Slavery, Relation Of, to Christianity
Slavery, Relation Of, To Christianity.
This topic has necessarily been touched upon in the preceding articles, but its importance justifies a fuller consideration separately. (In doing this we avail ourselves in part of the treatment in Herzog's Real Encyklop.)
The New Test. teaches that salvation is the common privilege of all mankind, and that all men have an equal right to the benefits it confers (Tit 2:11; 1Ti 2:4). This principle alone would, of necessity, determine the Christian view of slavery and lead to the extinction of that state (Ga 3:28; Col 3:11). Christianity, moreover, does not deal with nations and masses of people, but with individuals, whom it severally invites, exhorts, and receives into its communion. It sets forth faith as an inward liberating life principle (Joh 8:36), through which the individual lays hold on Christ and becomes united with him. This involves a recognition of the rights of the inner man, which the heathen nations never apprehended, and which were veiled from sight even in the Old Test., though clearly stated in the New (Ga 2:19-21; Ac 2:41; Ac 13:46), and which in their progress and complete realization under Protestantism must ultimately bring about the utter extirpation of slavery from the earth. Christ postulated the law of liberty, and made freedom the privilege of believers (Joh 8:32; Jas 1:25; Jas 2:12; Ro 8:2), thereby accomplishing the predictions of the Old Covenant (comp. Lu 4:18-21 with Isa 61:1 sq.); and, though the proclamation of liberty by the apostles had primary reference to the inward states of the soul (1Co 7:23; Ga 5:1; 1Pe 2:16; comp. Ga 2:4-5,13; 2Pe 2:19), it necessarily led to the great principle that with Christ liberty in general had come to man (see Lu 1:79; 2Co 3:17). They taught that while freedom begins in the religious consciousness, it is not restricted to that field, but involves consequences in other departments of human life as well, even as the saving of the soul involves that of the body likewise (Ro 8:23); and that the Christian is a freeman, and entitled to all the blessings which God sheds abroad in the earth (1Co 3:21-23). The realization of that ideal, however, was shown to be the work of a progressive Christianity, advancing in knowledge and in influence over the conditions of the world; and they consequently discountenanced all tendency to rebellion against the properly constituted and existing authorities of the nations of the earth. It is evident from Ro 13:1 sq. that a disposition to refuse obedience to governments existed to some extent in apostolic times, and, from the case of Onesimus, that bondmen sometimes broke away from their masters' rule. In the latter instance Paul- succeeded in effecting the voluntary return of the fugitive Christian slave by imparting to him a deeper and more correct knowledge of the nature and aims of Christianity (Phm 1:10-16). A similar principle is embodied in the important passage 2Co 7:16: existing conditions, however adverse to the spirit of Christianity, are not to be subverted by outward force, but are to be displaced by new conditions whose root is the principle of Christian freedom implanted in the human heart. As a rule, converts to Christianity are exhorted to continue in the station and condition of life to which the Providence of God has assigned them. The argument by which that rule is enforced, that the present is a time of distress in which it becomes prudent for the unmarried to retain their virgin:state and the slave to remain contentedly in his bondage, indicates its primary reference to the Corinthian Christians of that day; but the further considerations adduced, that the time is short, the work to be done is all-important, and the grand catastrophe through which the world's conditions shall be changed is drawing near, have universal force, and adapt the rule to the conditions of all Christians. It is, however, evident that the apostle does not strike at the. right to liberty and personal independence in these instructions. 1Co 7:23 asserts that right most forcibly, and shows that the saving grace of the Lord involves a setting-aside of all human bondage. A denial of that right would bring him into conflict with his own claim to freedom (1Co 9:1), and with his fundamental statement that in Christ all things shall become new (2Co 5:17).
From the opposite point of view, Christianity is seen to be equally opposed to slavery. Masters are to treat their slaves kindly, and as brothers (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1; Phm 1:16). In practice, the early Christians were accustomed to give freedom to their slaves, and to purchase the freedom of the slaves of others: witness the action of Gregory the Great in the 6th century in purchasing a number of British captives and returning them in freedom to their native land, that they, aided by the monk Augustine, might carry the blessings of Christianity to their countrymen. Where slavery exists in a Christian land in any pronounced. form, it is because Christianity itself has remained in a low state of development — as, for instance, in Russia — or because it has relapsed into such a state, as was the case in Europe during the Middle Ages. In its fundamental nature, Christianity is the law of liberty. and, therefore, opposed to the enslaving of individual men, on the one hand, and to the exercise of absolutism and despotism in the government of states, on the other.
The extirpation of slavery has been made a part of the mission of Protestantism. It is among Evangelical Christians alone that the evils of slavery have arrested attention, and it is chiefly through their influence that its sway has been contested. The attitude of the Papal Church has been that of indifference or of impotency. The first place among the opponents of human slavery belongs to Great Britain, whose West Indian colonies and naval supremacy compelled a recognition of responsibility in the matter; but the Christian spirit ruling in Protestant lands will allow none of the nations which they shelter to rest until the last vestige of human slavery is wiped from the face of the earth.
The earliest endeavors for the overthrow of slavery date back to A.D. 1270, when an alliance between England and France was formed to punish the pirates of the Barbary states. The object was to compel the liberation and subsequent immunity from slavery of white persons. Philip the Bold attacked Tunis with this intention, and England repeated the attack in 1389, in each instance compelling the liberation of all Christian slaves; but the states of Oran, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, nevertheless, devoted themselves, from the close of the. 15th.century, to piracy as their leading industry. Repeated inflictions of punishment were received by them at the hands of England, France, and America; but they continued at the same time to exact tribute and ransom from the subjects of those powers. The first effectual hindrance to this business was realized in the present century through the conquest and colonization of Algiers by the French.
The idea of breaking up the trade in negro slaves is of much more recent birth. The Pennsylvania Quakers passed resolutions against slavery in 1696. and repeatedly afterwards, and enforced them practically since 1727. George Fox and William Penn. were especially active in this movement. The earliest authors who wrote against slavery were William Burlin (1718) and afterwards Thomas Lay. John Woolman became prominent in this wirk, as did his friend Anthony Benezet, who was connected with John Wesley, George Whitefield, and the Countess of Huntingdon. In 1751 the Quakers gave up the trade in slaves among themselves, which led Sidmouth, Wellesley, and others to advocate in Parliament the abrogation of trade in negroes generally. It was, however, chiefly, through the efforts of Granville Sharp that the principle was established, in 1772, that "a slave who treads on English soil is free." Public opinion was now with him, and Sharp; proceeded to demand the closing of the slavetrade, and the liberation of the slaves in all the colonies of England. Clarkson's prize- essay on the question "Is it right to make slaves against their will?" appeared in 1785. Wilberforce, Pitt, and Fox were gained. over to the cause of abolition soon afterwards; and in 1788 a petition by the first of these men led to an official inquiry into the slave trade and its consequences by a commission raised by the privy-council. Facts were accumulated which caused the passage of the first bill for the restriction of the slave trade in 1789. The Commons passed a bill for the abolition of slavery in 1792 by a majority of nineteen votes; and in 1807 the definitive "Abolition Act of Slavery" became a law. In 1811 conscious participation in the slave trade. was made a penal offense, to be punished with banishment, or hard labor for fourteen years and in 1827 Canning's resolution, which declares the slave trade to be piracy, was adopted. Treaties for the suppression of the traffic were entered into at various times with other nations; expeditions were repeatedly sent into the heart of the African continent charged to make every effort to secure the cooperation of the native kings in the work of stopping the supply of slaves; and fleets were sent out and kept on the African coast,. at great expense, to prevent their exportation. Negroes rescued from their captors were sent to the colony of Sierra Leone, where they have made most rapid progress in civilization under the influence of Christian teaching. Denmark and France were equally prompt in their action. The former in 1793 restricted the slave trade in its West-Indian colonies, and in 1804 forbade it entirely; and the latter liberated all slaves within its colonial territories by act of the National Convention. The earliest negro slaves were introduced into Europe by the Portuguese, though Spanish historians claim the unenviable distinction for their own nation; and these nations likewise introduced them into America. The first slaves found in an English colony were obtained by Virginia from a Dutch vessel in 1620. The Puritans in the Northern colonies enslaved the native Indians at first, and displayed no repugnance to the idea of negro slavery, though the nature of their soil and the conditions of their life prevented any considerable employment of such bondmen. In the South, James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia, interdicted the holding of slaves; but when, in 1752, Georgia became a royal colony, its inhabitants were freed from all restrictions of this kind, and slave holding became general. After the Revolutionary War, in 1790, the census reported 657,527 slaves in the United States,. of whom 40,370 were in the North; but in the latter section interest combined with a growing moral sentiment to excite hostility against any increase in the number of slaves or the permanent retention of slavery as an institution. The situation of the Southern States, on the other hand, was entirely favorable to the development of slavery. The cultivation of tobacco and cotton, the great staples of that section, afforded opportunity for the profitable employment of the slaves. Gradually the dislike of slavery felt by the more intelligent of the early Southern statesmen and clergymen. died out, and a sentiment favorable to its existence arose; and the reaction was carried so far that the pulpits devoted their powers to the demonstration of a divine origin and a divine character for slavery. The slave trade had, however, come to a close by act of Congress on Jan. 1, 1808 — the passing of the measure preceding that of the British Parliament by seven days. But the interstate trade in slaves continued. The breeding of negroes for the slave market became a regular business, whose proportions enlarged with the extension of the slave using territory. The political measures of the Southern States were wholly designed to promote the interests and the extension of slavery, culminating in the Fugitive slave Law of 1850, by which any slave-owner was authorized to follow an escaped slave into any part of the Union, and compel the assistance of citizens for the recovery of the bondman. The operation of this law outraged the moral sense of the world, and led to the initiation of antislavery efforts by which the sentiment of the free states was thoroughly revolutionized. In these agitations the names of Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and others became prominent as the leaders of the abolition movement. which realized its object when, on Jan. 1, 1863, the emancipation of slaves went into effect wherever the authority of the United States was recognized. The success of the Northern arms soon made that proclamation universally prevalent.
The relation of the churches to the question of slavery involved grave inconsistencies of practice, among Evangelicals, at least. The Roman Catholic and Protestant Episcopal churches never expressed an authoritative condemnation of slavery, and in the war for the Union the influence of the Papal Church was emphatically favorable to the South; but other churches were opposed in principle to slavery, while they tolerated it in practice, and tried hard to persuade themselves that slavery is right. The Methodist Episcopal Church was set right by the separation of 1844; the Presbyterian Church by the New school Assembly's declaration of 1857, and by the separation, consequent on the war, in 1861. In each denomination of Protestants, except the Protestant Episcopalian, the remarkable fact came to pass that the churches in slave holding communities became the defenders, while those in free territory became the determined opponents, of slavery. The progress of events has, however, wrought a great change of opinion among the more influential classes of the South. The extinction of slavery in the United States is, at any rate, a fact whose influence over the ideas of the people cannot be resisted. For the attitude of each: particular Church towards this subject, see the articles devoted to the several denominations.
The latest aspect of the relation of slavery to Christianity appears in connection with the planting of Christian missions in the interior of Africa, as one of the consequences of the recent explorations of Livingstone, Stanley, and others. The Christian communities of Liberia and Sierra Leoine afford opportunity for an invasion of African heathendom from the west, which is expected to be made sooner or later. The day is evidently near when the superior might of Christian principles shall control the world, to the exclusion of all trade in human flesh when it shall be impressed on the entire human family that to every individual man belongs the right "to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." See Hune, Vollst. Darstellung aller Verander. d. Negersklavenhandels (Gott. 1820); Wadstrom, Observations of the Slave trade; Clarkson, Hist. of the Abolition of the Slave trade; Burkhardt, Evangel. Mission unter d. Negern in West-Afrika (Bielefeld, 1859); Wilson,. Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America; Greeley, The American Conflict (Hartford, 1866).