Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

[B]

or at variance with the exemplary character Abraham was to sustain ; but instead of this, directions are given in relation to these dependent members of his family, and a sanction is given to their continuance in their inferior condition. But while they were continued in Abraham's family with all their civil disabilities, they were made capable of enjoy. ing the moral and religious advantages which Abraham had himself become possessed of, by the covenant established with him. This is an interesting and important fact, connected with the calling of the great founder and head of the Jewish Church. It was permitted in the order of Providence, that the condition of slavery shonld be continued that servants might be bought and sold; but though they were thus lowered as to certain civil and political rights, the Divine benevolence so directed, that this circumstance should not occasion to them any moral or religious disability. They might be introduced into the Church of God by its initiatory rights, and be partakers of its sealing ordinances, and might therefore be, as to their eventual and final con. dition, on a footing of perfect equality with their owners. Abraham might buy his servants, and he did buy them ; but while he thus obtained the benefit of their services upon earth, he was to favor their instruction in religious truth, and be instrumental in their introduction to the Church of God, and the covenant established with them was to be an earnest or pledge of their everlasting happiness. They were to serve their owners upon earth, and were required to serve them with fidelity ; but to the joys of the apper world, they and their owners were made capable of being admitted in precisely the same way, on exactly the same terms, through the same propitiatory sacrifice, and by the same faithful performance of the duties devolving upon them in their respective stations. The condition of servitude was evidently recognized in the earliest ages of the Church, but servants had abundant cause of gratitude for the kindness shewn them by their heavenly Father, who assigns to all their respective stations in life, and who, though he saw fit to allot to them an inferior situation in a world of trial, and of perpetual changes, yet did not thereby in any degree de. prive them of those spiritual consolations, which are altogether inde. pendent of our earthly condition, and which they might enjoy equally with those to whom they owed civil obedience. Their moral charac. ters were in no respect lowered : they might rather be exalted in con. sequence of their civil condition; and they might, in a faithful dis. charge of duty, look forward with the same confidence their owners might do in consequence of similar fidelity, to those rewards of a well spent life, which should be of endless duration.

In the 20th chapter of Genesis, we have an account of Abraham's sojourning in Gerar, and of his imprudence in pretending that his wife,

was his sister merely; and in the 14th verse of that chapter, we find that after Abraham had been rebuked for his indiscretion, that the king of Gerar “ took sheep and oxen, and men servants and women servants," and gave them to Abraham. The present was no doubt intended as an atonement for what the king was sensible had been improper in his conduct, though he had done no actual injury ; but the transaction evidences that men servants and women servants were given away or sold, with as little ceremony as oxen or sheep were ; for slavery existed in Gerar as it did in other places, and servants were there, as in other places, considered a part of a man's property or possessions.-The present of servants was, in this case, as readily received, as it was freely offered.

In the 24th chapter of Genesis, we have an account of the measures taken by Abraham for the settlement of his son Isaac in life. In re. flecting on this subject, it became a matter of much solicitude to the parent, that a suitable companion should be selected for his son, and particularly that he should not become connected with one of the idolatrous women of Canaan. He therefore directed an old servant, who had been many years in his family, and who he had probably purchased in his younger days, to take the necessary measures for obtaining a wife for Isaac, from amongst some of his distant kindred, who were, like himself, worshippers of the only living and true God. The ser. vant accordingly went into the land of Mesopotamia, and endeavored by a prudent course of conduct, to bring the important business with which he was entrusted, to a happy termination. In the over-ruling providence of God, it was so directed that an interview soon took place between the servant of Abraham and a female named Rebecca, who was found to be related to Abraham, and who the servant readily con. cluded would be a suitable companion for his master's son. Under the pious influence with which he had long been familiar in the family to which he belonged, he “ blessed the Lord,” who had thus far directed and prospered him in his journey, and he soon, in simple and appropri. ate terms, disclosed to the damsel the object of his visit to that section of country, and let her know that his purpose was to obtain for the son of his master a bosom companion. And in the belief that his object would be attained, if she would favor his views, he made a brief state. ment of his own situation in Abraham's family, and of his master's circumstances, and of the eligible connection she would form in consenting to the proposed alliance. In the language of gratitude and of piety, he stated that “the Lord had greatly blessed his master," and that he had become great : He has, said he, “ given him flocks and herds, and silver and gold, and men servants and maid servants, and camels and asses.' The interview terminated to the servant's satisfac.

tion. Rebecca was not insensible to the advantages of the connection proposed to her, and was not disposed to reject an offer presented, as she thought, under the guidance of an over-ruling Providence, and she became soon after the wife of Isaac. It is obvious here, that the possession of men servants and maid servants were enumerated as amongst the blessings from the Lord, as well as the flocks and the herds, the silver and the gold, with which Abraham was enriched. Nor is any intimation given, that Rebecca hesitated to become the wife of Isaac, on account of his being, or his father's being a slave-holder; nor did she seem to consider the moral character of either of them as affected by that circumstance. Whether her own family had been always accustomed to the possession of men and women servants, may not be certain-from her going to draw water for the flocks, and the readiness with which she drew for the camels of Abraham's servant, it would seem, that in conformity to the custom of that time and country, she would not depend upon others to do for her, that which she could perform for herself—nor did she seem to notice the apparent want of politeness in the servant of Abraham, in not offering to assist in draw. ing the water which he himself needed. The reason he did not, resulted, no doubt, from his desire to obtain unequivocal evidences of the leadings of Providence, in the meeting between him and the beautiful female, who he fondly hoped was to become a member of his master's family. In

process of time, Rebecca became the mother of Jacob, who, amidst the vicissitudes of an eventful life, was the peculiar object of the divine care; and we find it recorded in the 43d verse of the 30th chapter of Genesis, that “he increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and men servants and maid servants, and camels and asses. It is well known to those who read the Bible, how frequently the Lord declares himself to be, 6 the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,” and how these patriarchs became the heads and founders, under God, of that Church in which the true worship of Jehovah was to be preserved, and from which the Gospel has been transmitted to the present period. Yet all these persons were slave owners, and slave holders, either by purchase or inheritance, or both. , Slaves were enumerated as amongst their possessions, as silver and gold, and camels and asses were ; and as amongst the blessings bestowed upon them. And there is no intimation, 1 believe, made, that the holding of this species of pro. perty was improper, or that slavery was at variance with the arrangements of Divine Providence.

After the descendants of these patriarchs, or rather after the children of Jacob had suffered the oppressions of Egypt for many years, and the Lord had resolved to deliver them, we find in the directions

[9]

given for the observance of the Passover, the same distinction made between the servants bought with money, and the other servants, that had been made several hundred years before in the family of Abraham-for it may be recollected, that the servants bought with money by Abraham, were to be made members of the Jewish Church, by its regular instituted ordinance, because, they being the property of Abra. ham, he was responsible for them, and they became sharers in his religious privileges; but hired servants were on a different footing they could claim a sort of qualified independence of those who hired them, and to whom they owed no permanent obedience. So, when the children of Jacob, or as they were now called, the children of Israel, were about to be delivered from Egypt, it is said, in the 44th verse of the 12th chapter of Exodus, that, “every man's servant that was bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat of the Passover-a foreigner or a hired servant shall not eat thereof." These regulations all seem to indicate, that important duties rest upon those who are the owners of servants, either by purchase or inheritance, as to the religious instruction to be given them, in order to prepare them for becoming members of the Church of God. In the direc. tions relative to the sacramental feasts, the distinction is constantly made between hired servants, and servants bought with money, and the more dependent condition of the latter seems proportionable to in. crease the responsibility of those who own them. No intimation seems to be given, that the buying of servants is improper, but the due discharge of duty towards them is imperiously enjoined.

In the 21st chapter of Exodus, many directions are given relative to slaves most of these, no doubt, refer to Hebrew slaves, who were in many respects differently situated from the slaves purchased of other nations ; but the distinction between the two is strongly marked in the 20th and 21st verses, where it is declared that, “if a man smite his servant, or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall surely be punished,” but “ if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished, for he is his money.” The wanton destruction of the life of a slave, was considered like a similar outrage upon any other indivi. dual, as murder, and was punished as such. But the law scarcely supposed that any owner of a slave would voluntarily subject himself to the loss of his value, by taking away his life, though he might accidentally incur such a misfortune by imprudence-he might give his slave moderate correction for misconduct with impunity, but if in doing this he exceeded the bounds of moderation, and death ensued, he should be punished; but if the unfortunate stroke which happened to prove fatal, was rather the result of accident than intention, and the slave lived a day or two after the chastisement given, the master should not

then be punished, because the slave was his money, whose life the mag. ter would have been interested in preserving, and whose loss was a pecuniary punishment to him, for his indiscretion or violence. This law was not greatly different from the law existing amongst us at the present day, in relation to the government of slaves--the owners may punish them for misconduct, and that with some severity, if they are inconsiderately inclined to do so; but, if under such punishment the slave should actually die, the owner would assuredly be made answerable therefor, according to the circumstances of the case, whether it should turn out to be murder, or manslaughter, or excusable homicide.

The children of Israel, who were the peculiar and chosen people of God, were not to buy or sell into perpetual servitude, the children of each other—they were all members of one great privileged family, and could only sell themselves or their children for a limited period ; but for a limited period even the Hebrew children might be sold and kept in bondage to each other. But the Israelites were permitted and directed to buy their slaves of the nations round about them. In the 25th chapter of Leviticus, 44th, 45th and 46th vcrses, are the following directions on this subject :-“ Both thy bond men and thy bond maids, which thou shall have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you—of them shall ye buy bond men and bond maids :" moreover of the children of strangers that sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land, and they shall be your possession. And

ye
shall take them as an inheritance for

your

children after you to inherit them for a possession ; they shall be your

bondmen forever : “ but over your brethren of the children of Israel, ye shall not rule, one over another with rigor.” Here are directions given for the purchase of slaves, and the designation of the period for which they might be held in servitude-they should be purchased for an inheritance for the children of the purchaser, and they should inherit them for a possession, and they should be bond servants forever. This is a period of servitude as extensive as can be found in any of the slave holding States of the Union. It intimates a continuance of servitude in the person to whom it applies during the entire period of his earthly existence for a longer period no one could desire to have control over this species of property.

The Ten Commandments delivered with awful solemnity from Mount Sinai, and which are justly considered as the great outlines of the Holy Law of God, are intended, in their injunctions and directions, to be of universal obligation, to embrace the various classes of society--the rich and the poor-masters and servants—parents and children. The fourth commandment, and the tenth, suppose a state of servitude to exist

« AnteriorContinuar »