Our Duty to the Coloured People
There has been much perplexity as to how our labourers in the South shall deal with the "colour line." It has been a question to some how far to concede to the prevailing prejudice against the coloured people. The Lord has given us light concerning all such matters. There are principles laid down in His Word that should guide us in dealing with these perplexing questions. The Lord Jesus came to our world to save men and women of all nationalities. He died just as much for the coloured people as for the white race. Jesus came to shed light over the whole world. At the beginning of His ministry He declared His mission: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
The Redeemer of the world was of humble parentage. He, the Majesty of heaven, the King of glory, humbled Himself to accept humanity, and then He chose a life of poverty and toil. "For your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." When one came saying, "I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest," Jesus answered him, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." He, the Majesty of heaven, depended upon the generosity of His followers.
Jesus did not seek the admiration or applause of the world. He commanded no army, He ruled no earthly kingdom. He passed by the wealthy and honoured of the world. He did not associate with the leaders of the nation. He dwelt among the lowly of the earth. To all appearances he was merely a humble man, with few friends. Thus He sought to correct the world's false standard of judging the value of men. He showed that they are not to be estimated by their outward appearance. Their moral worth is not determined by their worldly possessions, their real estate or bank stock. It is the humble, contrite heart that God values. With Him there is no respect of persons. The attributes that He prizes most are purity and love, and these are possessed only by the Christian.
Jesus did not choose His disciples from the learned lawyers, the rulers, the scribes, and Pharisees. He passed them by because they felt whole, as many feel in this age, and prided themselves on their learning and position. They were fixed in their traditions and superstitions, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. He who could read all hearts chose poor fishermen who were willing to be taught. He gave them no promise of large salary or worldly honour, but told them they should be partakers with Him in His sufferings. Jesus while in this world ate with publicans and sinners, and mingled with the common people, not to become low and earthly with them, but in order by precept and example to present to them right principles, to lift them up from their low habits and manners. In all this He set us an example, that we should follow in His steps.
Those who have a religious experience that opens their hearts to Jesus, will not cherish pride, but will feel that they are under obligation to God to be missionaries as was Jesus. They will seek to save that which was lost. They will not, in Pharisaical pride and haughtiness, withdraw themselves from any class of humanity, but will feel with the apostle Paul, "I am debtor both to the Greek, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise."
After my severe illness one year ago, many things which the Lord had presented to me seemed lost to my mind, but they have since been repeated. I know that which I now speak will bring me into conflict. This I do not covet, for the conflict has seemed to be continuous of late years; but I do not mean to live a coward or die a coward, leaving my work undone. I must follow in my Master's footsteps. It has become fashionable to look down upon the poor, and upon the coloured race in particular. But Jesus, the Master,
was poor, and He sympathises with the poor, the discarded, the oppressed, and declares that every insult shown to them is as if shown to Himself. I am more and more surprised as I see those who claim to be children of God possessing so little of the sympathy, tenderness, and love which actuated Christ. Would that every church, North and South, were imbued with the spirit of our Lord's teaching.
While at St. Louis a year ago, as I knelt in prayer, these words were presented to me as if written with a pen of fire: "All ye are brethren." The Spirit of God rested upon me in a wonderful manner, and matters were opened to me in regard to the church at St. Louis and in other places. The spirit and words of some in regard to members of the church were an offence to God. They were closing the door of their hearts to Jesus. Among those in St. Louis who believe the truth there are coloured people who are true and faithful, precious in the sight of the God of heaven, and they should have just as much respect as any of God's children. Those who have spoken harshly to them or have despised them have despised the purchase of the blood of Christ, and they need the transforming grace of Christ in their own hearts, that they may have the pitying tenderness of Jesus toward those who love God with all the fervour of which they themselves are capable. The colour of the skin does not determine character in the heavenly courts.
"If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.... Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." "Ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: wherefore there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering."
"Who," says Paul, "maketh thee to differ?" The God of the white man is the God of the black man, and the Lord declares that His love for the least of His children exceeds that of a mother for
her beloved child. Look at that mother: the sick child, the one afflicted, the one born a cripple, or with some other physical infirmity--how the mother labours to give him every advantage! The best food, the softest pillow, and the tenderest nursing are for him. The love bestowed upon him is strong and deep--a love such as is not given to beauty, talent, or any other natural gift. As soon as a mother sees reason for others to regard her child with aversion or contempt, does she not increase her tenderness as if to shield him from the world's rude touch? "Can a mother forget her sucking child . . .? yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget thee." O what impartial love the Lord Jesus gives to those who love Him! The Lord's eye is upon all His creatures; He loves them all, and makes no difference between white and black, except that He has a special, tender pity for those who are called to bear a greater burden than others. Those who love God and believe on Christ as their Redeemer, while they must meet the trials and the difficulties that lie in their path, should yet with a cheerful spirit accept their life as it is, considering that God above regards these things, and for all that the world neglects to bestow, He will Himself make up to them in the best of favours.
The parable of Dives, the rich man, and Lazarus, the poor beggar who feared God, is presented before the world as a lesson to all, both rich and poor, as long as time shall last. Dives is represented as lifting up his eyes in hell, being in torments, and seeing Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom,--"he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."
When the sinner is converted he receives the Holy Spirit, that makes him a child of God, and fits him for the society of the redeemed and the angelic host. He is made a joint heir with Christ. Whoever of the human family give themselves to Christ, whoever hear the truth and obey it, become children of one family. The ignorant and the wise, the rich and the poor, the heathen and the slave, white or black--Jesus paid the purchase money for their souls. If they believe on Him, His cleansing blood is applied to them. The black man's name is written in the book of life beside the white man's. All are one in Christ. Birth, station, nationality, or colour cannot elevate or degrade men. The character makes the man.
If a red man, a Chinaman, or an African gives his heart to God, in obedience and faith, Jesus loves him none the less for his colour. He calls him his well-beloved brother. The day is coming when the kings and the lordly men of the earth would be glad to exchange places with the humblest African who has laid hold on the hope of the gospel. To all who are overcomers through the blood of the Lamb, the invitation will be given, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Arranged on the right and left of the throne of God are the long columns of the heavenly host, who touch the golden harps, and the songs of welcome and of praise to God and the Lamb ring through the heavenly courts. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
Among what are called the higher classes, there is a demand for a form of Christianity suited to their fine tastes; but this class will not grow up to the full stature of men and women in Christ until they know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. The heavenly intelligences rejoice to do the will of God in preaching the gospel to the poor. In the announcement which the Saviour made in the synagogue at Nazareth, He put a stern rebuke upon those who attach so much importance to colour or caste, and refuse to be satisfied with such a type of Christianity as Christ accepts. The same price was paid for the salvation of the coloured man as for that of the white man, and the slights put upon the coloured people by many who claim to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and who therefore acknowledge themselves debtors to Christ, misrepresent Jesus, and reveal that selfishness, tradition, and prejudice pollute the soul. They are not sanctified through the truth. Those who slight a brother because of his colour are slighting Christ.
I call upon every church in our land to look well to your own souls. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" God makes no distinction between the North and the South. Whatever may be your prejudices, your wonderful prudence, do not lose sight of this fact, that unless you put on Christ, and His Spirit dwells in you, you are slaves of sin and of Satan. Many who claim to be children of God are children of the wicked one, and have all his passions, his prejudices, his evil spirit, his unlovely traits of character. But the
soul that is indeed transformed will not despise any one whom Christ has purchased with His own blood.
Men may have both hereditary and cultivated prejudices, but when the love of Jesus fills the heart, and they become one with Christ, they will have the same spirit that He had. If a coloured brother sits by their side, they will not be offended or despise him. They are journeying to the same heaven, and will be seated at the same table to eat bread in the kingdom of God. If Jesus is abiding in our hearts we cannot despise the coloured man who has the same Saviour abiding in his heart. When these unchristian prejudices are broken down, more earnest effort will be put forth to do missionary work among the coloured race.
When the Hebrew people were suffering cruel oppression under the hand of their taskmasters, the Lord looked upon them, and He called Israel His son. He bade Moses go to Pharaoh with the message, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn. And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me." The Lord did not wait until His people went forth and stood in triumph on the shores of the Red Sea before He called Israel His son, but while they were under oppression, degraded downtrodden, suffering all that the power and the invention of the Egyptians could impose to make their lives bitter and to destroy them, then God undertakes their cause and declares to Pharaoh, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn."
What thoughts and feelings did the message arouse in Pharaoh? "This people, my slaves, those whom the lowest of my people despise, the God of such a people I care not for, neither will I let Israel go." But the word of the Lord will not return unto Him void; it will accomplish the thing whereunto it is sent. The Lord speaks in no uncertain manner. He says, "Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn."
God cares no less for the souls of the African race that might be won to serve Him than He cared for Israel. He requires far more of His people than they have given Him in missionary work among the people of the South of all classes, and especially among the coloured race. Are we not under even greater obligation to labour for the coloured people than for those who have been more highly favoured? Who is it that held these people in servitude? Who kept them in ignorance, and pursued a course to debase and brutalise them, forcing them to disregard the law of marriage, breaking up the family relation, tearing wife from husband, and husband from
wife? If the race is degraded, if they are repulsive in habits and manners, who made them so? Is there not much due to them from the white people? After so great a wrong has been done them, should not an earnest effort be made to lift them up? The truth must be carried to them. They have souls to save as well as we.
At the General Conference of 1889, resolutions were presented in regard to the colour line. Such action is not called for. Let not men take the place of God, but stand aside in awe, and let God work upon human hearts, both white and black, in His own way. He will adjust all these perplexing questions. We need not prescribe a definite plan of working. Leave an opportunity for God to do something. We should be careful not to strengthen prejudices that ought to have died just as soon as Christ redeemed the soul from the bondage of sin.
Sin rests upon us as a church because we have not made greater effort for the salvation of souls among the coloured people. It will always be a difficult matter to deal with the prejudices of the white people in the South and do missionary work for the coloured race. But the way this matter has been treated by some is an offence to God. We need not expect that all will be accomplished in the South that God would do until in our missionary efforts we place this question on the ground of principle, and let those who accept the truth be educated to be Bible Christians, working according to Christ's order. You have no license from God to exclude the coloured people from your places of worship. Treat them as Christ's property, which they are, just as much as yourselves. They should hold membership in the church with the white brethren. Every effort should be made to wipe out the terrible wrong which has been done them. At the same time we must not carry things to extremes and run into fanaticism on this question. Some would think it right to throw down every partition wall and intermarry with the coloured people, but this is not the right thing to teach or to practice.
Let us do what we can to send to this class labourers who will work in Christ's name, who will not fail nor be discouraged. We should educate coloured men to be missionaries among their own people. We should recognise talent where it exists among the people, and those who have ability should be placed where they may receive an education.
There are able coloured ministers who have embraced the truth. Some of these feel unwilling to devote themselves to work for their own race; they wish to preach to the white people. These men
are making a great mistake. They should seek most earnestly to save their own race, and they will not by any means be excluded from the gatherings of the white people.
White men and white women should be qualifying themselves to work among the coloured people. There is a large work to be done in educating this ignorant and downtrodden class. We must do more unselfish missionary work than we have done in the Southern States, not picking out merely the most favourable fields. God has children among the coloured people all over the land. They need to be enlightened. There are unpromising ones, it is true, but you will find similar degradation among the white people; but even among the lower classes there are souls who will embrace the truth. Some will not be steadfast. Feelings and habits that have been confirmed by lifelong practices will be hard to correct; it will not be easy to implant ideas of purity and holiness, refinement and elevation. But God regards the capacity of every man, He marks the surroundings, and sees how these have formed the character, and He pities these souls.
Is it not time for us to live so fully in the light of God's countenance that we who receive so many favours and blessings from Him may know how to treat those less favoured, not working from the world's standpoint, but from the Bible standpoint? Is it not right in this line that Christian effort is most needed? Is it not here that our influence should be brought to bear against the customs and practices of the world? Should it not be the work of the white people to elevate the standard of character among the coloured race, to teach them how Christians should live, by exemplifying the Spirit of Christ, showing that we are one brotherhood?
Those who have been favoured with opportunities of education and culture, who have had every advantage of religious influence, will be expected of God to possess pure and holy characters in accordance with the gifts bestowed. But have they rightly improved their advantages? We know they have not. Let these privileged ones make the most of their blessings, and realise that they are thus placed under greater obligation to labour for the good of others.
God will accept many more workers from the humble walks of life if they will fully consecrate themselves to His service. Men and women should be coming up to carry the truth into all the highways and byways of life. Not all can go through a long course of education, but if they are consecrated to God and learn of Him, many can without this do much to bless others. Thousands would be
accepted if they would give themselves to God. Not all who labour in this line should depend upon the conferences for support. Let those who can do so give their time and what ability they have, let them be messengers of God's grace, their hearts throbbing in unison with Christ's great heart of love, their ears open to hear the Macedonian cry.
The whole church needs to be imbued with the missionary spirit, then there will be many to work unselfishly in various ways as they can, without being salaried. There is altogether too much dependence on machinery, on mechanical working. Machinery is good in its place, but do not allow it to become too complicated. I tell you that in many cases it has retarded the work, and kept out labourers who in their line could have accomplished far more than has been done by the minister who depends on sermonising more than on ministry. Young men need to catch the missionary spirit, to be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the message. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof." Work in any capacity, work where God leads you, in the line best suited to your talents and best adapted to reach classes that have hitherto been sadly neglected. This kind of labour will develop intellectual and moral power and adaptability to the work.
You must have the grace and love of God in order to succeed. The strength and spirituality of the people of God are manifest by the distinctness of the line of demarcation which separates them from the world. The people of the world are characterised by love for earthly things; they act selfishly, regardless of the principles which Christ has set forth in His life. Christians will manifest the self-sacrificing spirit of Christ in their work, in connection with every branch of the cause. They will do this heartily, not by halves. They will not study their own aggrandisement nor manifest respect of persons. They will not, cannot, live in luxury and self-indulgence while there are suffering ones around them. They cannot by their practice sanction any phase of oppression or injustice to the least child of humanity. There are to be like Christ, to relinquish all selfish delights, all unholy passions, all that love of applause which is the food of the world. They will be willing to be humble and unknown, and to sacrifice even life itself for Christ's sake. By a well-ordered life and godly conversation they will condemn the folly, the impenitence, the idolatry, the iniquitous practices of the world.
The converting power of God must work a transformation of
character in many who claim to believe the present truth, or they cannot fulfil the purpose of God. They are hearers but not doers of the word. Pure, unworldly benevolence will be developed in all who make Christ their personal Saviour. There needs to be far less of self and more of Jesus. The church of Christ is ordained of God that its members shall be representatives of Christ's character. He says, "You have given yourselves to Me, and I give you to the world. I am the light of the world; I present you to the world as My representatives." As Christ in the fullest sense represents the Father, so we are to represent Christ. Let none of those who name the name of Christ be cowards in His cause. For Christ's sake stand as if looking within the open portals of the city of God.--E. G. WHITE, Battle Creek, Mich., March 20, 1891.