Welcome to the book by Rev. John G. Fee, Non-Fellowship With Slaveholders The Duty of Christians (1849). To go to the "Table of Contents" immediately, click here.
Prior to the 1861-1865 War, there were a number of Christian abolitionists who opposed slavery. Nowadays, their Biblical-based reasons are generally unknown.
This series of websites educates by making the text of their writings accessible. Whether or not you agree with their position, it is at least a good idea to know what it was!
This site in the series reprints the named book by Rev. John G. Fee (1816-1901), a Kentucky clergyman, who wrote several anti-slavery books, and founded Berea College.
It in essence elaborates and elucidates the position taken years earlier by
Rev. Fee is a writer skilled at writing in clear language, and the editor hopes the information here is of value to you.
The book applies certain Bible principles.
Duty of Christians,
Rev. John G. Fee
(New York: John A. Gray, 1849, 1855 ed.)
||Non-Fellowship With Slaveholders The Duty of Christians||3
||I. God Commands Christians So to Do||4
||II. Fidelity to Souls Around Us Requires That We
||III. Fidelity to God's Word Requires That Christians
||IV. Again, The Prosperity and Well-Being of
||V. The Purity of Public Morals Demands
||VI. Consistency Requires That We
||VII. Your Usefulness Demands It||21
||VIII. Again, We Should Have No Fellowship
||IX. Again, We Should Have No Fellowship with Slavery, ||27
||1. Surely Not For Every Error Should I
||2. If We Discipline the Slaveholder, We Shall
||3. So the Slaveholder Is a True Believer, So He Gives||31
||4. We Must Take the Slaveholder In, and Allow Him ||33
||5. I Believe Slavery is Sinful, and That the Church Ought
||6. There Are Many Other Portions of Scripture Supposed
||7. Christ Communed, Continued Fellowship with
||8. Everyone Is to Judge of His Own Fitness||55
||9. If We Must Avoid Sinners, We Must Leave
||10. The Scriptures Teach Us to Mark Them
||11. We Must Be Subject to The Powers That Be||58
||12. Slavery Is A Political Matter, and As Such,||59
||13. These Divisions and Discussions Cause So ||61
||14. I Must Not Give Up All Else in my Church For ||62
||15. Say What You Will, I Am Not
||16. I Desire A Non-slaveholding Church, But There ||65
||17. I Am Daily Praying for A Pure Church,
|JOHN G. FEE.|
NON-FELLOWSHIP WITH SLAVEHOLDERS
THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS.
I. God Commands Christians So To Do.
"Now, I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an EXTORTIONER; with such an one, no, not to eat." 1 Cor. v. 11.That slavery is the worst form of extortion practised by men, few will deny. To extort is "to draw from by force—to gain by oppression."—Webster.
"'The law is made for menstealers.' This crime among the Jews exposed the perpetrators of it, as we have seen, to capital punishment; (see Exod. xxi. 16;) and the apostle here classes them with sinners of the first rank. The word he uses, in its original import, comprehends all who are concerned in bringing any of the human race into slavery, or in retaining them in it. Stealers of men are those who bring off slaves or freemen, and keep, sell, or buy them. 'To steal a freeman,' says [Hugo] Grotius [1583-1645], 'is the highest kind of theft. In other instances we only steal human property; but when we steal or retain men in slavery, we seize those who in common with ourselves are constituted, by the original grant, lords of the earth.' Gen. i. 28."
|Ed. Note: For more on the Genesis "original grant concept," as reaffirmed in Psalm 8:6-8 and Hebrews 2:6-8, see
The "original grant" was rulership, dominion, over the earth, fish, fowl, herbs, THINGS, NOT people.
As ruler, people had God as King. Period. Merely wanting another ruler is rejecting God. 1 Sam. 8:5-9.
God merely tolerates, "suffers," puts up with very temporarily [Acts 13:18], "winks at," disregard of his original intent, but "commands" all to repent and forthwith follow his original intent. Acts 17:30. And, said Peter, "Obey God rather than men." Acts 5:29.
For reference to God's continued will that people must follow his original intent, original grant, marri-age rules, etc., as per his revelation, words and actions, at "the beginning," see Matthew 19:8 (divorce example, criticizing religious leaders NOT following original intent, thus misleading others).
Blatant sinners, e.g., slavers, people-detainers, defy God's "original grant," "beginning" intent, concept. Doing so reveals a carnal mind, unconverted, not withstanding sham pretense of being 'pro-Bible.'
"!L`D"B@`4`J0l, Slave-dealers—whether those who carry on the traffic in human flesh and blood, or those who steal a person in order to sell him into bondage, or those who buy such stolen men or women, no matter of what color, or what country; or the nations who legalize or connive at such traffic; all these are menstealers, and God classes them with the most flagitious of mortals."
"Whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause [because they sought not for truth] God shall send them [or as it may be rendered, permit] strong delusion, that they might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." See 2 Thes. ii. 9-12.Again, truth is perverted; souls believe the falsehood and are damned. Fundamental error taught and received, as certainly ruins the soul as poison does the body.
"If the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand." Ezek. xxxiii. 6.
|"When I seek my bed (of straw) at night,
There's not a thing that meets my sight,
But tells me that my soul's delight,
I sink to sleep, and then I seem
Gone—till my toils and griefs are o'er,
"Shall man be allowed to enjoy his natural rights?"—"Shall the oppressed go free?" Tens of thousands are rising up and saying, "My vote shall be cast for no man who is not in favor of this reasonable requirement."Yea, many think it such an immorality, an act of such injustice, to deprive an unoffending man of his dearest rights, liberty, personal ownership, that they will not vote for any man who is a slaveholder—a slaveholder by choice and practice. They deem such an act a great moral disqualification, and will not bestow office on such a man.
|"You say you have some time since decided, that after a faithful expression of what you conceive to be truth to your brethren, it is your duty to withdraw and have no connection with a slaveholding body, if they show no disposition to repent, or hear what you believe to be essential truth. You have borne as full and as public testimony (referring to two years' labor in their midst) against the alleged sin, as you ever can do, unless it is by withdrawing all connection with us."|
"Mr. ———, your talk is good, but your practice is bad."
What he meant was, that his neighbor regarded the relation as sinful, and yet fellowshipped it in the church. The brother understood him—felt the point of the rebuke, and replied:
"I have for months clearly seen that my God commands me not to eat with extortioners, and I regard slaveholding as the worst form of extortion; and also, my God commands me to come out from a corrupt church, practising this very sin, as mystic Babylon did. I have been trying to rouse the brethren to action, and have gone with a burthened conscience ever since to the communion table. I will bear it no longer. If you are present next Sunday, you shall see my actions consistent with my words."When Sabbath came, he publicly withdrew, bore his testimony against the sin, and any fellowship with it, and supported his new position by appropriate portions of God's Word. Now, all whom we hear speak, not only say they believe the man sincere, but also consistent. The writer, as almost every other man in our country, has heard slaveholders and their apologists say, "Such a course only is consistent in those who regard slavery as sinful."
|"MESSRS. EDITORS:—Will you, or some of your valuable correspondents, tell me how to meet the following objection, which I have to meet wherever I go among the wild Karens:
'If we become disciples, when you get a large number of us, you intend to entice us away and make slaves of us in your own country.'This objection is often urged with as much seriousness and confidence as though they were actually acquainted wtth the system of American slavery. Did these ignorant but slave-hating heathen but know the slaveholding character of the American churches, would they not say to our faces,
'Go back, thou hypocrite, go back, and teach the heathen of your own country, and give them the Bible, before you come here to impose upon us.'I am fully persuaded that did they know it, this would in substance be the language of many a wild Karen."
|"According to the Bible, a man may stand in the relation of master and hold slaves, and yet be a fair and reputable and consistent professor of the religion of the Bible. That the Hebrews held servants as perpetual property and transmitted them to their children; that Onesimus was a slave, Philemon a slave-holder, and Paul recognized Philemon's right to his slave by sending the slave back to him."—Dr. Junkin.|
"Resolved, That as the Great Head of the Church has recognized the relation of master and slave [Ed. Note: employer and employee], we conscientiously believe that slavery is not a sin against God." [Ed. Note: H. B. Stowe showed that there are no masters, only kidnappers.]On the floor of the General Assembly preceding the last, a member boldly declared that he had "bought a slave woman, and had paid for her in preaching." At the last General Assembly the body appointed a slaveholder to administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Slaveholding is no crime in the eyes of that body. And though some Northern members know it not, ministera, elders, and members of this Church, in Kentucky and other Southern States, buy, hold, and sell slaves just as unrestrained as other citizens.
|Ed. Note: For more on Mr. Shannon, see
|| Presbyterians, Old aad New School||77,000
||Disciples, or Reformed Baptists||101,000
||Allow for all other denominations||50,000
||Total number of slaves owned by ministers of the gospel and members of the different Protestant churches|| 660,563
God holds every man and woman responsible for the wrong-doing of the association of which they are a component part.
|Ed. Note: Instead of partaking in evil, people are to become partakers in the holy divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4. Example: “Let him that stole steal no more,” Ephesians 4:28. Don't be overcome by evil, Romans 12:21. Resist the devil, James 4:7 and 2 Peter 5:8-9. Be holy, 1 Peter 1:16. Abstain from lusts, 1 Peter 2:11.|
"I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not;"—neither by your person, your vote, nor your influence in church or state. "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me." [Matt. 25:41-46]
"Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me." [Matt. 25:45]Christian brother, you cannot refuse to come out of fellowship from such iniquity without incurring guilt.
"He that doubteth is damned [condemned] already." Why? "Because he eateth not of [or with] faith; for whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." Romans xiv. 23.If you are even doubting the propriety of your course, you are committing sin in living so. Would you not eat with a clearer conscience if you were in a church where you would have no connection with the iniquity in any form? If so, do not trifle with conscience. God may permit delusion, that you may believe a lie, that you may be damned. See 2 Thes. ii, 11, 12.
1. Surely Not For Every Error Should I
Leave My Church; And Perhaps
Slavery Is One of Those Errors
"as touching the Gentiles which BELIEVE, we have written, and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from
Now, fornication was sanctioned by the law of the land in which these Gentiles lived. But the apostles did not shape their religion, and lower the demands of their "Disciplines" and "Confessions of Faith," to suit the laws of the land, the corrupt customs of society, even of those in its highest ranks, nor even to suit the reigning [majority] religion of the land; for the reigning religion sanctioned these forbidden acts. But the apostles required not only "belief" but also abstinence from specified acts. And Paul has told us specifically "not to eat with the extortioner [1 Cor. 5:11]," and that "the law is made for menstealers," slaveholders. [1 Tim. 1:10].
"Christ is a Saviour of his people from their sins, [true, but not in their sins,] and therefore I tell men to come to Christ with all their sins—slaveholding among the rest"?
"We regard the system of slavery, as it exists in these United States, as intrinsically unrighteous, opposed to the law and the gospel, and the best interests of humanity;. . . . yet we would not undertake to determine the degree of moral turpitude on. the part of individuals involved in it." . . . . We have no right to institute and prescribe tests not recognized in the Scriptures."
"a violation of the most precious rights of human nature, utterly inconsistent with the law of God, and totally irreconcilable with the spirit and principles of the gospel of Christ."But words and resolutions were neutralized by practice—the inconsistency of fellowshipping such a sin; and the result was, that their testimony was but little regarded. The monster ate and slept quietly in her bosom, daily sucking from her her strength, her life's blood, and pouring into her veins the poison of oppression, and chilling her heart by the coldness of its touch. [Matt. 24:12].
"Resolved, That our church was originally organized, and has continued the bond of union, on the conceded principle, that the existence of domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the southern portion of our country, is no bar to Christian communion."
|"Resolved, That this Presbytery cannot hold fellowship with any Presbytery, Synod or other ecclesiastical body, while it tolerates under its jurisdiction either the sin of slaveholding or the justification of the sin of slaveholding, and especially the justification of it by appeals to the Scriptures, which, in the judgment of this Presbytery, is blasphemy of Almighty God, and a shocking prostitution of his Word."|
|"the title which the Holy Spirit, in the Scriptures, gives to a body which would deliberately assume such a position, and act accordingly, is a habitation of devils." [Rev. 18:2]|
|"The Presbytery consider the churches in the South as in circumstances unfavorable for looking at this subject candidly. Their preconceived opinions, their cherished habits, their supposed interests go to blind their eyes; and, alas! too many of their religious teachers have contributed to this moral darkness, by pressing the Bible into their service, and by drawing in the mild and benevolent system of Jewish servitude [hiring paid voluntary employees] as authority for the cruel system of slavery. They havepainted their windows, lest the painful glare should flash in upon them. This is weak and unmanly enough, [Fee's note: not wicked, we suppose] but men have done so in every age, and Christians have too often meanly turned away from the light.
"If the slaveholding churches had their minds informed on this subject, and would still continue to vindicate and practise as they now do, this Presbytery would not hesitate to pronounce them synagogues of Satan. [Rev. 2:9]. Then, indeed, they would feel it a duty, and claim it a privilege, to come out
|from among them. But this is not the fact. No; they are hood-winked and bewildered on this subject, as good men have often been, and as we ourselves have been on this and other subjects. . . . . Christ is preached in the South, and believed on in the South, by those whose eyes are yet jaundiced on the subject of slavery; the doctrine of justification by faith is taught as clearly, and preached perhaps more ardently by many of them than by some of ourselves.
"Resolved, That Presbytery, as much as ever opposed to slavery, will continue to use their influence to rid the church of that great evil; but they are unanimously and decidedly opposed to withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church, and nearly unanimous in their opposition to withdrawal from the General Assembly, because they are unwilling to close the door against their efforts, and to leave slavery undisturbed in the church."
"Thus, after having declared most solemnly, that the title which the Holy Spirit gave to that church which would teach that God allowed such an iniquity as slavery in his church, was a 'habitation of devils [Rev. 18:2],' and having declared that they would not hold fellowship with bodies that tolerated this sin in their communion, they tell us, after a lapse of ten years, that they are unanimously of opinion that they ought not to withdraw from bodies which deliberately have done these things.
"They tell us, that after having painted their windows to keep the light out, and having pressed the Bible into their service lo prove slaveholding to be right, that they are hood-winked and bewildered on this subject, and because the doctrine of justification by faith is preached and received among thorn, we must treat them as constituting a Christian church; notwithstanding they steal their neighbors' wives, and sell their neighbors' children, and blaspheme Almighty God, and shockingly prostitute his Word,—so much so, that the Holy Spirit calls such a body a 'habitation of devils [Rev. 18:2].' 'How have the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished.'"—D. Gilmore.
"Rules have been made from time to time, regulating the sale, and purchase, and holding of slaves, with reference to the different laws of the States where slavery is tolerated, [that is, Christians do, on subjects of religious duty, what Nebuchadnezzar says,] which, upon the experience of the great difficulty of administering them, and the unhappy consequences to masters and servant have been as often changed or repealed. Extract from the Address of the Bishops before the Conference of 1840.
"The history of the church shows this point indisputably, that the highest ground that has ever been held upon the subject [slavery] was taken at the very organization of the church, and that concessions have been made by the church continually, from that time to this, in view of the necessities of the South." Extract from Dr. Durbin's speech on Bishop Andrews' case.
"Liberty is the right of every human creature as soon as he breathes the vital air; and no human law can deprive him of that right."Unfortunately the societies had no rule excluding slavery.* And during the Revolution, whilst [Bishop Francis] Asbury was shut up in Delaware, and John Wesley and all the rest of the English ministers, save Asbury, were absent in England, slavery crept into the societies. Hence
"Who can believe, that whilst John Wesley was thus denouncing slavery in England, he was at the same time allowing and approving of it in America? To say one thing and allow another was no part of his character."
|Question 42: "What methods can we take to extirpate slavery?"
"Answer: We are deeply conscious of the impropriety of making new terms of communion [God had already made the right terms. See 1 Cor. v. 11-13; Rev. xviii. 4; 2 Thes. iii. 6; 1 Tim. i. 10. They had overlooked these for some time, until the leaven of corruption had crept in] for a religious society already established, except on the most pressing occasion; and such we esteem the practice of holding our fellow-creatwes in slavery. We view it as contrary to the golden law of God [Matt. 22:37-40], on which hang all the law and the prophets, and the inalienable rights of mankind, as well as every principle of the Revolution, to hold in the deepest abasement . . . so many souls that are all capable of the image of Ood.
"We therefore think it our most bounden duty to take immediately some effectual method to extirpate this abomination from among us; and for that purpose we add the following to the rules of our society, viz.:
"1. Every member of our society who has slaves in his possession, shall, within twelve months after notice given to him by the assistant, legally execute and record an instrument, whereby he emancipates and sets free every slave in his possession."
|"otherwise the assistant shall exclude him from the society."|
|4th Rule. "No person so voluntarily withdrawn, or so excluded, shall ever partake of the Lord's Supper with the Methodists, till he complies with the above requisitions."|
|5th Rule. "No person holding slaves shall in future be admitted into society, or to the Lord's Supper, till he previously complies with these rules concerning slavery."|
|Question 43. What shall be done with those who buy or sell slaves, or give them away? Answer: They are immediately to be expelled, unless they buy them on purpose to free them.|
|"in the Annual Minutes," it was recommended, "that we suspend the minute upon slavery until the deliberations of a future Conference."|
|"security be taken that such official members emancipate their slaves immediately, or gradually, as the laws of the States respectively and the circumstances of the case will admit."|
If the circumstances, &c., did not admit, then the preachers might and did hold slaves.
|"That no slaveholder be received into society till the preacher who has the oversight of the circuit has spoken to him freely and faithfully on the subject of slavery."|
Here is a stepping down from a rule positively requiring emancipation, to mere talk to the slaveholder.
|"that every member who sells a slave shall be excluded immediately."|
Just as though it was not right to sell what we may lawfully hold. If it be not right to sell, it is not right to voluntarily hold.
|"LET THIS BE CONTINUED FROM YEAR TO YEAR, TILL THE DESIRED END BE ACCOMPLISHED."|
|"Let our preachers, from time to time, as occasion serves, admonish and exhort all slaves to render due respect and obedience to the commands and interests of their respective masters!"|
showing that there are no masters.
The primary General Conferences had full power to change any part of the Discipline. All parts were placed on the same basis, and the last act modified or suspended all previous ones. Hence the general rule which forbade the buying or selling of men, women or children, was so far superseded by the rule of 1798 as to admit of buying to continue in slavery for a limited time; and by that of 1804, so as to sell into perpetual slavery in certain cases, in any of the slave States; and both to buy and sell with impunity in the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. So that there vas no rule in the Discipline at the meeting of the Conference of 1808 which prohibited the buying and selling slaves in four Southern States in any sense, or to any extent, or wholly forbade it in any of the States. In the other slave States the rule allowed members to buy slaves to free them, when the purchased slaves had served the time fixed by the quarterly meeting conference to remunerate their purchasers for the price of their purchase, which would, in many cases, be longer than the slaves lived, and to sell, when in the judgment of a committee it was an act of "mercy and humanity," and the slave desired to be sold.
|See also James G. Birney's narrative of this deterioration of moral principle.|
|"What shall be done for the extirpation of the evil of slavery?"|
|"no slaveholder shall be eligible to any official station in our church."|
This has long since been disregarded; many preachers in the North and South churches are slaveholders.
|"a travelling preacher who shall become the owner of a slave or slaves, by any means, shall forfeit his ministerial character in the church, unless he execute, if it be practicable, a legal emancipation of such slaves."|
|"all our preachers shall prudently enforce upon our members the necessity of teaching their slaves to read the Word of God, and to allow them time to attend upon the public worship of God, on our regular days of divine service."|
Is not this a dead letter? Where is the preacher, church, or conference that insists, practically, upon the duty?
|"our colored preachers and official members shall have all the privileges which are usual to others in the quarterly conferences, where the usages of the country do not forbid it."|
That is, a conference of Christians may be governed by fashion or custom—not by the principles of right, and of an impartial Christianity. Oh, what a cringing and crouching to the world! But the leaven of unrighteousness is at work.
|"What shall be done for the extirpation of the evil of slavery?"|
Once the church had decisive and pretty efficient rules, requiring every member in most of the States to emancipate every slave in their possession. Now every member may hold for life as many slaves as he chooses, except a formal prohibition to official members and travelling preachers,
rule in 1792; and as they were passed by primary General Conferences, they set aside to all intents and purposes the General Rule, so far as they conflicted with it.—Rev. E. Smith.
|"The buying OR selling of the bodies and souls of men, women or children, with an intention to enslave them."|
The language is similar to that used in the marginal reading of Rev. xviii. 13, where mystic Babylon is represented as making merchandise of "slaves"—"bodies and souls of men."
|"The buying OR selling of men, women or children, with an intention to enslave them."|
Here is a failure to express a horrible fact, to wit, that the sale of human beings is a traffic in souls aa well as bodies—selling the temples of the Holy Ghost.
|"The buying AND selling of men, women and children, with an intention to enslave them."|
This clause as thus altered was for a time so construed that a private member or local preacher might buy as many slaves as he chose, provided he did not sell them.
|"that they will sustain no relation and perform no act that will countenance the system, or imply indifference to its multiplied enormities." They say further, that "slavery is a direct violation of the law of God; and that by refusing to support slavery, its principles, or its advocates, and by withholding Christian and church fellowship from all guilty of the sin of slavery, and by remembering those in bonds as bound with them [Heb. 13:3], we wish to wash our hands of the guilt of this iniquity."|
"Escape for thy life; tarry not thou in all the plain." [Gen. 19:17]
"A little leaven leavens the whole lump." [I Cor. 5:6]
Oh, how appropriate our Saviour's prayer,
6. There Are Many Other Portions of Scripture Supposed
By Many to Favor the Policy of Staying in the
Church to Purify It, Such as Matt. xiii: 30: "Let the
Wheat and the Tares Grow Together."
ling influences sanction immoralities, then Scripture clashes with Scripture; for it will not be disputed for a moment, that in Rev. xviii. 4, and other like passage God commands his people to come out from a corrupt church.