Freedom: The Unfinished Struggle

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Freedom

The Unfinished Struggle

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That night in Nantucket was charged with expectation for several hundred townspeople gathered on Aug. 16, 1841, for a meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Caucasians and Negroes alike met for the antislavery cause. Prominent Quakers and other religious leaders joined the audience, along with the people of Guinea, the black section of town. They met in the Big Shop, a building on the edge of the city used for crafting whaling boats.

City officials had withdrawn permission for use of the elegant Atheneum meeting house for which the event was originally scheduled. They were uneasy about the expected presence of antislavery agitators—and especially queasy about the guest speaker, an escaped slave named Frederick Douglass.

The house was packed. Some of the more agile attendees mounted the 12-by-12-foot rafters and lofts, legs dangling, impatiently waiting for William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, to wrap up the opening business. The young guest speaker grew restless as the moment neared for his first major public address.

The audience grew still in anticipation as Douglass was introduced. Then he spoke with electrifying eloquence, telling the story of slavery from raw experience. He referred to his scar-covered back and to his own blood pouring out under the fury of the lash.

His story transfixed the audience. Douglass described from his own experience slavery’s impact on the minds and bodies of its victims. He was living proof that many of the horrifying reports regarding slavery were true.

From that night forward, Douglass dedicated his life to exposing the degradation bred by slavery and to ending the nightmare for millions of men, women and children held in bondage in America.

Turning the Tide Against Slavery

Douglass and other former slaves were successful in driving home slavery’s cruelty. White abolitionists like Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld could speak against slavery as observers, but Douglass and his fellow escaped slaves spoke from personal experience of their suffering.

Douglass would later meet Harriet Beecher Stowe, who drew from his speeches and writings, along with Weld’s powerful book American Slavery As It Is, to write her famous antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. Through the efforts of like-minded men and women, the message about slavery would find its way into the hearts of those who were yet uniformed or willingly chose to ignore the issue. A deeply religious person in his teens and early adulthood, Douglass was later ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he served until 1841.

Born to Slavery

Frederick Douglass was born Feb. 17, 1817, to a slave on a plantation in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Frederick was separated from her in infancy and saw her only four or five times. Douglass, whose slave name was Frederick Augustus Washington Dailey, never knew his father. Shortly after his mother’s death, his master, a Capt. Anthony, sent him to Baltimore to work for Hugh Auld, who hired him out to a ruthless taskmaster, Edward Covey.

In his youth Douglass was often whipped and beaten. At age 16 he fell faint with sunstroke in a field and was kicked and beaten by Covey until his head was gashed and bloodied. Shortly after, he began to make plans to escape.

His first attempt, in 1833, failed. Five years later, with the help of friends, 21-year-old Douglass escaped to New York City. He eventually settled in New Bedford and changed his name from Bailey to Douglass to elude authorities.

After his marriage to Anna Murray and the birth of two of their four children, Douglass was invited in 1841 to speak before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Nantucket. His speech describing his life as a slave was so powerfully moving and strikingly eloquent that he was asked to sign on as an agent for the society.

At age 24 Douglass began a brilliant career as an abolitionist and champion of freedom. His powerful speeches and writings later gained the attention of President Abraham Lincoln, who invited him for consultations at the White House. Douglass, in his mid-40s, developed a working relationship with the president and, along with others, helped foster a climate that eventually led Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Slavery in the Americas

Historians estimate that 10 million Africans were captured in Africa (many of them by black slave traders) and forced into slavery in North and South America between the 16th and 19th centuries (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Macropedia, Vol. 1, p.205, “Africa”).

Toward the end of the 18th century, abolitionists in America and Britain worked toward ending the importation of African slaves to the United States and British overseas possessions. By 1804 states north of Maryland had abolished slavery. In 1807 slave trade to the British colonial possessions was ended, and in the same year the United States began prohibiting importation of slaves, although slave smuggling continued until 1862.

Slavery persisted in the plantations of the South, where it had become a social and economic institution, especially in the early 19th century with the onset of the profitable cotton-based agricultural economy. But, as the century progressed, American abolitionists abandoned their gradual approach to eliminating slavery in favor of calling for its immediate abolition.

Abolition Gains Ground

The religious and moral fervor of preachers and professional orators gave new life to the abolitionist movement beginning in the 1830s. Led by Garrison and Weld, the American Anti-Slavery Society gained many converts and supporters. However, awareness of slavery’s degradation had not yet struck home to the general public.

Weld had been preaching about the immorality of slavery at Cincinnati’s Lane Seminary in 1834 and counted among his converts the preacher Henry Ward Beecher and his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose powerful antislavery message in Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped propel abolition.

In 1841, when Frederick Douglass joined the ranks of the abolitionist orators, the antislavery message took on deeper impact. Douglass and other former slaves who joined the antislavery speaking tour brought home the plight of those in bondage.

After his presidency, John Quincy Adams, during his second career in Congress, rallied to the abolitionists’ cause. He presented to the House of Representatives a resolution providing that every child born in the United States after July 4, 1842, would be legally free and that neither slavery nor the slave trade should exist in the District of Columbia after May 4, 1845. Other congressmen followed his lead as the abolitionists’ message gained greater national support. Blacks and whites working together forged an unusual and powerful rhetoric that eventually led to the rejection of slavery through religious, social and political influences.

Eventually the Emancipation Proclamation (Jan. 1, 1963), which proclaimed freedom for slaves in all territories at war with the Union, combined with the bloodshed of more than a million casualties in the American Civil War, brought down the institution of slavery. With the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, slavery became illegal in the United States.

Another battle remained to be fought: the struggle for equal rights for the emancipated slaves. Douglass insisted that freedom from slavery was of little meaning without full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote, which was finally guaranteed with ratification of the 15th amendment to the Constitution in 1870.

Douglass went on to write his autobiography in 1845, which he revised and completed in 1892 as The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He began his own antislavery newspaper, The North Star (later Frederick Douglass’s Paper), which he published from 1847 to 1860. He later became marshal for the District of Columbia and recorder of deeds and was appointed in 1889 as U.S. minister and consul general to Haiti.

Another People Called Out of Slavery

Nehemiah Caulkins of Waterford, Connecticut, reported in Slavery As It Is on the condition of slaves in North Carolina in 1839, citing eye-witness accounts of abuse of slaves. Concluding his narrative, he wrote, “May God look upon their affliction, and deliver them from their cruel taskmasters!” (Weld, 1839, p. 17). This statement is reminiscent of the story of ancient Israel’s enslavement in Egypt.

When God called Moses to be His human instrument for delivering the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, He said, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7 Exodus 3:7And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
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The people of Israel lost their freedom and fell to enslavement in Egypt. But God heard their pleas for help: “… Behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them” (Exodus 3:9 Exodus 3:9Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come to me: and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.
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). By dramatic miracles God brought the people of Israel out of slavery and “passed over” their houses when He struck the Egyptians with plagues (Exodus 12:27 Exodus 12:27That you shall say, It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.
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This miraculous deliverance has powerful implications for us. The apostle Paul reminds us scriptures “were all written for our instruction, in order that through the encouragement they give us we may maintain our hope with perseverance” (Romans 15:4 Romans 15:4For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
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, Revised English Bible).

The Bible pictures our world as spiritual Babylon, a condition of warped values and priorities by which “all nations” have become polluted (Revelation 18:3 Revelation 18:3For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
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). God calls on all who will hear His warning to break free of their bondage to sin and leave behind the ways of spiritual Babylon. He tells us, “Come out of [Babylon], my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (verse 4). Just as God anciently brought His people out of bondage in Egypt, He is willing to rescue those who cry out to Him for help in our day. And He will rescue His people from the plagues prophesied to fall on nations in the end time.

Jesus Christ warned His followers: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36 Luke 21:36Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
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). God will intervene for those who truly believe in Him and are willing to ask for His power and direction in their lives.

Jesus Calls Us Out of Slavery

Moses was the man God used to bring Israel out of slavery. God has provided another Deliverer for our world: Jesus Christ. He calls on people of understanding to break free of their own enslavement to join the vanguard of those who will help usher in a new way of life at Jesus’ return.

When Jesus was verbally assaulted by religious leaders of His time, His replies to them struck a nerve and aroused their anger. He admonished them: “… You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32 John 8:32And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
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They angrily responded: “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?” (verse 33). Their response was not honest. Although not directly enslaved, these Jewish residents of Jerusalem were living under Roman occupation. They also knew that their forefathers, descendants of Abraham, had spent considerable time as slaves in Egypt until God delivered them under the leadership of Moses.

When these leaders pressed Him further on how He could possibly make them free, since they were not slaves, Jesus offered a stinging reply: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (verse 34). These outwardly religious men were bent on killing Jesus (verse 37), yet they claimed God as their Father (verse 41). They were indeed enslaved to their own selfish, sinful nature.

The Bible reveals that our nature prevents us from enjoying the freedom of abundant life promised by Jesus Christ (John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
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). Paul tells us we are naturally hostile to God and His laws (Romans 8:7 Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
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). “… The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 1 Corinthians 2:14But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
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Teachers of moral relativism offer supposed freedom from moral absolutes but fail to understand the consequences. Peter described this secular approach and its result: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage” (2 Peter 2:19 2 Peter 2:19While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
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Christians are called out of the corrupting influence of sin, just as ancient Israel was called out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus came to earth to bring a new way of life, the way of truth. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 John 14:6Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.
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If we live according to God’s truth (His Word is truth; John 17:17 John 17:17Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.
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) and rely on His forgiveness when we fall short, we can be free from the slavery to our sinful nature. It is God’s will that the human race ultimately be set free from this bondage: “… The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 Romans 8:21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
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The Freedom Yet to Come

Throughout history millions of people have lived and died under bondage—whether in cruel slavery under harsh and wicked taskmasters; in captivity to false beliefs and satanic deceptions; or shackled by the downward pulls of their own sinful nature. No matter what the yoke of human oppression, the truth of God’s Word and His ways ultimately looses the bonds of the enslaved and leads them to abundant life.

The abolition movement in America brought together black and white men and women in a common purpose—to bring to an end human oppression. Through tireless self-sacrifice they succeeded in eliminating slavery. They set aside their differences long enough to win a battle for the cause of human freedom and dignity.

The story of Frederick Douglass and all those who have ever endured the suffering of slavery will fade like a long-forgotten dream when the Master of all creation returns to earth to begin a new world of freedom, justice, harmony and peace. Read what the Bible promises about that coming world: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 Revelation 21:4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
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A World Set Free

However heavy our burdens, Jesus Christ offers us a way to lighten our load. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 Matthew 11:28-29 [28] Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.
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). Many seek this rest by merely professing the name of Jesus, calling Him Lord and saying they love Him. But He expects more. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,” He asks, “and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46 Luke 6:46And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
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He adds, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
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You need to discover what God’s will is for you. Be sure to write for the free booklets What Is Your Destiny? and The Road to Eternal Life. These Scripture-based guides will help you find your way out of the darkness and confusion of this world to discover the rest and light Jesus Christ promised.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God reveals the way to freedom from the bonds of wickedness and relief from oppression and heavy burdens by drawing near to Him (Isaiah 58:6 Isaiah 58:6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?
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Millions labor under the grinding oppression of war, hunger, poverty and disease. We routinely watch the heartbreaking sufferings of men, women and children on television news. How horrible it must be for the people experiencing that suffering! Yet God will set these people free from their oppression when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9 Isaiah 11:9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
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The time is coming when Jesus Christ will return to earth and break every yoke of human bondage, freeing humanity from its self-imposed slavery. Then “many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord … He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths” (Micah 4:2 Micah 4:2And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
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Those who heed the calling of God will be part of the vanguard to help usher in a new way of life at Christ’s return. All people will have the opportunity under the direct leadership of the living Jesus Christ to learn and understand the truth of God’s will and way—and that precious truth will set them free! GN

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