Beloved, we have sinned greatly against the Lord.
Let me introduce you to a Christian man you probably know not much of. He was born and raised a slave on the East Shore of the Chesapeake Bay (Maryland) in the early 1800’s. He had a conversion experience in slavery and in his 20′ s escaped to freedom in the North. North of Baltimore it was needful for him to escape, for Baltimore was a great center of the slave trade within the US. In the north he met friend and foes. Understand that the hatred of blacks was rampant on the northern side of the Mason-Dixon line among those who called themselves Christians, just as it was in the South. Beloved, and as these things are looked into by you, you will find exploits among the few. But let it be understood, that the list of witnesses of those who loved all men at its greatest was a few. They are a “great” cloud of witnesses.
What most greatly strikes me about Frederick Douglass (c.1818-1895) is how clearly and vividly he wrote, and could not convince all who call themselves Christians, of the evils of the sin called slavery. This is not the slavery of the unbeliever (as Paul wrote about in the New Testament), but the Christian slavery of Western civilization. Christians enslaving the unbeliever. Christians enslaving believers. This cannot be so, in the true grace of God. Those who did such things were barren of the grace of God. I read Frederick’s writings as one who needs no convincing and I am astounded that so many who called themselves Christian did not fall on their knees and immediately repent. He was burdened to continue to speak and write words primarily to those who called themselves Christians, that black folks where people as them, equal. This is no aberration in our behaviour toward God and man, it went on for centuries, and it continues to go on. We have sinned greatly against the Lord Yeshua who loves all people and died for all people. “For in Adam all died, even so in the Mashiach all will be made alive, each man in God’s order.” “The end of the Lord is the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercies.” “His mercy endureth forever!” How have we omitted the weightier things of the Law, such as the love of the brethren. How greatly we do not understand the promises of God! Have we not read “in thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” Do we not know that the seed is one and the seed is the Mashiach? Do we not know that all nations shall be blessed, and some of the nations have men of dark-colored skin? How ignorant we are, and barren of the grace of God to act the ways we have and call ourselves Christians. And what do we do to day, the same, and more, for we kill the child in the womb. We are now so deceived, that we who call ourselves Christians, do not speak out strongly against abortion to those who call themselves Christians. We have sinned greatly against the Lord, o people who call yourselves Christians. Let it not be us who are calling ourselves Christians, but God calling us followers of Yeshua. “In Antioch they were first call Christians.” Just as slavery was tolerated and justified by the vast majority of those who called themselves Christians, it is not any different in our day and hour, that abortion is justified by the majority who call themselves Christians. If it was not tolerated by those who call themselves Christians, the abortion provider would be out of business. I speak not to the unbeliever, for God is his judge, but I speak to you who call yourselves Christians.
The following exerts are from the second revision of Frederick’s autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom”. They speak of his conversion, his former master’s conversion, a preacher named George Cookman, a light of God’s grace in the midst of the darkness, his first Sunday school experience, and his first attendance gathering with those who call themselves Christians after his escape from slavery. We have sinned greatly against the Lord! He who has ears to hear, hear, and eyes to see, see!
“Previous to my contemplation of the anti-slavery movement, and its probable results, my mind had been seriously awakened to the subject of religion. I was not more than thirteen years old, when I felt the need of God, as a father and protector. My religious nature was awakened by the preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson. He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God; that they were, by nature, rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God, through Christ. I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what was required of me; but one thing I knew very well—I was wretched, and had no means of making myself otherwise. Moreover, I knew that I could pray for light. I consulted a good colored man, named Charles Johnson; and, in tones of holy affection, he told me to pray, and what to pray for. I was, for weeks, a poor, brokenhearted mourner, traveling through the darkness and misery of doubts and fears. I finally found that change of heart which comes by “casting all one’s care” upon God, and by having faith in Jesus Christ, as the Redeemer, Friend, and Savior of those who diligently seek Him. (God found Frederick. It must be so, or grace is not grace.)
After this, I saw the world in a new light. I seemed to live in a new world, surrounded by new objects, and to be animated by new hopes and desires. I loved all mankind—slaveholders not excepted; though I abhorred slavery more than ever. My great concern was, now, to have the world converted. The desire for knowledge increased, and especially did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the bible. I have gathered scattered pages from this holy book, from the filthy street gutters of Baltimore, and washed and dried them, that in the moments of my leisure, I might get a word or two of wisdom from them. While thus religiously seeking knowledge, I became acquainted with a good old colored man, named Lawson. A more devout man than he, I never saw. He drove a dray for Mr. James Ramsey, the owner of a rope-walk on Fell’s Point, Baltimore. This man not only prayed three time a day, but he prayed as he walked through the streets, at his work—on his dray everywhere. His life was a life of prayer, and his words (when he spoke to his friends,) were about a better world. Uncle Lawson lived near Master Hugh’s house; and, becoming deeply attached to the old man, I went often with him to prayer-meeting, and spent much of my leisure time with him on Sunday. The old man could read a little, and I was a great help to him, in making out the hard words, for I was a better reader than he. I could teach him “the letter,” but he could teach me “the spirit;” and high, refreshing times we had together, in singing, praying and glorifying God. These meetings with Uncle Lawson went on for a long time, without the knowledge of Master Hugh or my mistress. Both knew, how ever, that I had become religious, and they seemed to respect my conscientious piety. My mistress was still a professor of religion, and belonged to class. Her leader was no less a person than the Rev. Beverly Waugh, the presiding elder, and now one of the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal church. Mr. Waugh was then stationed over Wilk street church. I am careful to state these facts, that the reader may be able to form an idea of the precise influences which had to do with shaping and directing my mind influences.
In view of the cares and anxieties incident to the life she was then leading, and, especially, in view of the separation from religious associations to which she was subjected, my mistress had, as I have before stated, become lukewarm, and needed to be looked up by her leader. This brought Mr. Waugh to our house, and gave me an opportunity to hear him exhort and pray. But my chief instructor, in matters of religion, was Uncle Lawson. He was my spiritual father; and I loved him intensely, and was at his house every chance I got.
This pleasure was not long allowed me. Master Hugh became averse to my going to Father Lawson’s, and threatened to whip me if I ever went there again. I now felt myself persecuted by a wicked man; and I would go to Father Lawson’s, notwithstanding the threat. The good old man had told me, that the “Lord had a great work for me to do;” and I must prepare to do it; and that he had been shown that I must preach the gospel. His words made a deep impression on my mind, and I verily felt that some such work was before me, though I could not see how I should ever engage in its performance. “The good Lord,” he said, “would bring it to pass in his own good time,” and that I must go on reading and studying the scriptures. The advice and the suggestions of Uncle Lawson, were not without their influence upon my character and destiny. He threw my thoughts into a channel from which they have never entirely diverged. He fanned my already intense love of knowledge into a flame, by assuring me that I was to be a useful man in the world. When I would say to him, “How can these things be and what can I do?” his simple reply was, “Trust in the Lord.” When I told him that “I was a slave, and a slave FOR LIFE,” he said, “the Lord can make you free, my dear. All things are possible with him, only have faith in God.” “Ask, and it shall be given.” “If you want liberty,” said the good old man, “ask the Lord for it, in faith, AND HE WILL GIVE IT TO YOU.”
HIS MASTER’S CONVERSION
In the month of August, 1833, when I had almost become desperate under the treatment of Master Thomas, and when I entertained more strongly than ever the oft-repeated determination to run away, a circumstance occurred which seemed to promise brighter and better days for us all. At a Methodist camp-meeting, held in the Bay Side (a famous place for campmeetings) about eight miles from St. Michael’s (Maryland), Master Thomas came out with a profession of religion. He had long been an object of interest to the church, and to the ministers, as I had seen by the repeated visits and lengthy exhortations of the latter. He was a fish quite worth catching, for he had money and standing. In the community of St. Michael’s he was equal to the best citizen. He was strictly temperate; perhaps, from principle, but most likely, from interest. There was very little to do for him, to give him the appearance of piety, and to make him a pillar in the church. Well, the camp-meeting continued a week; people gathered from all parts of the county, and two steamboat loads came from Baltimore. The ground was happily chosen; seats were arranged; a stand erected; a rude altar fenced in, fronting the preachers’ stand, with straw in it for the accommodation of mourners. This latter would hold at least one hundred persons. In front, and on the sides of the preachers’ stand, and outside the long rows of seats, rose the first class of stately tents, each vieing with the other in strength, neatness, and capacity for accommodating its inmates. Behind this first circle of tents was another, less imposing, which reached round the camp-ground to the speakers’ stand. Outside this second class of tents were covered wagons, ox carts, and vehicles of every shape and size. These served as tents to their owners. Outside of these, huge fires were burning, in all directions, where roasting, and boiling, and frying, were going on, for the benefit of those who were attending to their own spiritual welfare within the circle. Behind the preachers’ stand, a narrow space was marked out for the use of the colored people. There were no seats provided for this class of persons; the preachers addressed them, “over the left,” if they addressed them at all. After the preaching was over, at every service, an invitation was given to mourners to come into the pen; and, in some cases, ministers went out to persuade men and women to come in. By one of these ministers, Master Thomas Auld was persuaded to go inside the pen. I was deeply interested in that matter, and followed; and, though colored people were not allowed either in the pen or in front of the preachers’ stand, I ventured to take my stand at a sort of half-way place between the blacks and whites, where I could distinctly see the movements of mourners, and especially the progress of Master Thomas.
“If he has got religion,” thought I, “he will emancipate his slaves; and if he should not do so much as this, he will, at any rate, behave toward us more kindly, and feed us more generously than he has heretofore done.” Appealing to my own religious experience, and judging my master by what was true in my own case, I could not regard him as soundly converted, unless some such good results followed his profession of religion.
But in my expectations I was doubly disappointed; Master Thomas was Master Thomas still. The fruits of his righteousness were to show themselves in no such way as I had anticipated. His conversion was not to change his relation toward men—at any rate not toward BLACK men—but toward God. My faith, I confess, was not great. There was something in his appearance that, in my mind, cast a doubt over his conversion. Standing where I did, I could see his every movement. I watched narrowly while he remained in the little pen; and although I saw that his face was extremely red, and his hair disheveled, and though I heard him groan, and saw a stray tear halting on his cheek, as if inquiring “which way shall I go?”—I could not wholly confide in the genuineness of his conversion. The hesitating behavior of that tear-drop and its loneliness, distressed me, and cast a doubt upon the whole transaction, of which it was a part. But people said, “Capt. Auld had come through,” and it was for me to hope for the best. I was bound to do this, in charity, for I, too, was religious, and had been in the church full three years, although now I was not more than sixteen years old. Slaveholders may, sometimes, have confidence in the piety of some of their slaves; but the slaves seldom have confidence in the piety of their masters. “He cant go to heaven with our blood in his skirts,” is a settled point in the creed of every slave; rising superior to all teaching to the contrary, and standing forever as a fixed fact. The highest evidence the slaveholder can give the slave of his acceptance with God, is the emancipation of his slaves. This is proof that he is willing to give up all to God, and for the sake of God. Not to do this, was, in my estimation, and in the opinion of all the slaves, an evidence of half-heartedness, and wholly inconsistent with the idea of genuine conversion. I had read, also, somewhere in the Methodist Discipline, the following question and answer:
“Question. What shall be done for the extirpation of slavery?
“Answer. We declare that we are much as ever convinced of the great evil of slavery; therefore, no slaveholder shall be eligible to any official station in our church.”
These words sounded in my ears for a long time, and encouraged me to hope. But, as I have before said, I was doomed to disappointment. Master Thomas seemed to be aware of my hopes and expectations concerning him. I have thought, before now, that he looked at me in answer to my glances, as much as to say, “I will teach you, young man, that, though I have parted with my sins, I have not parted with my sense. I shall hold my slaves, and go to heaven too.”
Possibly, to convince us that we must not presume too much upon his recent conversion, he became rather more rigid and stringent in his exactions. There always was a scarcity of good nature about the man; but now his whole countenance was soured over with the seemings of piety. His religion, therefore, neither made him emancipate his slaves, nor caused him to treat them with greater humanity. If religion had any effect on his character at all, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways. The natural wickedness of his heart had not been removed, but only reinforced, by the profession of religion. Do I judge him harshly? God forbid. Facts are facts.
Capt. Auld made the greatest profession of piety. His house was, literally, a house of prayer. In the morning, and in the evening, loud prayers and hymns were heard there, in which both himself and his wife joined; yet, no more meal was brought from the mill, no more attention was paid to the moral welfare of the kitchen; and nothing was done to make us feel that the heart of Master Thomas was one whit better than it was before he went into the little pen, opposite to the preachers’ stand, on the camp ground.
Our hopes (founded on the discipline) soon vanished; for the authorities let him into the church at once, and before he was out of his term of probation, I heard of his leading class! He distinguished himself greatly among the brethren, and was soon an exhorter. His progress was almost as rapid as the growth of the fabled vine of Jack’s bean. No man was more active than he, in revivals. He would go many miles to assist in carrying them on, and in getting outsiders interested in religion. His house being one of the holiest, if not the happiest in St. Michael’s, became the “preachers’ home.” These preachers evidently liked to share Master Thomas’s hospitality; for while he starved us, he stuffed them. Three or four of these ambassadors of the gospel—according to slavery—have been there at a time; all living on the fat of the land, while we, in the kitchen, were nearly starving. Not often did we get a smile of recognition from these holy men. They seemed almost as unconcerned about our getting to heaven, as they were about our getting out of slavery.
To this general charge there was one exception—the Rev. GEORGE COOKMAN. Unlike Rev. Messrs. Storks, Ewry, Hickey, Humphrey and Cooper (all whom were on the St. Michael’s circuit) he kindly took an interest in our temporal and spiritual welfare. Our souls and our bodies were all alike sacred in his sight; and he really had a good deal of genuine anti-slavery feeling mingled with his colonization ideas. There was not a slave in our neighborhood that did not love, and almost venerate, Mr. Cookman. It was pretty generally believed that he had been chiefly instrumental in bringing one of the largest slaveholders—Mr. Samuel Harrison—in that neighborhood, to emancipate all his slaves, and, indeed, the general impression was, that Mr. Cookman had labored faithfully with slaveholders, whenever he met them, to induce them to emancipate their bondmen, and that he did this as a religious duty. When this good man was at our house, we were all sure to be called in to prayers in the morning; and he was not slow in making inquiries as to the state of our minds, nor in giving us a word of exhortation and of encouragement. Great was the sorrow of all the slaves, when this faithful preacher of the gospel was removed from the Talbot county circuit. He was an eloquent preacher, and possessed what few ministers, south of Mason Dixon’s line, possess, or dare to show, viz: a warm and philanthropic heart. The Mr. Cookman, of whom I speak, was an Englishman by birth, and perished while on his way to England, on board the ill-fated “President”. Could the thousands of slaves in Maryland know the fate of the good man, to whose words of comfort they were so largely indebted, they would thank me for dropping a tear on this page, in memory of their favorite preacher, friend and benefactor.
But, let me return to Master Thomas, and to my experience, after his conversion. In Baltimore, I could, occasionally, get into a Sabbath school, among the free children, and receive lessons, with the rest; but, having already learned both to read and to write, I was more of a teacher than a pupil, even there. When, however, I went back to the Eastern Shore, and was at the house of Master Thomas, I was neither allowed to teach, nor to be taught. The whole community—with but a single exception, among the whites—frowned upon everything like imparting instruction either to slaves or to free colored persons. That single exception, a pious young man, named Wilson, asked me, one day, if I would like to assist him in teaching a little Sabbath school, at the house of a free colored man in St. Michael’s, named James Mitchell. The idea was to me a delightful one, and I told him I would gladly devote as much of my Sabbath as I could command, to that most laudable work. Mr. Wilson soon mustered up a dozen old spelling books, and a few testaments; and we commenced operations, with some twenty scholars, in our Sunday school. Here, thought I, is something worth living for; here is an excellent chance for usefulness; and I shall soon have a company of young friends, lovers of knowledge, like some of my Baltimore friends, from whom I now felt parted forever.
Our first Sabbath passed delightfully, and I spent the week after very joyously. I could not go to Baltimore, but I could make a little Baltimore here. At our second meeting, I learned that there was some objection to the existence of the Sabbath school; and, sure enough, we had scarcely got at work—good work, simply teaching a few colored children how to read the gospel of the Son of God—when in rushed a mob, headed by Mr. Wright Fairbanks and Mr. Garrison West—two class-leaders —and Master Thomas; who, armed with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and commanded us never to meet for such a purpose again. One of this pious crew told me, that as for my part, I wanted to be another Nat Turner; and if I did not look out, I should get as many balls into me, as Nat did into him. Thus ended the infant Sabbath school, in the town of St. Michael’s. The reader will not be surprised when I say, that the breaking up of my Sabbath school, by these class-leaders, and professedly holy men, did not serve to strengthen my religious convictions. The cloud over my St. Michael’s home grew heavier and blacker than ever.
FIRST ATTENDANCE GATHERING WITH THOSE WHO CALL THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS AFTER HIS ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY
Among my first concerns on reaching New Bedford, was to become united with the church, for I had never given up, in reality, my religious faith. I had become lukewarm and in a backslidden state, but I was still convinced that it was my duty to join the Methodist church. I was not then aware of the powerful influence of that religious body in favor of the enslavement of my race, nor did I see how the northern churches could be responsible for the conduct of southern churches; neither did I fully understand how it could be my duty to remain separate from the church, because bad men were connected with it. The slaveholding church, with its Coveys, Weedens, Aulds, and Hopkins, I could see through at once, but I could not see how Elm Street church, in New Bedford, could be regarded as sanctioning the Christianity of these characters in the church at St. Michael’s. I therefore resolved to join the Methodist church in New Bedford, and to enjoy the spiritual advantage of public worship. The minister of the Elm Street Methodist church, was the Rev. Mr. Bonney; and although I was not allowed a seat in the body of the house, and was proscribed on account of my color, regarding this proscription simply as an accommodation of the uncoverted congregation who had not yet been won to Christ and his brotherhood, I was willing thus to be proscribed, lest sinners should be driven away form the saving power of the gospel. Once converted, I thought they would be sure to treat me as a man and a brother. “Surely,” thought I, “these Christian people have none of this feeling against color. They, at least, have renounced this unholy feeling.” Judge, then, dear reader, of my astonishment and mortification, when I found, as soon I did find, all my charitable assumptions at fault.
An opportunity was soon afforded me for ascertaining the exact position of Elm Street church on that subject. I had a chance of seeing the religious part of the congregation by themselves; and although they disowned, in effect, their black brothers and sisters, before the world, I did think that where none but the saints were assembled, and no offense could be given to the wicked, and the gospel could not be “blamed,” they would certainly recognize us as children of the same Father, and heirs of the same salvation, on equal terms with themselves.
The occasion to which I refer, was the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that most sacred and most solemn of all the ordinances of the Christian church. Mr. Bonney had preached a very solemn and searching discourse, which really proved him to be acquainted with the inmost secerts(sic) of the human heart. At the close of his discourse, the congregation was dismissed, and the church remained to partake of the sacrament. I remained to see, as I thought, this holy sacrament celebrated in the spirit of its great Founder.
There were only about a half dozen colored members attached to the Elm Street church, at this time. After the congregation was dismissed, these descended from the gallery, and took a seat against the wall most distant from the altar. Brother Bonney was very animated, and sung very sweetly, “Salvation ’tis a joyful sound,” and soon began to administer the sacrament. I was anxious to observe the bearing of the colored members, and the result was most humiliating. During the whole ceremony, they looked like sheep without a shepherd. The white members went forward to the altar by the bench full; and when it was evident that all the whites had been served with the bread and wine, Brother Bonney—pious Brother Bonney—after a long pause, as if inquiring whether all the whites members had been served, and fully assuring himself on that important point, then raised his voice to an unnatural pitch, and looking to the corner where his black sheep seemed penned, beckoned with his hand, exclaiming, “Come forward, colored friends! come forward! You, too, have an interest in the blood of Christ. God is no respecter of persons. Come forward, and take this holy sacrament to your comfort.” The colored members poor, slavish souls went forward, as invited. I went out, and have never been in that church since, although I honestly went there with a view to joining that body. I found it impossible to respect the religious profession of any who were under the dominion of this wicked prejudice, and I could not, therefore, feel that in joining them, I was joining a Christian church, at all. I tried other churches in New Bedford, with the same result, and finally, I attached myself to a small body of colored Methodists, known as the Zion Methodists. Favored with the affection and confidence of the members of this humble communion, I was soon made a classleader and a local preacher among them. Many seasons of peace and joy I experienced among them, the remembrance of which is still precious, although I could not see it to be my duty to remain with that body, when I found that it consented to the same spirit which held my brethren in chains.
We have sinned greatly against the Lord for 300 years of slavery, this Christian slavery, in which we enslaved men. We have sinned greatly against the Lord in all our Jim Crow laws 100 years more. We continue to sin greatly against the Lord in the hidden hatred of our hearts calling ourselves Christians. We are not worthy of the least of the mercies of the Lord. How blind we and any man is if God does not give grace to accept the one true gospel, and give grace upon grace that our love will abound toward all men. Men tireless spoke for entire generations to those who made their boast in God and their Jesus (not mine), and would not cease being hypocrites. They would not listen. But the gates of sheol shall not prevail against the assembly of God. And God has a people, the children of grace, who love the brethren, that is all the brethren of every nation, in every generation. For in the midst of all men’s thoughts being continually evil always, the grace of God finds men, so God will have a people. God the Father is faithful in and through the name of His Son, Yeshua ha Mashiach, the only name under heaven in which any man can be saved, black or white, male or female, bond or free, of Yudah or Greek or Gentiles: these are of the nations. And God has one gospel, and in the true grace of God there is no disagreement concerning it, and it is the Mashiach, who is Yeshua of “Nazareth”, died for our sins, and according to the Tanach (Old Testament), He was buried and He rose again the third day and according to the Tanach. (Luke 24, 1 Cor 15:1-6)
Beloved, I mention Frederick, one black man, because if one child of grace is looked at with partiality in an assembly of God, this is contrary to the Mashiach. Let me give you my literal translation of James 2:1, “My brethren, there is no favoring of an individual in the faith of our Lord Yeshua, the Mashiach of glory.” Got it, there is no favoring of any individual in the faith of Yeshua. There is no favoring of one group or class in the Mashiach, such as white, such as the rich, and despising the poor. I know that there has been slavery involving many different peoples, but what I speak about here is relevant to the lands we live in (western civilization). We have been most contrary to the Mashiach, for we have favored the white man over black folks many times. We have favored ourselves over many others. We have been partial toward those of Yudah (the Jew). I wish the black person who is a child of grace will not favor a black man over a white. I wish that all the children of grace would lift up holy hands to our God without partiality towards none, loving all men, especially the brethren. For if you trangress in one man, you trangress against the entire law. You are guilty and apart from the Mashiach. You are lost in your sins and await the judgment of our God!
“We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! All for the glory of God and the good of souls! The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand.” -Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself-1845
“We kill infants in the womb to build churches, to support the gospel, and to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! All for the glory of God and the good of souls! The ones killing the babies in the womb are comfortable in our church buildings made with men’s hands. We do not say this is unacceptable in the assembly of the living God for the love of money. It is the root of all evil. For the church and the world have become one and the same, but God does have a people in all generations.”-Now