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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER IV. SERVITUDE IN THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH COMPARED WITH AMERICAN SLAVERY.
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CHAPTER IV. SERVITUDE IN THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH COMPARED WITH AMERICAN SLAVERY.
“Look now upon this picture!——and on this.”
Hamlet.

It is the standing claim of those professors of religion at the South who support slavery that they are pursuing the same course in relation to it that Christ and his apostles did. Let us consider the course of Christ and his apostles, and the nature of the kingdom which they founded, and see if this be the fact.

Napoleon said, “Alexander, C?sar, Charlemagne and myself, have founded empires; but upon what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon LOVE.”

The desire to be above others in power, rank and station, is one of the deepest in human nature. If there is anything which distinguishes man from other creatures, it is that he is par excellence an oppressive animal. On this principle, as Napoleon observed, all empires have been founded; and the idea of founding a kingdom in any other way had not even been thought of when Jesus of Nazareth appeared.

When the serene Galilean came up from the waters of Jordan, crowned and glorified by the descending Spirit, and began to preach, saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” what expectations did he excite? Men’s heads were full of armies to be marshalled, of provinces to be conquered, of cabinets to be formed, and offices to be distributed. There was no doubt at all that he could get all these things for them, for had he not miraculous power?

Therefore it was that Jesus of Nazareth was very popular, and drew crowds after him.

Of these, he chose, from the very lowest walk of life, twelve men of the best and most honest heart which he could find, that he might make them his inseparable companions, and mould them, by his sympathy and friendship, into some capacity to receive and transmit his ideas to mankind.

But they too, simple-hearted and honest though they were, were bewildered and bewitched by the common vice of mankind; and, though they loved him full well, still had an eye on the offices and ranks which he was to confer, when, as they expected, this miraculous kingdom should blaze forth.

While his heart was struggling and laboring, and nerving itself by nights of prayer to meet desertion, betrayal, denial, rejection, by his beloved people, and ignominious death, they were forever wrangling about the offices in the new kingdom. Once and again, in the plainest way, he told them that no such thing was to be looked for; that there was to be no distinction in his kingdom, except the distinction of pain, and suffering, and self-renunciation, voluntarily assumed for the good of mankind.

His words seemed to them as idle tales. In fact, they considered him as a kind of a 229myth,—a mystery,—a strange, supernatural, inexplicable being, forever talking in parables, and saying things which they could not understand.

One thing only they held fast to: he was a king, he would have a kingdom; and he had told them that they should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

And so, when he was going up to Jerusalem to die,—when that anguish long wrestled with in the distance had come, almost face to face, and he was walking in front of them, silent, abstracted, speaking occasionally in broken sentences, of which they feared to ask the meaning,—they, behind, beguiled the time with the usual dispute of “who should be greatest.”

The mother of James and John came to him, and, breaking the mournful train of revery, desired a certain thing of him,—that her two sons might sit at his right hand and his left, as prime ministers, in the new kingdom. With his sad, far-seeing eye still fixed upon Gethsemane and Calvary, he said, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup which I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism wherewith I shall be baptized?”

James and John were both quite certain that they were able. They were willing to fight through anything for the kingdom’s sake. The ten were very indignant. Were they not as willing as James and John? And so there was a contention among them.

“But Jesus called them to him and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and their great ones exercise authority upon them; but it shall not be so among you.

“Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant,—yea, the servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Let us now pass on to another week in this history. The disciples have seen their Lord enter triumphantly into Jerusalem, amid the shouts of the multitude. An indescribable something in his air and manner convinces them that a great crisis is at hand. He walks among men as a descended God. Never were his words so thrilling and energetic. Never were words spoken on earth which so breathe and burn as these of the last week of the life of Christ. All the fervor and imagery and fire of the old prophets seemed to be raised from the dead, etherealized and transfigured in the person of this Jesus. They dare not ask him, but they are certain that the kingdom must be coming. They feel, in the thrill of that mighty soul, that a great cycle of time is finishing, and a new era in the world’s history beginning. Perhaps at this very feast of the Passover is the time when the miraculous banner is to be unfurled, and the new, immortal kingdom proclaimed. Again the ambitious longings arise. This new kingdom shall have ranks and dignities. And who is to sustain them? While therefore their Lord sits lost in thought, revolving in his mind that simple ordinance of love which he is about to constitute the sealing ordinance of his kingdom, it is said again, “There was a strife among them which should be accounted the greatest.”

This time Jesus does not remonstrate. He expresses no impatience, no weariness, no disgust. What does he, then? Hear what St. John says:

“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God and went to God, he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself. After that, he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” “After he had washed their feet and had taken his garments and was sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well, for so I am. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet; for I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you.”

“Verily, verily I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord, neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”

Here, then, we have the king, and the constitution of the kingdom. The king on his knees at the feet of his servants, performing the lowest menial service, with the announcement, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”

And when, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, all these immortal words of Christ, which had lain buried like dead seed in the heart, were quickened and sprang up in celestial verdure, then these twelve became, each one in his place, another Jesus, filled with the spirit of him who had gone heavenward. 230The primitive church, as organized by them, was a brotherhood of strict equality. There was no more contention who should be greatest; the only contention was, who should suffer and serve the most. The Christian church was an imperium in imperio; submitting outwardly to the laws of the land, but professing inwardly to be regulated by a higher faith and a higher law. They were dead to the world, and the world to them. Its customs were not their customs; its relations not their relations. All the ordinary relations of life, when they passed into the Christian church, underwent a quick, immortal change; so that the transformed relation resembled the old and heathen one no more than the glorious body which is raised in incorruption resembles the mortal one which was sown in corruption. The relation of marriage was changed, from a tyrannous dominion of the stronger sex over the weaker, to an intimate union, symbolizing the relation of Christ and the church. The relation of parent and child, purified from the harsh features of heathen law, became a just image of the love of the heavenly Father; and the relation of master and servant, in like manner, was refined into a voluntary relation between two equal brethren, in which the servant faithfully performed his duties as to the Lord, and the master gave him a full compensation for his services.

No one ever doubted that such a relation as this is an innocent one. It exists in all free states. It is the relation which exists between employer and employed generally, in the various departments of life. It is true, the master was never called upon to perform the legal act of enfranchisement,—and why? Because the very nature of the kingdom into which the master and slave had entered enfranchised him. It is not necessary for a master to write a deed of enfranchisement when he takes his slaves into Canada, or even into New York or Pennsylvania. The moment the master and slave stand together on this soil, their whole relations to each other are changed. The master may remain master, and the servant a servant; but, according to the constitution of the state they have entered, the service must be a voluntary one on the part of the slave, and the master must render a just equivalent. When the water of baptism passed over the master and the slave, both alike came under the great constitutional law of Christ’s empire, which is this:

“Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, yea, the servant of all.” Under such a law, servitude was dignified and made honorable, but slavery was made an impossibility.

That the church was essentially, and in its own nature, such an institution of equality, brotherhood, love and liberty, as made the existence of a slave, in the character of a slave, in it, a contradiction and an impossibility, is evident from the general scope and tendency of all the apostolic writings, particularly those of Paul.

And this view is obtained, not from a dry analysis of Greek words, and dismal discussions about the meaning of doulos, but from a full tide of celestial, irresistible spirit, full of life and love, that breathes in every description of the Christian church.

To all, whether bond or free, the apostle addresses these inspiring words: “There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” “For through him we all have access, by one Spirit, unto the Father.” “Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ, himself, being the chief corner-stone.” “Ye are all the children of God, by faith in Jesus Christ; there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

“For, as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ; for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

It was the theory of this blessed and divine unity, that whatever gift, or superiority, or advantage, was possessed by one member, was possessed by every member. Thus Paul says to them, “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or life, or death, all are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

Having thus represented the church as one living body, inseparably united, the apostle uses a still more awful and impressive simile. The church, he says, is one body, and that body is the fulness of Him who filleth all in all. That is, He 231who filleth all in all seeks this church to be the associate and complement of himself, even as a wife is of the husband. This body of believers is spoken of as a bright and mystical bride, in the world, but not of it; spotless, divine, immortal, raised from the death of sin to newness of life, redeemed by the blood of her Lord, and to be presented at last unto him, a glorious church, ............
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