Susan C. Anthony

Freedom and Slavery

Well, it’s spring, and for the past few weeks my wife and I have been spring cleaning, working on the house and yard. It’s her idea, of course, but I love her so I help. After five to six hours of physical work in a day, we’re a lot more exhausted than we used to get a few decades ago. Thankfully, we are free to take breaks when we need them and recover some energy before going back to work.

It got me thinking about how easy we have it here in America in the 21st century. Most of us take our freedom very much for granted. We can’t imagine life without it. We especially can’t imagine being in slavery, with no choice or control over our lives or our circumstances. We can’t imagine having to work 12 or more hours a day at hard labor for no pay, with no one to care that we’re stiff and tired and need a break.

Former field hand Josiah Henson wrote about living conditions for a slave in the South: “our dress was of tow-cloth…and a pair of coarse shoes once a year. We lodged in log huts…. Wooden floors were an unknown luxury. In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children… There were neither bedsteads nor furniture… Our beds were collections of straw and old rags…. The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig-sty.”

After God miraculously freed Israel from slavery and brought them through the sea on dry ground, God again and again identified Himself to them by saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” In Leviticus 26:13, He adds, “I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.”

Freedom is one of the greatest promises of God, but it’s not freedom to do whatever we want. God’s definition of freedom differs from our definition. God says we are naturally slaves to sin. By nature we want sin, despite the fact that it is sin that hurts and kills us. An addict desires his drug and wants "freedom" to partake of it whenever he wishes. He would not think you were helping him toward freedom if you deprived him of what he wants. Only a recovered addict understands that addiction is slavery and freedom is the ability to forego what hurts you. Only when we realize the truth that sin kills can we understand the value of freedom from it. Only then can we appreciate the incredible gifts of forgiveness and redemption.

Lincoln as a young manYou have heard that Abe Lincoln grew up in a log cabin. Did you know that he lived with the very barest of necessities, in dire poverty? The first log cabin his father hastily built had only three sides. It was open on the other to the ravages of severe Indiana winters. His mother survived only a short time under these conditions. She died when he was ten years old. From then on, he and his sister pretty much took care of themselves while his father was off hunting for days on end. They lived almost entirely on nuts and wild game for most of his young years. He not only lived worse than most slaves, but worse than most livestock.

One of Abraham Lincoln’s first adventures as a young adult was floating a flatboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. He got a river job for fifty cents a day, felling trees, hewing logs, floating them to a sawmill and building a flatboat 80 feet long. The boat was loaded with bacon, corn, and hogs and floated to New Orleans. There, he learned firsthand the true horrors of human slavery. He saw “Negroes in chains—whipped and scourged.” His sense of justice rebelled against this treatment of human beings, and his mind and conscience were awakened to a realization of what he had until then only heard and read.

A story is told about his response to this experience. I'm not sure it is true, but in any case it is a wonderful illustration of what Jesus has done for us:

After passing a slave auction on a morning walk, and being horrified at what he saw, Lincoln scraped together all the money he could to buy a slave. He didn’t have much. Fifty cents a day didn’t add up very quickly. At the next auction, he was only able to afford a young woman who didn’t look strong or healthy. After the auction, she came up to him and asked where he wanted her to go. He had practiced a speech. “I bought you in order to give you freedom. You can go where you want to go, do what you want to do, and say what you want to say. You are free.”

She looked at him in amazement and disbelief. She said, “You did that for ME?”

“Yes,” he answered. “You are free.”

She was silent for a long moment. Then she looked up. “If you really mean that I am free, that I can go where I want to go, do what I want to do, and say what I want to say....  If you have done this wonderful thing for me, I want to go with YOU.”

Amy Shreve wrote a song about this story that Susan is going to sing in a moment.  It touched my heart when I first heard it. One reason I like it so much is it has more than one level of meaning. Anyone, Christian or not, can imagine how wonderful it would feel for a slave to receive an unexpected and unearned gift of freedom. As Christians, we know the feeling personally. Jesus paid the price and set us free. He gave us a choice to go where we want to go, do what we want to do and say what we want to say. We have chosen to follow and serve the One who cared so much for us that He gave us the deepest desire of our hearts. Galatians 5:1 says: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus extends an invitation to everyone who will accept it. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What are the benefits of choosing Jesus’ yoke rather than the yoke of sin and slavery? Romans 6:22-23 says: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(The song Susan sang was "I Belong to You", by Amy Shreve, from her album Whisper. Find Amy's music at amyshreve.com.)

I was born as a servant and bought as a slave.
All my forefathers hands were in shackles.
I’ve had masters to own me for all of my days.
Whether kept in a shack or a castle.
And today as they wagered the worth of my life,
When the bidding for me was through
You’d sold all you held dear laid down all that you had.
And now I belong to you.

I had dreamt of my freedom and prayed for my plight
But my wishing made things so much harder.
For as long as I’d labor to purchase my life
To my name I have nothing to barter
For my body is weary, my back is not strong
Don’t know why it’s me you choose.
So you purchased a prisoner of weakness and death
And now I belong to you.

I was given a promise and granted a pledge
Of what I thought I would never savor
In your kindness, you gave me the hope of my heart
Though I’d nothing to win your favor
You said child you are free for the rest of your life
I believed it was finally true
Now my hands are unshackled, I can choose where I go
And so I will go with you
Yes, now I belong to you.
Oh I want to go with you
Yes, now I belong to you.

Note:  This talk was presented by my husband Dennis at our small church.

Go on to read Roots and Seeds
Source:  www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony