"Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory."
I Cor. 15:57.
Have not many of us, in the weary way of life, felt, in
some hours, how far easier it were to die than to live?
The martyr, when faced even by a death of bodily anguish and
horror, finds in the very terror of his doom a strong stimulant
and tonic. There is a vivid excitement, a thrill and fervor, which
may carry through any crisis of suffering that is the birth-hour
of eternal glory and rest.
But to live,--to wear on, day after day, of mean, bitter, low,
harassing servitude, every nerve dampened and depressed, every
power of feeling gradually smothered,--this long and wasting
heart-martyrdom, this slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life,
drop by drop, hour after hour,--this is the true searching test of
what there may be in man or woman.
When Tom stood face to face with his persecutor, and heard his
threats, and thought in his very soul that his hour was come,
his heart swelled bravely in him, and he thought he could bear
torture and fire, bear anything, with the vision of Jesus and heaven
but just a step beyond; but, when he was gone, and the present
excitement passed off, came back the pain of his bruised and weary
limbs,--came back the sense of his utterly degraded, hopeless,
forlorn estate; and the day passed wearily enough.
Long before his wounds were healed, Legree insisted that he
should be put to the regular field-work; and then came day after
day of pain and weariness, aggravated by every kind of injustice
and indignity that the ill-will of a mean and malicious mind could
devise. Whoever, in our circumstances, has made trial of pain,
even with all the alleviations which, for us, usually attend it,
must know the irritation that comes with it. Tom no longer wondered
at the habitual surliness of his associates; nay, he found the
placid, sunny temper, which had been the habitude of his life,
broken in on, and sorely strained, by the inroads of the same thing.
He had flattered himself on leisure to read his Bible; but there
was no such thing as leisure there. In the height of the season,
Legree did not hesitate to press all his hands through, Sundays
and week-days alike. Why shouldn't he?--he made more cotton by
it, and gained his wager; and if it wore out a few more hands, he
could buy better ones. At first, Tom used to read a verse or two
of his Bible, by the flicker of the fire, after he had returned
from his daily toil; but, after the cruel treatment he received,
he used to come home so exhausted, that his head swam and his eyes
failed when he tried to read; and he was fain to stretch himself
down, with the others, in utter exhaustion.
Is it strange that the religious peace and trust, which had
upborne him hitherto, should give way to tossings of soul and
despondent darkness? The gloomiest problem of this mysterious life
was constantly before his eyes,--souls crushed and ruined, evil
triumphant, and God silent. It was weeks and months that Tom
wrestled, in his own soul, in darkness and sorrow. He thought of
Miss Ophelia's letter to his Kentucky friends, and would pray
earnestly that God would send him deliverance. And then he would
watch, day after day, in the vague hope of seeing somebody sent to
redeem him; and, when nobody came, he would crush back to his soul
bitter thoughts,--that it was vain to serve God, that God had
forgotten him. He sometimes saw Cassy; and sometimes, when summoned
to the house, caught a glimpse of the dejected form of Emmeline,
but held very little communion with either; in fact, there was no
time for him to commune with anybody.
One evening, he was sitting, in utter dejection and prostration,
by a few decaying brands, where his coarse supper was baking.
He put a few bits of brushwood on the fire, and strove to
raise the light, and then drew his worn Bible from his pocket.
There were all the marked passages, which had thrilled his soul so
often,--words of patriarchs and seers, poets and sages, who from
early time had spoken courage to man,--voices from the great cloud
of witnesses who ever surround us in the race of life. Had the
word lost its power, or could the failing eye and weary sense no
longer answer to the touch of that mighty inspiration? Heavily
sighing, he put it in his pocket. A coarse laugh roused him; he
looked up,--Legree was standing opposite to him.
"Well, old boy," he said, "you find your religion don't work,
it seems! I thought I should get that through your wool, at last!"
The cruel taunt was more than hunger and cold and nakedness.
Tom was silent.
"You were a fool," said Legree; "for I meant to do well by you,
when I bought you. You might have been better off than Sambo,
or Quimbo either, and had easy times; and, instead of getting cut
up and thrashed, every day or two, ye might have had liberty to
lord it round, and cut up the other niggers; and ye might have had,
now and then, a good warming of whiskey punch. Come, Tom, don't
you think you'd better be reasonable?--heave that ar old pack of
trash in the fire, and join my church!"
"The Lord forbid!" said Tom, fervently.
"You see the Lord an't going to help you; if he had been, he
wouldn't have let me get you! This yer religion is all a mess
of lying trumpery, Tom. I know all about it. Ye'd better hold to
me; I'm somebody, and can do something!"
"No, Mas'r," said Tom; "I'll hold on. The Lord may help me,
or not help; but I'll hold to him, and believe him to the last!"
"The more fool you!" said Legree, spitting scornfully at him,
and spurning him with his foot. "Never mind; I'll chase you down,
yet, and bring you under,--you'll see!" and Legree turned away.
When a heavy weight presses the soul to the lowest level at
which endurance is possible, there is an instant and desperate
effort of every physical and moral nerve to throw off the weight;
and hence the heaviest anguish often precedes a return tide of joy
and courage. So was it now with Tom. The atheistic taunts of his
cruel master sunk his before dejected soul to the lowest ebb; and,
though the hand of faith still held to the eternal rock, it was a
numb, despairing grasp. Tom sat, like one stunned, at the fire.
Suddenly everything around him seemed to fade, and a vision rose
before him of one crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding.
Tom gazed, in awe and wonder, at the majestic patience of the face;
the deep, pathetic eyes thrilled him to his inmost heart; his soul
woke, as, with floods of emotion, he stretched out his hands and
fell upon his knees,--when, gradually, the vision changed: the
sharp thorns became rays of glory; and, in splendor inconceivable,
he saw that same face bending compassionately towards him, and a
voice said, "He that overcometh shall sit down with me on my throne,
even as I also overcome, and am set down with my Father on his throne."
How long Tom lay there, he knew not. When he came to himself,
the fire was gone out, his clothes were wet with the chill and
drenching dews; but the dread soul-crisis was past, and, in the
joy that filled him, he no longer felt hunger, cold, degradation,
disappointment, wretchedness. From his deepest soul, he that
hour loosed and parted from every hope in life that now is, and
offered his own will an unquestioning sacrifice to the Infinite.
Tom looked up to the silent, ever-living stars,--types of the
angelic hosts who ever look down on man; and the solitude of the
night rung with the triumphant words of a hymn, which he had sung
often in happier days, but never with such feeling as now:
"The earth shall be dissolved like snow,
The sun shall cease to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.
"And when this mortal life shall fail,
And flesh and sense shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.
"When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining like the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun."
Those who have been familiar with the religious histories of
the slave population know that relations like what we have
narrated are very common among them. We have heard some from their
own lips, of a very touching and affecting character. The psychologist
tells us of a state, in which the affections and images of the mind
become so dominant and overpowering, that they press into their
service the outward imagining. Who shall measure what an all-pervading
Spirit may do with these capabilities of our mortality, or the ways
in which He may encourage the desponding souls of the desolate?
If the poor forgotten slave believes that Jesus hath appeared and
spoken to him, who shall contradict him? Did He not say that his,
mission, in all ages, was to bind up the broken-hearted, and set
at liberty them that are bruised?
When the dim gray of dawn woke the slumberers to go forth to the
field, there was among those tattered and shivering wretches one
who walked with an exultant tread; for firmer than the ground he
trod on was his strong faith in Almighty, eternal love. Ah, Legree,
try all your forces now! Utmost agony, woe, degradation, want,
and loss of all things, shall only hasten on the process by which
he shall be made a king and a priest unto God!
>From this time, an inviolable sphere of peace encompassed the
lowly heart of the oppressed one,--an ever-present Saviour
hallowed it as a temple. Past now the bleeding of earthly regrets;
past its fluctuations of hope, and fear, and desire; the human
will, bent, and bleeding, and struggling long, was now entirely
merged in the Divine. So short now seemed the remaining voyage of
life,--so near, so vivid, seemed eternal blessedness,--that life's
uttermost woes fell from him unharming.
All noticed the change in his appearance. Cheerfulness and
alertness seemed to return to him, and a quietness which no
insult or injury could ruffle seemed to possess him.
"What the devil's got into Tom?" Legree said to Sambo. "A while
ago he was all down in the mouth, and now he's peart as a cricket."
"Dunno, Mas'r; gwine to run off, mebbe."
"Like to see him try that," said Legree, with a savage grin,
"wouldn't we, Sambo?"
"Guess we would! Haw! haw! ho!" said the sooty gnome,
laughing obsequiously. "Lord, de fun! To see him stickin' in de
mud,--chasin' and tarin' through de bushes, dogs a holdin' on to
him! Lord, I laughed fit to split, dat ar time we cotched Molly.
I thought they'd a had her all stripped up afore I could get 'em off.
She car's de marks o' dat ar spree yet."
"I reckon she will, to her grave," said Legree. "But now,
Sambo, you look sharp. If the nigger's got anything of this sort
going, trip him up."
"Mas'r, let me lone for dat," said Sambo, "I'll tree de coon.
Ho, ho, ho!"
This was spoken as Legree was getting on his horse, to go to
the neighboring town. That night, as he was returning, he
thought he would turn his horse and ride round the quarters, and
see if all was safe.
It was a superb moonlight night, and the shadows of the graceful
China trees lay minutely pencilled on the turf below, and
there was that transparent stillness in the air which it seems
almost unholy to disturb. Legree was a little distance from the
quarters, when he heard the voice of some one singing. It was not
a usual sound there, and he paused to listen. A musical tenor
"When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes
"Should earth against my soul engage,
And hellish darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan's rage,
And face a frowning world.
"Let cares like a wild deluge come,
And storms of sorrow fall,
May I but safely reach my home,
My god, my Heaven, my All."
["On My Journey Home," hymn by Isaac Watts, found in many
of the southern country songbooks of the ante bellum period.]
"So ho!" said Legree to himself, "he thinks so, does he? How I hate
these cursed Methodist hymns! Here, you nigger," said he, coming
suddenly out upon Tom, and raising his riding-whip, "how dare you
be gettin' up this yer row, when you ought to be in bed? Shut yer
old black gash, and get along in with you!"
"Yes, Mas'r," said Tom, with ready cheerfulness, as he rose
to to in.
Legree was provoked beyond measure by Tom's evident happiness;
and riding up to him, belabored him over his head and shoulders.
"There, you dog," he said, "see if you'll feel so comfortable,
But the blows fell now only on the outer man, and not, as
before, on the heart. Tom stood perfectly submissive; and yet
Legree could not hide from himself that his power over his bond
thrall was somehow gone. And, as Tom disappeared in his cabin,
and he wheeled his horse suddenly round, there passed through his
mind one of those vivid flashes that often send the lightning of
conscience across the dark and wicked soul. He understood full
well that it was GOD who was standing between him and his victim,
and he blasphemed him. That submissive and silent man, whom taunts,
nor threats, nor stripes, nor cruelties, could disturb, roused a
voice within him, such as of old his Master roused in the demoniac
soul, saying, "What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of
Nazareth?--art thou come to torment us before the time?"
Tom's whole soul overflowed with compassion and sympathy for
the poor wretches by whom he was surrounded. To him it seemed
as if his life-sorrows were now over, and as if, out of that strange
treasury of peace and joy, with which he had been endowed from
above, he longed to pour out something for the relief of their
woes. It is true, opportunities were scanty; but, on the way to
the fields, and back again, and during the hours of labor, chances
fell in his way of extending a helping-hand to the weary, the
disheartened and discouraged. The poor, worn-down, brutalized
creatures, at first, could scarce comprehend this; but, when it
was continued week after week, and month after month, it began to
awaken long-silent chords in their benumbed hearts. Gradually and
imperceptibly the strange, silent, patient man, who was ready to
bear every one's burden, and sought help from none,--who stood
aside for all, and came last, and took least, yet was foremost to
share his little all with any who needed,--the man who, in cold
nights, would give up his tattered blanket to add to the comfort
of some woman who shivered with sickness, and who filled the baskets
of the weaker ones in the field, at the terrible risk of coming
short in his own measure,--and who, though pursued with unrelenting
cruelty by their common tyrant, never joined in uttering a word of
reviling or cursing,--this man, at last, began to have a strange
power over them; and, when the more pressing season was past, and
they were allowed again their Sundays for their own use, many would
gather together to hear from him of Jesus. They would gladly have
met to hear, and pray, and sing, in some place, together; but Legree
would not permit it, and more than once broke up such attempts,
with oaths and brutal execrations,--so that the blessed news had
to circulate from individual to individual. Yet who can speak the
simple joy with which some of those poor outcasts, to whom life
was a joyless journey to a dark unknown, heard of a compassionate
Redeemer and a heavenly home? It is the statement of missionaries,
that, of all races of the earth, none have received the Gospel with
such eager docility as the African. The principle of reliance and
unquestioning faith, which is its foundation, is more a native
element in this race than any other; and it has often been found
among them, that a stray seed of truth, borne on some breeze of
accident into hearts the most ignorant, has sprung up into fruit,
whose abundance has shamed that of higher and more skilful culture.
The poor mulatto woman, whose simple faith had been well-nigh
crushed and overwhelmed, by the avalanche of cruelty and wrong
which had fallen upon her, felt her soul raised up by the hymns
and passages of Holy Writ, which this lowly missionary breathed
into her ear in intervals, as they were going to and returning from
work; and even the half-crazed and wandering mind of Cassy was
soothed and calmed by his simple and unobtrusive influences.
Stung to madness and despair by the crushing agonies of a life,
Cassy had often resolved in her soul an hour of retribution,
when her hand should avenge on her oppressor all the injustice and
cruelty to which she had been witness, or which she had in her
own person suffered.
One night, after all in Tom's cabin were sunk in sleep, he was
suddenly aroused by seeing her face at the hole between the logs,
that served for a window. She made a silent gesture for him
to come out.
Tom came out the door. It was between one and two o'clock at
night,--broad, calm, still moonlight. Tom remarked, as the light
of the moon fell upon Cassy's large, black eyes, that there was
a wild and peculiar glare in them, unlike their wonted fixed despair.
"Come here, Father Tom," she said, laying her small hand on
his wrist, and drawing him forward with a force as if the hand
were of steel; "come here,--I've news for you."
"What, Misse Cassy?" said Tom, anxiously.
"Tom, wouldn't you like your liberty?"
"I shall have it, Misse, in God's time," said Tom. "Ay, but
you may have it tonight," said Cassy, with a flash of sudden
energy. "Come on."
"Come!" said she, in a whisper, fixing her black eyes on him.
"Come along! He's asleep--sound. I put enough into his brandy
to keep him so. I wish I'd had more,--I shouldn't have wanted you.
But come, the back door is unlocked; there's an axe there, I put
it there,--his room door is open; I'll show you the way.
I'd a done it myself, only my arms are so weak. Come along!"
"Not for ten thousand worlds, Misse!" said Tom, firmly,
stopping and holding her back, as she was pressing forward.
"But think of all these poor creatures," said Cassy. "We might
set them all free, and go somewhere in the swamps, and find an
island, and live by ourselves; I've heard of its being done.
Any life is better than this."
"No!" said Tom, firmly. "No! good never comes of wickedness.
I'd sooner chop my right hand off!"
"Then I shall do it," said Cassy, turning.
"O, Misse Cassy!" said Tom, throwing himself before her, "for the
dear Lord's sake that died for ye, don't sell your precious soul
to the devil, that way! Nothing but evil will come of it. The Lord
hasn't called us to wrath. We must suffer, and wait his time."
"Wait!" said Cassy. "Haven't I waited?--waited till my head
is dizzy and my heart sick? What has he made me suffer? What has
he made hundreds of poor creatures suffer? Isn't he wringing the
life-blood out of you? I'm called on; they call me! His time's
come, and I'll have his heart's blood!"
"No, no, no!" said Tom, holding her small hands, which were
clenched with spasmodic violence. "No, ye poor, lost soul, that
ye mustn't do. The dear, blessed Lord never shed no blood but his
own, and that he poured out for us when we was enemies. Lord, help
us to follow his steps, and love our enemies."
"Love!" said Cassy, with a fierce glare; "love such enemies!
It isn't in flesh and blood."
"No, Misse, it isn't," said Tom, looking up; "but He gives it
to us, and that's the victory. When we can love and pray over
all and through all, the battle's past, and the victory's
come,--glory be to God!" And, with streaming eyes and choking voice,
the black man looked up to heaven.
And this, oh Africa! latest called of nations,--called to the
crown of thorns, the scourge, the bloody sweat, the cross of
agony,--this is to be thy victory; by this shalt thou reign with
Christ when his kingdom shall come on earth.
The deep fervor of Tom's feelings, the softness of his voice,
his tears, fell like dew on the wild, unsettled spirit of the
poor woman. A softness gathered over the lurid fires of her eye;
she looked down, and Tom could feel the relaxing muscles of her
hands, as she said,
"Didn't I tell you that evil spirits followed me? O! Father
Tom, I can't pray,--I wish I could. I never have prayed since my
children were sold! What you say must be right, I know it must;
but when I try to pray, I can only hate and curse. I can't pray!"
"Poor soul!" said Tom, compassionately. "Satan desires to
have ye, and sift ye as wheat. I pray the Lord for ye. O! Misse
Cassy, turn to the dear Lord Jesus. He came to bind up the
broken-hearted, and comfort all that mourn."
Cassy stood silent, while large, heavy tears dropped from
her downcast eyes.
"Misse Cassy," said Tom, in a hesitating tone, after surveying
her in silence, "if ye only could get away from here,--if the
thing was possible,--I'd 'vise ye and Emmeline to do it; that
is, if ye could go without blood-guiltiness,--not otherwise."
"Would you try it with us, Father Tom?"
"No," said Tom; "time was when I would; but the Lord's given
me a work among these yer poor souls, and I'll stay with 'em
and bear my cross with 'em till the end. It's different with you;
it's a snare to you,--it's more'n you can stand,--and you'd better
go, if you can."
"I know no way but through the grave," said Cassy. "There's no
beast or bird but can find a home some where; even the snakes
and the alligators have their places to lie down and be quiet; but
there's no place for us. Down in the darkest swamps, their dogs
will hunt us out, and find us. Everybody and everything is against
us; even the very beasts side against us,--and where shall we go?"
Tom stood silent; at length he said,
"Him that saved Daniel in the den of lions,--that saves the
children in the fiery furnace,--Him that walked on the sea,
and bade the winds be still,--He's alive yet; and I've faith to
believe he can deliver you. Try it, and I'll pray, with all my
might, for you."
By what strange law of mind is it that an idea long
overlooked, and trodden under foot as a useless stone, suddenly
sparkles out in new light, as a discovered diamond?
Cassy had often revolved, for hours, all possible or probable
schemes of escape, and dismissed them all, as hopeless and
impracticable; but at this moment there flashed through her mind
a plan, so simple and feasible in all its details, as to awaken an
"Father Tom, I'll try it!" she said, suddenly.
"Amen!" said Tom; "the Lord help ye!"