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This ownership of a human being, as an article of property, is the essential feature of American slavery. In this respect it exactly copies the Roman slavery of the time of the apostles. By judicial decisions under Southern law, “slaves are deemed, held, taken, reputed and adjudged in law to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, construetions and purposes whatsoever.”* That is the legal condition of the slave : and that condition, of a human being declared by law a chattel, an article of property or merchandise, defines the essential nature of slavery. The privation of every right, the possibility of every wrong, is couched in this one principle of Southern law, that the slave is a chattel.
Keeping this in mind, I ask again, DoES CHRISTIANITY SANCTION SLAVERY 2’ But we must also define Christianity. The Ghent professor, with the very art of Woltaire, confounds Christianity with the Roman Catholic Church, and thus charges upon the gospel the hostility to liberty which he alleges against that church. But Christianity is not to be identified with any ecclesiastical system, nor with the opinions and practices of any of its ministers or professors. It has its own text-book,
* South Carolina code, Prince's Digest, 446. The Louisiana civil code, Art. 35, declares that “a slave is one who is in the power of a master to whom he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his industry, and his labor. He can do nothing, possess nothing, nor acquire anything, but what must belong to his master.” This principle has been abundantly maintained by Southern courts.
(See in Wheeler's Law of Slavery, Stroud's Sketch of the Laws relating to Slavery, Goodell's American Slave Code, etc.)
and its spirit and teachings must be learned directly from the New Testament. Thus placing Slavery and Christianity side by side, I affirm, that neither in the New Testament nor in the Old, neither by precept nor by example, neither by precedent nor by indirection, does the Bible sanction slavery ; but that the religion of the Bible is thoroughly hostile to slavery, in spirit and in principle, in precept and in practice. ` The evidence upon this point is both critical and historical. The critical inquiry must embrace an analysis of the Mosaic laws of servitude, and the attitude of Christianity toward slavery, in the teachings of Christ and his apostles, or in the Apostolic age. The historical inquiry, starting from the age of the New Testament, will, for convenience, trace the influence of Christianity upon slavery : (1.) From the time of the Apostles to the time of Constantine –when the new religion, struggling for its own life, first came into contact with the organized iniquities of the pagan world. (2.) Its influence upon slavery from Constantine till the Reformation ; and, (3.) The relations of the gospel to slavery in modern Christendom.
WHAT was the attitude of Christianity toward slavery in the apostolic age? For the answer, we go directly to the New Testament. When our Lord began his ministry, whatever kind of bond-service had formerly existed among the Jews, servitude had ceased to be an institution of Hebrew society. There was then no such thing as a system of slavery in Judea. Here and there, a Roman officer appears to have had a few house or body slaves. Herod, the Idumean, had such servants. Possibly some of the wealthier Jews, also, had servants over whom they claimed the right of control. “But in the time of the second temple, we know that no slaves were held by the Essenes, or by the Therapeutae; for these sects rejected all slavery, as in contravention with the natural equality of men. The Pharisees, too, were, on moral grounds, opposed to the holding of many slaves, and recommended instead, for household service, the employment of indigent Hebrews.” In the time of Christ, the Jews, to whom our Lord addressed his personal ministry, were not, in any proper Sense, a slave-holding people; and though there were occasional traces of the old Mosaic code of servitude, this was fast dying out under the combined influence of Roman subjugation and domestic poverty; so that there was nothing in the immediate sphere of Christ's labors to call forth a discussion upon the specific evil of slavery. No such case appears in the gospel history.* But the principles laid down by Christ in his discourse at Nazareth, and in the sermon on the mount, are conclusive against the claim of property in man. No man would dream of framing a slave-code out of the words of Christ; of buying or selling a human being by a warrant from the lips of Jesus, or of quoting anything that Christ said as a justification of slavery. Had Jesus of Nazareth excepted the seed of Ham, or the negro, or any class or race, from his proclamation of grace and deliverance, he could not have commanded our homage as the Redeemer of mankind. Every slaveholder knows that an honest application of Christ's golden rule would compel him to relinquish all pretense to property in his fellow-man. Not the most profane audacity of the advocates of slavery, nor the most malignant ingenuity of infidels, has ever attempted to fasten upon Christ himself the sanctioning of slavery by word or deed. The utmost that has been alleged on this point is that he uttered nothing directly against it. Neither did Christ say anything against the tyrannous family laws of the Romans, or the brutal gladiatorial shows. But there is strong presumptive evidence that in the limited sphere of his ministry, slavery did not come before him for judgment either in fact or in theory; and he did lay down principles that make it impossible for a man to hold his fellow as a slave. Would slaveholders consent to have their claims determined by the teachings of Christ, or to put these into the hands of slaves as a manual of their duties? The apostles, especially Paul, in going forth from Judea to propagate Christianity, came in contact with Roman slavery as I have just described it; and the apostolic letters contain several allusions to this system. As Jews versed in the old Testament, the apostles were familiar with the laws of Moses in regard to master and servant. Now, the recognition of slavery, in the sense that our usage and Southern laws attach to the word, cannot be found in the institutes of Moses.
* Mielziner, translated in Am. Theol. Review, Wol. III, p 426. See also p. 52 of the original, Die Verhältnisse der sklaven bei den alten Hebråern.
IN discussing the nature of Hebrew servitude, it is unnecessary to go back of the time of Moses. Abraham, like the Arab sheikh of to-day, had around him a body, not of chattel slaves, but of household retainers, owing fealty to their lord; men whom he trusted with the stewardship of all his property; whom he armed for the rescue of Lot, and led into battle; to one of whom he committed the delicate office of seeking a bride for