both from the guilt and power of sin, accomplished through the Saviour's voluntary sacrifice of himself. He has gloried in being instrumental in leading them to this saving knowledge of their Redeemer, and in teaching them to pray for those blessed influences of the Holy Spirit, which God in his mercy vouchsafes to them, as well as to their white and free brethren, since all require them to be rendered meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.

And has he suffered in his temporal interests by thus leaving to his bondsmen the care and control of their souls, or by inciting them to a due preparation for eternity? I speak not vaguely and hesitatingly; but with a knowledge of facts as they have occurred, when I declare that in every instance where the de pendent has been allowed the free exercise of his religious duties, and has been encouraged in them, the master has been blessed in his worldly gains. An especial providence seems to have watched over him, and to have singled him out as a proof that righteous is the Lord and upright are his judgments: for the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways.

I here close the subject. I have drawn largely on your patience in this and in the preceding lectures. The magnitude of the interests involved in the faithful discharge of the duties recommended to you, must be my justification. I have pleaded for the souls of my fellow men. I have pressed earnestly and solemnly on your consideration the eternal welfare of beings descended from the same original parents with yourselves--partaking of the same nature--born in the same sin--and objects of the same merciful redemption. I have placed before you, without flattery or concealment, the responsibility under which you lie in the sight of God; for you are only guardians, and not proprietors of the souls of your slaves. You hold them, as it were, in trust; and at your hands will they be demanded by the supreme Lord of all men. Think not that my zeal has been exerted exclusively in favour of the bondsmen among us. It has had equally for its object the good of their masters. My prayer is, that all slaves may be taught the glad tidings of salvation, and may know the truth as it is in Jesus. My prayer also is, that all masters may he able to give account with joy and not with grief, to Him who judgeth righteously, and who is no respecter of persons.

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