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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER VII. MISS OPHELIA.
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CHAPTER VII. MISS OPHELIA.
Miss Ophelia stands as the representative of a numerous class of the very best of Northern people; to whom, perhaps, if our Lord should again address his churches a letter, as he did those of old time, he would use the same words as then: “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil; and thou hast tried them which are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars; and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”

There are in this class of people activity, zeal, unflinching conscientiousness, clear intellectual discriminations between truth and error, and great logical and doctrinal correctness; but there is a want of that spirit of love, without which, in the eye of Christ, the most perfect character is as deficient as a wax flower—wanting in life and perfume.

Yet this blessed principle is not dead in their hearts, but only sleepeth; and so great is the real and genuine goodness, that, when the true magnet of divine love is applied, they always answer to its touch.

So when the gentle Eva, who is an impersonation in childish form of the love of Christ, solves at once, by a blessed instinct, the problem which Ophelia has long been unable to solve by dint of utmost hammering and vehement effort, she at once, with a good and honest heart, perceives and acknowledges her mistake, and is willing to learn even of a little child.

Miss Ophelia, again, represents one great sin, of which, unconsciously, American Christians have allowed themselves to be guilty. Unconsciously it must be, for nowhere is conscience so predominant as among this class, and nowhere is there a more honest strife to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

One of the first and most declared objects of the gospel has been to break down all 31those irrational barriers and prejudices which separate the human brotherhood into diverse and contending clans. Paul says, “In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free.” The Jews at that time were separated from the Gentiles by an insuperable wall of prejudice. They could not eat and drink together, nor pray together. But the apostles most earnestly labored to show them the sin of this prejudice. St. Paul says to the Ephesians, speaking of this former division, “He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.”

It is very easy to see that although slavery has been abolished in the New England States, it has left behind it the most baneful feature of the system—that which makes American worse than Roman slavery—the prejudice of caste and color. In the New England States the negro has been treated as belonging to an inferior race of beings;—forced to sit apart by himself in the place of worship; his children excluded from the schools; himself excluded from the railroad-car and the omnibus, and the peculiarities of his race made the subject of bitter contempt and ridicule.

This course of conduct has been justified by saying that they are a degraded race. But how came they degraded? Take any class of men, and shut them from the means of education, deprive them of hope and self-respect, close to them all avenues of honorable ambition, and you will make just such a race of them as the negroes have been among us.

So singular and so melancholy is the dominion of prejudice over the human mind, that professors of Christianity in our New England States have often, with very serious self-denial to themselves, sent the gospel to heathen as dark-complexioned as the Africans, when in their very neighborhood were persons of dark complexion, who, on that account, were forbidden to send their children to the schools, and discouraged from entering the churches. The effect of this has been directly to degrade and depress the race, and then this very degradation and depression has been pleaded as the reason for continuing this course.

Not long since the writer called upon a benevolent lady, and during the course of the call the conversation turned upon the incidents of a fire which had occurred the night before in the neighborhood. A deserted house had been burned to the ground. The lady said it was supposed it had been set on fire. “What could be any one’s motive for setting it on fire?” said the writer.

“Well,” replied the lady, “it was supposed that a colored family was about to move into it, and it was thought that the neighborhood wouldn’t consent to that. So it was supposed that was the reason.”

This was said with an air of innocence and much unconcern.

The writer inquired, “Was it a family of bad character?”

“No, not particularly, that I know of,” said the lady; “but then they are negroes, you know.”

Now, this lady is a very pious lady. She probably would deny herself to send the gospel to the heathen, and if she had ever thought of considering this family a heathen family, would have felt the deepest interest in their welfare; because on the subject of duty to the heathen she had been frequently instructed from the pulpit, and had all her religious and conscientious sensibilities awake. Probably she had never listened from the pulpit to a sermon which should exhibit the great truth, that “in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free.”

Supposing our Lord was now on earth, as he was once, what course is it probable that he would pursue with regard to this unchristian prejudice of color?

There was a class of men in those days as much despised by the Jews as the negroes are by us; and it was a complaint made of Christ that he was a friend of publicans and sinners. And if Christ should enter, on some communion season, into a place of worship, and see the colored man sitting afar off by himself, would it not be just in his spirit to go there and sit with him, rather than to take the seats of his richer and more prosperous brethren?

It is, however, but just to our Northern Christians to say that this sin has been committed ignorantly and in unbelief, and that within a few years signs of a much better spirit have begun to manifest themselves. In some places, recently, the doors of school-houses have been thrown open to the children, and many a good Miss Ophelia has opened her eyes in astonishment to find that, while she has been devouring the Missionary Herald, and going without butter on her bread and sugar in her tea to send the gospel to the Sandwich Islands, there is a very thriving colony of heathen in her 32own neighborhood at home; and, true to her own good and honest heart, she has resolved, not to give up her prayers and efforts for the heathen abroad, but to add thereunto labors for the heathen at home.

Our safety and hope in this matter is this: that there are multitudes in all our churches who do most truly and sincerely love Christ above all things, and who, just so soon as a little reflection shall have made them sensible of their duty in this respect, will most earnestly perform it.

It is true that, if they do so, they m............
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