The Presbytery of Tombechee being in session, at Starksville Mississippi, April 9th, 1839. A communication was received from Rev. Asa Cummings, in behalf of the General Conference of Congregational Churches in Maine, to which Rev. Henry Reid and Rev. Samuel Hurd were appointed a committee to reply. The Committee reported, and their Report was received and adopted, and the stated clerk directed to forward it, as follows; viz.
To The Committee Of General Conference Of Congregational Churches In Maine.
DEAR BRETHREN, Your communication of the 28th of December 1838, directed to the Rev. Henry Reid for the use of the Presbytery of Tombechee, was duly received. Presbytery will cheerfully give it that attention which its importance and courtesy demand. — The subject involved is delicate, and daily becomes more so, from the morbid sensibilities which are excited pro and con. Such excitement has done much evil, and no good. It has not been the means of making better citizens, better men, or better Christians, in the South, the East, the North, or the West. It has been adding fuel to a flame, that ought to have been extinguished long ago, by the waters of patriotism and Christian affection. On the subject of Slavery we are willing to be guided by the Bible, the unerring word of truth. Where it condemns, we condemn; where it approves, we approve; we are not unwilling for the whole world to know our views on the subject of Slavery. We hold no principles, of which we are ashamed. You say, “The subject of slavery has been introduced into a majority of these Conferences and declared by them to be opposed to natural and revealed law.” This Presbytery does not understand what is meant by “natural law,” as used by the Committee, therefore can give no opinion; but with respect to “revealed law,” it presumes the Bible is meant. In the Bible the state of slavery is clearly recognized, but the condition of the slave, like that of all society, is left to be regulated by the civil police of the state, or country in which it exists. Abram, the friend of God, had slaves born in his house, and bought with his money. “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man-child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. Genesis 17: 12, 13, 23, 27. See also 12: 16 and 14: 14. Isaac possessed slaves, as is evident from Gen. 26: 14. For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him. Jacob held slaves without the least remorse of conscience, or reproof from God, as will be seen from Genesis 30 : 43 and 32: 5. The Lord himself directed Moses and Aaron, how slaves were to be treated with respect to the passover. The Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover; there shall no stranger eat thereof. But every man servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof Exodus 12: 43,44. Slaves were allowed religious privileges, that were not granted to strangers, nor to hired servants. Exod. 12:45. A foreigner, and a hired servant shall not eat thereof. It was no sin for a priest to purchase a slave with his money; and the slave thus purchased was entitled to peculiar privileges. There shall no stranger eat of the holy thing: a sojourner of the priest, or a hired servant, shall not eat of the holy thing. But if the priest buy any soul with his money, he shall eat of it, and he that is born in his house: they shall eat of his meat. Leviticus 22: 10, 11. The Bible warrants the purchase of slaves as an inheritance for children forever. Leviticus 25: 46.And we shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession, they shall be your bondmen forever.
That slavery is not a moral evil, is evident from the fact, that it is no where condemned by the Redeemer, or his apostles in the New Testament. All principles, and all practices, which would exclude from the favor of God, and the kingdom of Heaven, are recorded with great plainness without respect of persons. Witness the manner in which the Scribes and Pharisees were addressed, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5: 20. In a long catalogue of denunciations against various sins by the Redeemer himself, contained in the 23d chapter of Matthew, and from the 13th to the 33d verses inclusive, not a word is said against the sin of slavery.
How does all this come to pass, if it be so “great an evil” as our Brethren seem to think? In the sermon on the Mount not a word is uttered against the sin of slavery. A Centurion came to Jesus in Capernaum, beseeching him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The Centurion answered and said, Lord am not I worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only; and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say unto this man, go; and he goeth; and to another, come, and he cometh; and to my servant, do this; and he doeth it. The Lord said, “I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.” Matt. 8: 5–-10. The Centurion was a slaveholder, and instead of being reproved by the Savior, he received the highest commendation. Let us hear the mind of the Spirit by the mouth of the Apostle Paul. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murder, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal. 5: 19–21. In the whole catalogue of prohibitions which disqualify for the kingdom of Heaven, slavery is not once named. — Did the Apostles say any thing on the subject that justifies its existence among a Christian people?
This Presbytery believes they did. — Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free; use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman. Likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant... Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein, he is called; therein abide with God. 1st Cor. 7: 20–24. The Bible makes slavery a part of the domestic circle; it is associated with husband and wife, parents and children. Slaves are directed in what manner they are to demean themselves, as members “of the civil and social compact. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service, as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether bond or free. And ye, masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening; knowing that your master also is in Heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. Ephesians 6:5—9. Society is a whole, formed by infinite wisdom, with all its functions and functionaries. No honest calling is degraded, or degrading. — Each member of the social compact is to be honored and esteemed, while he continues to move cheerfully and usefully in his proper sphere.
As far back as history gives any account of human associations, whether savage or civil, there have been persons, whose peculiar prerogative it was to perform what is called menial service. The same exists at the present time amongst all the nations of the earth, in every neighborhood, and in each family throughout Christendom. — This Presbytery speaks of the fact, not of the name by which the fact is designated. It matters not whether the persons thus employed are called helps, servants, waiters, or slaves: they have to perform the same service; they have to submit to some rules for the time being; and they must be directed by their employers and if disobedient they must bear the penalty. The probability is that a majority of the whole human race is in this situation. To such, nominal freedom cannot be esteemed a very distinguished blessing, because no provision is made at the expense of the capitalist for the infirmities of the laborer's life, (viz.) helpless infancy, sickness, and decrepid age. With us, for such, ample provision is made. He who has received the benefit of the operator's strength and ingenuity in the prime of life, must nurse him in sickness, and sustain him in the decline of life. All this is done without a murmur. In countries of nominal freedom, an almshouse is the only refuge to which infirmity and old age, in such case, can look for relief— These are facts—open to the observation of all, who are disposed to look at things as they exist. The privileges of the church are the same to all, whether bond or free. All are under the same government. All are subject to the same discipline. A slave cannot be turned out of the church, except by a regular trial according to the rules laid down in our book. They are admitted to the membership of the church, precisely as other members are admitted. Being church members does not prohibit the possibility of being sold, because over the right of property, the church has no control; such authority belongs to another department.
Amongst Christians the voluntary sale of slaves seldom occurs; and where the master and slave are both Christians, perhaps never, unless to accommodate the slave, that he or she may not be separated from some dear relative about to emigrate. On the subject of marriage, the Presbytery feels that the state authorities, ought to make some alterations so as to entirely prevent, even forced sales, to separate husband and wife, They are not often separated, except under the influence of such sales.
Dear Brethren, this Presbytery has given you their honest and candid views on the subject of slavery. If they shall prove the means of giving you information, and setting your conscience at ease on the subject, it will be matter of much gratitude to Him, who has commanded his children to love as Brethren.
A true copy, Attest,
THoMAs C. STUART,
Stated Clerk of Presbytery.
REv. AsA CUMMINGs,
Dear Sir, * * I should have annexed, in its proper place, the following resolution, viz. “On motion, Resolved, that the Conference of Maine be requested to publish the reply of this Presbytery entire, with the addition of the Scriptures referred to.”
Your brother in Christ,
T. C. STUART.
SOURCE: Cyrus P. Grosvenor, Slavery vs. The Bible: A Correspondence Between the General Conference of Maine, and the Presbytery of Tombecbee, Mississippi, p. 10-22