The year 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by the king of England. Let’s briefly trace the role which Canada, the United States and Britain played in abolishing slavery. Sadly, even today, humans are still being enslaved by other humans. There is a form of slavery even more dreadful for humanity, however, and that is slavery to sin. But freedom is possible through Christ. End Of Slavery In 1807 King George III gave his royal sanction to a law which abolished the slave trade. Although it did not abolish slavery, this law forbade the trading of slaves in the British Empire. Slavery itself was not abolished throughout the whole Empire until 1833. In 1793, in Upper Canada (now Ontario) Lieutenant General Simcoe passed the Abolition Act, thereby making this English colony the first one to give freedom to its slaves. Between the years 1840 and 1860, thanks to this law, approximately 30,000 Blacks who were fleeing the pro-slavery states found a refuge in Canada through the Underground Railroad – an informal network of trustworthy people who helped the runaway slaves. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment, adopted in 1865, conclusively abolished slavery throughout the United States.
In Britain, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a member of Parliament, was the driving force behind the bill which forbade the trading of humans. He had come to Christ in 1784, and desired that his promising political career be consecrated to God. His old friend and spiritual mentor, John Newton, explained to him that serving both causes was not necessarily an irreconcilable task. Newton was well known for his conversion to Christianity after having been a slave trader, and also for writing the famous hymn “Amazing Grace.”
We thank God that He has raised up men and women of Wilberforce’s and Newton’s exceptional caliber, workers “approved to God” (2 Tim. 2:15 NKJV). In 1833, the year of Wilberforce’s death, slavery was completely abolished throughout the British Empire.
Yet today, some people are still subservient to oppressors who rule with iron hands. Who are these contemporary slaves? They are the people who weave our carpets, pick cocoa and coffee beans, sew our clothes or make our shoes. Some even give up bodily organs to well-to-do patrons. Many work against their will, or for a meager salary, controlled by violence or threats. They are men who are unjustly sent to languish in filthy prisons. They are women and children exploited by the sex industry. We could go on. According to Kevin Bales’ book Free the Slaves, today there are more than 27 million slaves worldwide, the greatest number ever in the history of the world.
Many visitors have no doubt been touched by the words which they read on the Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone’s tombstone (1813-1874) in Westminster Abbey in London, which described slavery as “the open sore of the world.” Unfortunately, over two hundred years after the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire, slavery is still a burning issue.
Slavery To Sin
Another very real form of slavery for a host of men and women is slavery to sin. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminded them that they were “slaves to sin” before their conversion (Rom. 6:17,20). Jesus had told the Jews that “whoever commits sin is a slave to sin … Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:34-36). Some people may refuse to recognize that they are slaves to sin, but the Word of God unquestionably declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Is not slavery to sin also the open sore of the world?
On April 16, 2007, we were horrified by the mass murder of 32 innocent people and the wounding of 30 others at Virginia Tech University. Over the course of that same week, violence in Baghdad left more than 190 people dead and another 200 wounded. Sin was not only an incurable disease in the hearts of the perpetrators of these acts of violence, but it is also a sad reality for every human, even though not everyone commits such atrocities. Sin has its source in the human heart, and it manifests itself in such things as evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander (Mt. 15:19). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked … I, the Lord, search the heart” (Jer. 17:9-10).
In a future day, God will give His earthly people Israel a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 36:26). In our day, God, who knows the heart, purifies the hearts of believers by faith (Acts 15:8-9). But in order for Him to be able to do this, His Son Jesus had to come to this world, making Himself nothing, and taking on the nature of a slave He died on the cross for our sins (Phil. 2:7-8). He who believes in Jesus Christ is therefore freed from slavery to sin.
Free From Slavery To Sin
Having been freed from the slavery to sin when we believed in our Savior, we now live in liberty. But we must be careful not to become slaves to sin again. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). For example, a yoke of slavery could be imposed on a believer by other individuals if he had to adhere to non-scriptural dogmas peculiar to a religious group, or by himself if he chose to behave reprehensibly. Therefore, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had been bought at a price and that they should not become slaves of men (1 Cor. 7:23).
We were set free when we believed: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). This truth, along with the fact that sin has been once and for all condemned on the cross (8:3), gives the believer full assurance that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). As to being freed by the truth, Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8: 31-32). Reading God’s Word will free the believer more and more from sin, the world, and Satan.
We who have been freed from sin surprisingly become slaves once more. But now we are slaves (same word in the Greek) to the righteousness of God (Rom. 6:18,22). We accept this new position with joy, for our new Master in heaven is gentle and humble in heart (Mt. 11:29).
At the outset of His ministry Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor … He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk. 4:18). If we follow in His footsteps we cannot remain indifferent to the fact that some humans still enslave other humans, and that there is slavery to sin all around us. What are we to do?
Here are a few suggestions: learn more about the slave trade today; pray for all those who are fighting against the various forms of slavery in the world; pray for freedom and salvation for all slaves; help Christian organizations who seek to assist people who have been unjustly imprisoned; help missionaries who work with people who have been exploited, that they might bring them out of slavery and to the Savior.
As was the case with Wilberforce, Newton and many others, the fight against slavery was Livingstone’s great life battle. It is said that he loved to repeat the following creed: “I place no value on anything I have or possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ.” Freedom from the slavery of sin is certainly part of this commandment of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Mt. 6:33). The physical and spiritual freedom of other humans should become our own business.
By Richard Pigeon
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org