For Lord’s Day, June 8, 2014
Last Sabbath morning’s sermon on Exodus 22:21-27, “Care for the Poor”, had a stark warning about how God would personally and severely reward those who take advantage of the defenseless. It reminded me of something I had intended to share with you when we began the first case laws for the nation under God, a concern for human rights that included not taking advantage of slaves (“Love Liberty, Love Your Master”).
The above video is something I am thankful to have been involved in producing for the seminary from which I graduated (while also working there), the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Seminary was celebrating its bicentennial in 2010 by highlighting an important part of its denomination’s history (the RPCNA): becoming the first denomination in the United States to outlaw its members from owning slaves. And the impetus was far north of the Mason-Dixon line.
The Reverend Alexander McLeod explained to an RPCNA congregation in New York why he would not take a call to minister to them while some of its members owned slaves (during a time when it was legal to do so in the country). In his 1802 work, “Negro Slavery Unjustifiable: A Discourse”, he wrote:
“The toleration of slavery is a national evil. It is the worst of robberies sanctioned by law … If the Judge of all the earth shall do right, he cannot but punish the guilty … O America, what hast thou to account for on the head of slavery! … Thou hast made provision for increasing the number and continuing the bondage of thy slaves. Thy judgments may tarry, but they will assuredly come.”
Six decades later, President Abraham Lincoln intimated such divine judgment over all of the country for the slave industry in his Second Inaugural Address:
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Rev. McLeod’s Scripture text was one we looked at not long ago (which we also addressed in sins forbidden in the 8th Commandment in the Westminster Larger Catechism, 142), Exodus 21:16: And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. This threat from God is striking to consider in light of our nation’s horrid history of battles with American Slavery. And it is sobering to consider it with His similar warnings in last week’s text to reward a nation that tolerates injustice upon the defenseless with His holy justice, measure for measure: If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword [war]; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless … when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious. (Exodus 22:23-24, 27)
May we not only defend those who cannot defend themselves in our society, but may we never defend our nation’s history for having taken advantage of the defenseless. God has warned us in this text, that our history never repeat itself and again suffer His consequences.