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THE INCOMPATIBILITY OF SLAVERY WITH
THE LAWS AND PRINCIPLES OF THE OLD
SLAVERY being defined to be a condition in which one is compelled to serve another without the means of redress when wronged, it would seem to be superfluous to attempt to shew that the Bible condemns slavery. Nevertheless it may be profitable to see in what terms the inspired books express God's mind in reference to it.
God, when he created man, enstamped upon him his own image. He endowed him with an intellectual and moral nature, with a capacity for mental and moral progress. To fetter man's mind as slavery does, is therefore rebellion against God. It is man's prerogative to have dominion, because he has an intelligent and a moral mind unlike the rest of God's visible creation. God gives him “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."
But slavery takes this dominion from him, and in making him a chattel deposes him from the authority to which nature has entitled him. He subdues the earth, but his master takes the products; he conquers the horse, but he ploughs him for his master; not an ox, not a fowl, not a sparrow, not a reptile, can he call his own but by sufferance of his master. Has God justified this usurpation ? Never ! for God is no" respecter of persons.” If he has endowed the white skined Franklin with a capacity to catch the lightning and enchain it, he has thereby forbid his fellow man to fetter the mind or the limbs of his genius. No less does he command that the dark-skinned Ethiopian be left at liberty to compete with Franklin or with Newton. If governments must be instituted among men, it is for the protection of the individual's liberty, and not for its restraint. It is to prevent his abuse of it, to the injury of others, but never to limit it. This is God's prerogative, not man's.
And what has God taught in his awful judgment against the earth in the days of Noah, but that man must not violate the rights of his fellow man? Is it too much to say, that slavery was the specific cause of the deluge ? 66 The earth was filled with violence.' What does this mean, if it be not man's struggles for dominion, the one over the other ? This was the great wickedness that brought the waters of the flood to sweep away human life.
And what a lesson did God teach man by the four hundred years captivity of Judah and his brethren and their posterity, in consequence of their laying violent hands upon their brother and selling him into slavery? With the measure they meted, it was more than measured to them again. They said themselves, “ Therefore is this distress come upon us.'
But neither had the Egyptians a right to enslave even those who had been guilty of enslaving their brother. And mark how God visited Pharaoh and his host with his mighty judgments, and how he overwhelmed them in the sea. And when Israel forgat that they were once in the
house of bondage, and in their forgetfulness of God used oppression, and exercised robbery, and vexed the poor and needy; yea, oppressed the stranger wrongfully,” then did God in his judgment deliver them into captivity to the wicked Babylonians, until the Babylonians in their turn suffered themselves what they had meted to the Jews. And thus does all history prove how God will deal with those who enslave their fellow men.
But let us turn to the law as given by Moses, and see there God's condemnation of slavery.
6 And shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus xxii. 21.)
66 Thou shalt not oppress a stranger, for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus xxiii. 9.)
What is the meaning of this? The Jews were strangers in Egypt, and were there enslaved ; let them remember this and how God delivered them, and let them not now make slaves of strangers.
But there was a law in direct terms forbidding the enslavement of man, and all slaveholding.
“ He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus xxi. 16.)
Again we find this law :
“ Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates where it liketh him best : thou shalt not oppress him.” (Deut. xxiii. 15, 16.)
If a master should undertake to treat his servant as a slave, he might leave him, and go to another, and no man was allowed to deliver him back to his master, whatever may have been the conditions of the service. The escape was itself evidence that the servant felt himself oppressed, and then every other house was to be his refuge and his castle.
And further to guard the children of Israel from being stolen and sold to a strange nation, this law was also enacted :