The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter IV: Servitude in the Primitive Church Compared with American Slavery
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
"Look now upon this picture!--and on this."
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, Cæsar, 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
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 labouring, and nerving itself by nights
of prayer to meet desertion, betrayal, denial, rejection, by his beloved people,
and ignominious death, they were for ever 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 myth--a mystery--a strange, supernatural, inexplicable
being, for ever talking in parables, and saying things which they could not
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 reverie, 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 baptised with the baptism wherewith I shall be baptised?"
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
"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 fervour and imagery and fire of the old prophets seemed to be raised
from the dead, etherealised 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.
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.
The primitive Church, as organised 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, symbolising 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 honourable,
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 on 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 baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles,
whether we be bond or free; and whether one member suffer, all members suffer
with it, or one member be honoured, 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's 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 who 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, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.
A delicate and mysterious sympathy is supposed to pervade this Church,
like that delicate and mysterious tracery of nerves that overspreads the human
body; the meanest member cannot suffer without the whole body quivering in
pain. Thus says Paul, who was himself a perfect realisation of this beautiful
theory: "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn
not?" "To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also."
But still further, individual Christians were reminded, in language of
awful solemnity, "What! know ye not that your body is the temple of
the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and that ye are not
your own?" And again, "Ye are the temple of the living God; as
God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them." Nor was this
sublime language in these days passed over as a mere idle piece of rhetoric,
but was the ever-present consciousness of the soul.
Every Christian was made an object of sacred veneration to his brethren,
as the temple of the living God. The soul of every Christian was hushed into
awful stillness, and inspired to carefulness, watchfulness, and sanctity,
by the consciousness of an in-dwelling God. Thus Ignatius, who for his pre-eminent
piety was called, par excellence, by his Church, "Theophorus, the
God-bearer," when summoned before the Emperor
Trajan, used the following remarkable language: "No one can call Theophorus
an evil spirit ,* * * * for, bearing in my heart Christ the King of Heaven,
I bring to nothing the arts and devices of the evil spirits."
"Who, then, is 'the God-bearer'?" asked Trajan.
"He who carries Christ in his heart," was the reply.* * * *
Dost thou mean him whom Pontius Pilate crucified?"
"He is the one I mean," replied Ignatius.* * * *
"Dost thou, then, bear the crucified one in thy heart?" asked
"Even so," said Ignatius; "for it is written, 'I will
dwell in them and rest in them.' "
So perfect was the identification of Christ with the individual Christian
in the primitive Church, that it was a familiar form of expression to speak
of an injury done to the meanest Christian as an injury done to Christ. So
St. Paul says, "When ye sin so against the weak brethren, and wound
their weak consciences, ye sin against Christ." He says of himself,
"I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
See; also, the following extracts from a letter by Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage,
to some poor Numidian Churches, who had applied to him to redeem some of their
members from slavery among bordering savage tribes. (Neander, Denkw I. 340.)
We could view the captivity of our brethren no otherwise than as our own,
since we belong to one body, and not only love, but religion, excites us to
redeem in our brethren the members of our own body. We must, even if affection
were not sufficient to induce us to keep our brethren, we must reflect that
the temples of God are in captivity, and these temples of God ought not, by
our neglect, long to remain in bondage.* * * *
Since the Apostle says, "as many of you as are baptised have put
on Christ," so in our captive brethren we must see before us CHRIST, who
hath ransomed us from the danger of captivity, who hath redeemed
us from the danger of death; Him who hath freed us from the abyss of Satan,
and who now remains and dwells in us to free Him from the hands of barbarians!
With a small sum of money to ransom Him who hath ransomed us by his cross
and blood, and who hath permitted this to take place that our faith may be
Now, because the Greek word doulos may mean a slave,
and because it is evident that there were men in the Christian Church who
were called douloi, will anybody say, in the whole
face and genius of this beautiful institution, that these men were held actually
as slaves in the sense of Roman and American law? Of all dry, dull, hopeless
stupidities, this is the most stupid. Suppose Christian masters did have servants
who were called douloi, as is plain enough they did,
is it not evident that the word douloi had become
significant of something very different in the Christian Church from what
it meant in Roman law? It was not the business of the apostles to make new
dictionaries; they did not change words--they changed things. The baptised,
regenerated, new-created doulos, of one body and one
spirit with his master, made one with his master, even as Christ is one with
the Father, a member with him of that Church which is the fulness of Him who
filleth all in all--was his relation to his Christian master like that
of an American slave to his master? Would he who regarded his weakest brother
as being one with Christ hold his brother as a chattel personal?
Could he hold Christ as a chattel personal? Could he sell Christ for money?
Could he hold the temple of the Holy Ghost as his property, and gravely defend
his right to sell, lease, mortgage, or hire the same, at his convenience,
as that right has been argued in the slaveholding pulpits of America?
What would have been said at such a doctrine announced in the Christian
Church? Every member would have stopped his ears, and cried out, "Judas!"
If he was pronounced accursed who thought that the gift of the Holy Ghost
might be purchased with money, what would have been said of him who held that
the very temple of the Holy Ghost might be bought and sold, and Christ the
Lord become an article of merchandise? Such an idea never was thought of.
It could not have been refuted, for it never existed. It was an unheard-of
and unsupposable work of the devil, which Paul never contemplated as even
possible, that one Christian could claim a right to hold another Christian
as merchandise, and to trade in the "member of the body, flesh and bones"
of Christ. Such a horrible doctrine never polluted the innocence of the Christian
Church even in thought.
The directions which Paul gives to Christian masters and servants sufficiently
show what a redeeming change had passed over the institution. In 1st Timothy,
St. Paul gives the following directions, first, to those who have heathen
masters, second, to those who have Christian masters. That concerning heathen
masters is thus expressed: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke
count their own masters worthy of all honour, that
the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed." In the next verse
the direction is given to the servants of Christian masters: "They that
have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren,
but rather do them service because they are faithful and beloved, partakers
of the benefit." Notice, now, the contrast between these directions.
The servant of the heathen master is said to be under the yoke, and it is
evidently implied that the servant of the Christian master was not under the
yoke. The servant of the heathen master was under the severe Roman law; the
servant of the Christian master is an equal, and a brother. In these circumstances,
the servant of the heathen master is commanded to obey for the sake of recommending
the Christian religion. The servant of the Christian master, on the other
hand, is commanded not to despise his master because he is his brother; but
he is to do him service because his master is faithful and beloved, a partaker
of the same glorious hopes with himself. Let us suppose, now, a clergyman,
employed as a chaplain on a cotton plantation, where most of the
members on the plantation, as we are informed is sometimes the case, are members
of the same Christian Church as their master, should assemble the hands around
him and say, "Now, boys, I would not have you despise your master because
he is your brother. It is true you are all one in Christ Jesus; there is no
distinction here; there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither negro nor white
man, neither bond nor free, but ye are all brethren--all alike members
of Christ, and heirs of the same kingdom; but you must not despise your master
on this account. You must love him as a brother, and be willing to do all
you can to serve him, because, you see, he is a partaker of the same benefit
with you, and the Lord loves him as much as he does you." Would not
such an address create a certain degree of astonishment both with master and
servants? and does not the fact that it seems absurd show that the relation
of the slave to his master in American law is a very different one from what
it was in the Christian Church? But again, let us quote another passage, which
slave-owners are much more fond of. In Colossians iv. 22, and v. 1--"Servants,
obey, in all things, your masters, according to the flesh; not with eye-service
as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart as fearing God; and whatsoever
ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men, knowing that of
the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the
Lord Christ." "Masters, give unto servants that which is just
and equal, knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven."
Now, there is nothing in these directions to servants which would show
that they were chattel servants in the sense of slave-law; for they will apply
equally well to every servant in Old England and New England; but there is
something in the direction to masters which shows that they were not considered
chattel servants by the Church, because the master is commanded to give unto
them that which is just and equal, as a consideration for their service. Of
the words "just and equal," "just" means that which
is legally theirs, and "equal" means that which is in itself equitable,
irrespective of law.
Now, we have the undoubted testimony of all legal authorities on American
slave-law, that American slavery does not pretend
to be founded on what is just or equal either. Thus Judge Ruffin says: "Merely
in the abstract, it may well be asked which power of the master accords with
right. The answer will probably sweep away all of them;" and this principle,
so unequivocally asserted by Judge Ruffin, is all along implied and taken
for granted, as we have just seen in all the reasonings upon
slavery and the slave-law. It would take very little legal acumen to see that
the enacting of these words of Paul into a statute by any State would be a
practical abolition of slavery in that State.
But it is said that St. Paul sent Onesimus back to his master. Indeed!
but how? When, to our eternal shame and disgrace,
the horrors of the Fugitive Slave Law were being enacted in Boston, and the
very Cradle of Liberty resounded with the groans of the slave, and men harder-hearted
than Saul of Tarsus made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, haling
men and women, committing them to prison; when whole Churches of humble Christians
were broken up and scattered like flocks of trembling sheep; when husbands
and fathers were torn from their families, and mothers, with poor, helpless
children, fled at midnight, with bleeding feet, through snow and ice, towards
Canada; in the midst of these scenes, which have made America a by-word, and
a hissing, and an astonishment among all nations, there were found men, Christian
men, ministers of the gospel of Jesus, even--alas that this should ever
be written!--who, standing in the pulpit, in the name, and by the authority
of Christ, justified and sanctioned these enormities, and used this most loving
and simple-hearted letter of the martyr Paul to justify these unheard-of atrocities!
He who said, "Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is offended and
I burn not?"--he who called the converted slave his own body, the
son begotten in his bonds, and who sent him to the brother of his soul with
the direction, "Receive him as myself, not now as a slave, but above
a slave, a brother beloved" --this beautiful letter, this outgush
of tenderness and love passing the love of a woman, was held up to be pawed
over by the polluted hobgoblin fingers of slave-dealers and slave-whippers
as their lettre de cachet, signed and sealed in the
name of Christ and his apostles, giving full authority to carry back slaves
to be tortured and whipped, and sold in perpetual bondage, as were Henry Long
and Thomas Sims! Just as well might a mother's letter, when, with prayers
and tears, she commits her first and only child to the cherishing love and
sympathy of some trusted friend, be used as an inquisitor's warrant for inflicting
imprisonment and torture upon that child. Had not every fragment of the apostle's
body long since mouldered to dust, his very bones would have moved in their
grave, in protest against such slander on the Christian name and faith. And
is it to come to this, O Jesus Christ! have such things been done in thy name,
and art thou silent yet? Verily, thou art a God that bidest thyself O God
of Israel the Saviour!