Page images





Examination of the Epistle to Philemon. GREAT reliance is placed by the advocates of human slavery on Paul's epistle to Philemon, as furnishing supposed evidence that the latter was a real slaveholder, and at the same time a member of the Christian church by the permission of the apostle himself. From these assumed premises they argue that the practice of human slavery cannot be a sin in itself, for if it were, the apostle would not have admitted Philemon to church membership. They also argue from the same premises, that the conduct of the Apostle in this case is a sufficient moral warrant for the forcible seizure and restoration of fugitive slaves. On account of the confidence with which these pro-slavery pretences are advanced, the whole of this short epistle deserves a very attentive and critical consideration.

A slight examination of the epistle assures us that Philemon was a member of the Christian church, but there is not a particle of evidence in it to prove that he was a slaveholder, but the re

verse, as I shall soon show. Nor is there any evidence that Onesimus was a slave, but the reverse. The too common pro-slavery assumption that they respectively were such, is therefore a mere begging of the question; and that not only without, but against the evidence furnished by the same epistle.

I have already remarked, that as the Greek words doulos" and “oiketes” literally mean “servants,” we have no means of determining whether the persons designated in the New Testament by these words were free servants or slaves, except by the subject matter, by the context, and by the general description in the whole narrative. In this short epistle Onesimus is in the 16th verse called a “ doulos" or man-servant simply, while in the post

script at the end of the epistle, which is supposed to have been the ancient superscription or direction to it, he is called an “oiketes,” or house, or domestic servant, nothing more being indicated by either word to show the special nature of his servitude or service, to ascertain which, with any degree of reasonable probability, we are compelled to resort to the subject matter contained in the context, or rather to the whole epistle, which, so far as it goes, is clearly indicative, or descriptive, not of slavish, but of free service, and leaves no reasonable doubt of the fact that Onesimus was a free and voluntary servant of some kind. Some conjecture from the expression," in the flesh,” used in the same 16th verse, that Onesimus was a natural brother of Philemon, in which case there is no probability that the former was a slave, as the practice of enslaving such near relations was not as common among the ancient heathen as it now is among modern Christians. From the general description in the epistle there is no doubt but that he had quitted his master Philemon's service without leave, and had unjustly injured the latter, and done wrong thereby, which he could not have done if he were a slave, because it is next to impossible for a slave unjustly to injure his owner by quitting his service. All the real injustice is on the side of the master by retaining the slave in bondage, and none at all on the part of the slave in escaping from the same bondage in which he is held contrary to justice. Nor is it credible if Onesimus were a slave, that the Apostle should have blamed him for obeying the Levitical statute contained in Deut. xxiii. 15, 16, “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which has 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.” See also 1 Cor. vii. 21, 23, where the same Apostle directed slaves to regain their liberty if they peaceably could. Ought we for a moment to believe that the Apostle who gave such directions, would have voluntarily assisted in restoring Onesimus to the same unhappy condition he had just escaped from; for this great Apostle not only acted consistently with his own teaching, but no man ever lived who knew better than he did both the natural and revealed injustice and criminality of slavery, or who did less to favor and support it? Besides, we see from the 18th and 19th verses of the epistle, that Onesimus could “owe" Philemon,


which was impossible if he were a slave, but not only possible but very probable, if he were a free servant. There is not the slightest probability that the same Apostle, who, in 1 Tim. i. 9, 10, had characterized slavery as a crime equal to the worst kind of crimes, would have supposed Onesimus had done anything wrong in escaping from it, or would have advised him to return to it again. Fugitive slaves, when retaken and restored to their owners, were generally subjected to torture and other abuse in ancient as well as in modern times, a fate Paul would have been the last man in the world to assist in producing, especially on one of his own converts. As no man ever understood the Levitical law better than he did, and as he reverenced that law, he never would have, violated the statute in Deut. xxiii. 15, 16. The whole course of conduct pursued by the Apostle in the case is entirely inconsistent and incredible, on the supposition that Onesimus was a slave, but entirely consistent and credible, because morally right and proper, on the contrary supposition that Onesimus was a free servant. What a wicked notion is that contended for by 80 many pro-slavery people, that the author of Romans xii. employed himself in enticing back and restoring fugitive slaves ! Yet the conduct of the Apostle in this case is held up and quoted even by Christian Preachers, and professors of religion, as the moral model and justificatory example of all the slaveholders and slave-catchers in the world!

From the foregoing facts, taken in connection with the whole spirit and tenor of the epistle, there is not the slightest probability that Onesimus was a slave, or that Philemon was a slaveholder. The supposition that either were such is a libel on the Christian office and character of the Apostle Paul, and a wicked imputation on the special grace which gave him that office and character, see Acts xxii. 4, 5, 14; Gal. i. 13—16, &c.

From Paul's history and writings we have no more reason to believe that after his conversion he engaged in the practice of theft and other crimes than that he engaged in the fraudulent enticement or forcible seizure and restoration of fugitive slaves, the only effectual means ever employed to return such fugitives. Being as the Apostle to the Gentiles the greatest preacher of the only true religion in the world, he would never have countenanced any kind of heathen customs such as slavery, and all its incidents clearly are. For these reasons I do not know of a more absurd


and wicked perversion of the Scriptures than that which represents the Apostles and their converts to a religion which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle," &c. (James iïi. 17), as engaged in the business of enticing, defrauding, seizing and sending back innocent, heart-broken slaves, to their masters who were like our slaveholders.



The pro-slavery scriptural perversions, which have now been exposed and refuted, are all that are worthy of special notice. They constitute the principal “refuge of lies” by which modern slavery has been morally justified among Christians; and now that they are effectually exploded, it is earnestly hoped and expected that the final overthrow of the system will be speedy and complete. These perversions have been the principal fortress of Christian slavery in modern times, the destruction of which will be a sure prelude to the fall of its idol. It will be comparatively easy to refute other pro-slavery pretences, because they all morally depend on the great perversions now destroyed. Well do the Scriptures represent such perversions, as among the greatest sins, not only on account of their wicked nature, but on account of their tremendous necessary tendency to destroy public and private happiness, which tendency was never more powerfully exemplified by anything than by the progress of modern Christian slavery, Chiefly on the credit and by

. the influence of these perversions, millions of human beings have been customarily robbed of their rights, their liberties, their happiness, and their lives, merely to gratify and pamper the wicked lusts of others, who have also been customarily corrupted and destroyed, by the same wicked gratifications, and thus more misery and destruction inflicted on mankind by these, than by any other wicked causes. From such awful consequences, more perhaps than by anything else, we can easily discover and realize the dreadful enormity of the sin of scriptural perversion. As has been already remarked, these perversions were entirely of Catholic origin, though afterwards copied and adopted by all classes of Protestants, as sound theological doctrine-which conduct, if it do not prove the Protestant churches to be the “Harlot” spoken of in Rev. xvii. 5, furnishes no proof that the Catholic church is the “ Mother” mentioned in the same passage. The same perver: sions have produced a slaveholding priesthood and people, all over Christendom, and laid the foundation of slavery and oppression everywhere. They have produced a slaveholding Christianity, the propagation of which has been visibly followed by the displeasure of God, in every part of the world where the Christian religion now prevails—the same and similar perversions being also customarily employed, to justify the aristocratic oppression, the luxury, the lewdness, the duelling, the wars, and many other public vices so customarily prevalent in all Christian countries. Nor do these terrible effects stop here. It is in vain to

. preach this pro-slavery religion to the heathen, who will not receive it, as indeed they ought not-for such religion not only morally justifies slavery itself, but also all other crimes necessary to support it, and must therefore, in the opinion of every intelligent heathen, be as false at least as his own religion; and operating thus to the special injury of the heathen by enslaving them, they will reject it with abhorrence and disdain. A religion so perverted, and falsified, and discredited, ought not to prevail, for all perversions of the true religion render it a false one, and a false religion is worse than none at all. Such fatal consequences show the extreme necessity of works like this, the design of which is to overthrow and destroy such destructive perversions.

Next to perversions, the most fatal mistake ever made in the science of the true theology, is the doctrine of neglecting and rejecting a part of the law of God in practice—for according to the precepts of that law, as revealed in the Pentateuch and ratified in the New Testament, it was designed to be universal, and to oblige every human being to obey the whole of it, see Gen. i. 26, 28, xii. 3, xxii. 18, xxvi. 3–5, xxviii. 14; Deut. xxvii. 26, xxviii. 1, 15; Jer. xi. 3, 4; Eze. xviii. 21; Matt. v. 17, 19; Rom. iii. 20, 21, 23; James ii. 10, &c., &c. These and numerous similar passages prove, that the promises made to Abraham extended to all mankind; that the moral law given to his posterity, was given to all; that it was to remain in force until the whole of it was fulfilled; that all mankind were bound to obey

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »