Those who do not learn from the evil in history are doomed to repeat it. If we are looking for men of the reformed church in the 19th century to look up to, we need to find some new heroes. Here’s one.
Alexander McLeod, a post-millennial Covenanter and a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian church, refused to be party to the great sin of American Chattel slavery. Below is a small excerpt (he is extremely thorough) where he is in the midst of dismantling the pro-slavery arguments point by point on the basis of scripture. It wasn’t just words. He displays real maturity in being able to properly discern between good and evil. He refused to commune with American-chattel slaveholders or recognize them as brothers as they were engaged in treachery. He knew the difference between the kind of “slavery” permitted in scripture and the abomination that was taking place in America. Biblically, slavery was either temporarily (as restitution), or explicitly for the temporary and peculiar purposes of navigating the land of Canaan with the 7 nations directly adjacent to Israel. Never based on skin color.
Full article here.
“In the fall of 1800, he was called to the pastorate of Coldenham and New York, but he declined because there were slave-holders among those who signed the call. The matter was brought before Presbytery, which court enacted, without a dissenting voice, that “no slave-holder should be allowed the communion of the Church.”
Negro Slavery Unjustifiable,
A DISCOURSE, BY ALEXANDER M’LEOD, A.M.
Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation
OBJECTION IV. “God permitted the ancient Israelites to hold their fellow creatures in servitude. Men and women were bought and sold among them. The bond servant is called his master’s money. Exod. 21:21. Had it been wrong in its nature to enslave any human being, God could not have granted the Hebrews a permission to do it. Negro slavery, stripped of some accidental cruelties, is not necessarily wicked.”
ANSWER. This objection requires minute attention. The fact is granted. Heaven did permit the Hebrews to purchase some of the human race for servitude. The general principle deduced front this fact is also granted. It is, in certain cases, lawful to enslave our fellow creatures. The application of it to justify the practice of modern nations is by no means admissible.
God is the Lord of the universe. As the Supreme Governor, he does what is right. His subjects have violated his law, abused their liberty, and rebelled against the majesty of Heaven. They have forfeited to his justice the liberty and the life he gave them. These they must yield. They will, at the time appointed by the Judge, be enclosed in the grave. The sovereign has also a right to the use of whatever instrument he chooses in the execution of the sentence. He may choose the famine or the pestilence, the winds or the waves, wild beasts or human beings, to be the executioners. Again:
Civil society has certain laws, to which its members, voluntarily claiming its privileges, have assented. A violation of these is the violation of a contract, and the penalty stipulated must be paid by the offender. When, by a person’s licentiousness, justice is violated, or society endangered, it is just and necessary to enslave the criminal, and make his services, if possible, useful to society. This much I cheerfully grant; and shall now proceed to show that the objection does not apply to the doctrine which I have been endeavouring to establish.
You cannot argue conclusively, in defence of negro slavery, from the practice of the ancient Hebrews, unless you can prove, 1st. That the slavery into which they were permitted to reduce their fellow creatures was similar to that in which the negroes are held: and, 2dly, That you have, the same permission which they had, extended to you. If proof fails in either of these, the objection is invalid, and I undertake to show that both are without proof.
I. The servitude into which the Hebrews were permitted to reduce their fellow men was attended with such restrictions as rendered it essentially different from the negro slave-trade. It may be considered, 1. With reference to their brethren; 2. As it respected strangers.
1. A natural descendant of Abraham might, in two cases, be sold by the magistrates into servitude. These were theft and insolvency. And so great was the regard for freedom which their code of laws discovered, that even the thief could not be enslaved while he had property sufficient to answer the demands of the law for the theft. Exod. 22.:1-4. If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for the ox, and four sheep for the sheep. If a thief have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. The servitude into which the debtor was sold for the benefit of the creditor was not severe. Lev. 25:39-43. If thy brother that dwelleth with thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond servant, but as an hired servant and as a sojourner he shall be with thee. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour, but shalt fear thy God. In both cases the duration of this species of slavery was limited to six years. On the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. Exod. 21:2. And it was required, in the case of the debtor, that his master should give him some stock on which he might again begin business for the support of his family. Deut. 15:12-15. When thou sendest him out free, thou shalt furnish him liberally of thy flock, thy floor, and thy wine-press.
Both these laws evidence the greatest care of the liberties of individuals which is consistent with the real interest of the nation. They are strong motives to industry, and guard against burdensome taxation for the support of prisons.
2. There were two classes of aliens with respect to which the Israelitish law gave directions—those who belonged to any of the neighbouring Canaanitish tribes in particular, and such as belonged to other nations in general. With respect to the latter, the law was exactly the same as to the Hebrews themselves. Lev. 24:20. Ye shall have one manner of law as well for the stranger as for one of your own country. Verse 35, next chapter. If thy brother be waxen poor, then thou shalt relieve him—yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner. But there are particular exceptions from this general law, which guaranteed from invasion the life, the liberty, and the property of aliens. These exceptions refer to the remains of the conquered tribes living among the Israelites, or to such of the nations of Canaan as were around them. Lev. 25:44,45. Of the heathen that are round about you, shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Of the children of the strangers that sojourn among you, shall ye buy, and of the families which they begat in your land. This permission was merciful. The descendants of Abraham were expressly appointed the executioners of the divine sentence against the tribes of Canaan. Extermination was the command; but on their voluntary subjection they were only reduced into a state of servitude. The Israelites were forbidden to use them harshly. Exod. 21:26. Accordingly, the Gibeonites, when they craftily obtained the safety of their lives, were reduced into the situation of bond servants. Joshua 9. When Saul treated them with cruelty, God was offended, and even punished David because he did not avenge that cruelty on the house of Saul, at an early part of his reign. 2 Sam. 21:1. I proceed,
II. To prove that this example is not for our imitation. The Israelites themselves had no right to fit out their ships with their implements of cruelty, in order to steal, buy, stow away, and chain men of other nations, living, without injury to them, at a distance from their shores. Had they done so, no future traffic could have rendered their prizes legitimate. They were officially employed by Heaven to punish the iniquity of the nations which they vanquished. They were ordered to subdue, destroy or enslave the descendants of Canaan, and take possession of the land covenanted to their father Abraham, As a peculiar people, they were to be kept distinct until Messiah should come. The remains of foreign nations could not, therefore, be admitted to the rights of citizenship. The wall of partition is now broken down. All mankind are our brethren. There is no similarity of Circumstances between us and the ancient Hebrews—no divine permission that can justify us in holding slaves. Although the slavery were exactly the same with that into which the blacks are reduced, the practice of modern nations would remain unjustifiable.
The descendants of Shem have, in the Hebrew nation, reduced Canaan into a state of servitude; and the offspring of Japheth have supplanted those of Shem in both spiritual and temporal privileges.