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Good Words 1860
A Living Chattel

I must tell you of an occurrence that I was witness of yesterday in Mr. Henry Ward Beecher's church. After a beautiful sermon on Col. iii. 14, he called the attention of his congregation to a subject which had been brought before him early in winter. A young man from Washington called on him and asked him to bring the case of a coloured child before his people on the first Sunday of January. That plan was frustrated; but on Friday evening the gentleman re-appeared with the child. He had succeeded in obtaining permission from her owner to bring her north. Four men were left in bond for her ; and even then the slaveholder would not consent to her going until he received Mr. Beecher's word, that either the child should be returned within a given time, or the sum at which she was valued.

The child was then placed beside Mr. Beecher, who, taking off her cloak, said, " I wish I could as easily remove the garment of slavery as I do this cloak;" and then passing his arms round her neck, he pleaded simply but earnestly her case. She is nine years old, and with but one part out of sixteen of African blood, and it is believed she will be so beautiful as to be worth in four years hence (had she remained a slave), £800. The value set on her now is £180. Her grandmother, a free woman, had saved £40, which she gladly offered to contribute towards her release.

I never could do half justice to the manner in which Mr. Beecher pleaded her case—nobly and ably. He said he could not even mention what he wished to save her from, and that the little girl had twice seen her mother put up at the block. . . . There was no need for enreaties; he merely said, "You will please pass the plates;" and announced that the collection would be taken up again in the evening. By this time the congregation were all deeply moved, and the scene that followed baffles description. The excitement was unparalleled, and I thought it never would terminate. However, as everything must, it did, and then a gentleman whispered something to Mr. Beecher, who said, "I have just received a message from a Christian lady to say that she will be responsible for any deficiency there may be in the collection. The child is free!" It is far beyond my power to convey the faintest idea of the joy this announcement caused. The demonstrations were unequivocal. The people were literally beside themselves.....The morning collection amounted to upwards of £200, so it was not continued in the evening. Mr. Beecher mentioned that on one of the plates was found a lady's ring with an opal set in it, and that he had taken the liberty of withdrawing it, and had it placed on the child's finger, that when she was old enough she might wear it as a badge of her freedom.—Extract of a letter from New York.

Royal Truths
By Henry Ward Beecher (1862) (pdf)

My Friends,—I profess to be among the number of those who are breaking away from old forms; but not from one old truth, blessed be God!—not one. In all the great truths which relate to man’s nature and destiny, and which holy men have endeavoured to present in every age, I most fervently believe—from the bottom of my soul I believe in them; but not in their particular mode of expressing them, not in any concatenation of words in which they saw fit to clothe them. I hold myself at liberty to speak the truths of God in exactly that language which best suits the audience, the time, and the habits and wants of the age.

These pages are a protest against that heathenism in the Christian Church, which attempts to confine a man to certain faculties in the exposition of God’s royal truths, and the application of them to men; which undertakes to exclude from religion some of the most salient and useful of the faculties. To such an extent has the use of these faculties been disallowed, that there has come to be this proverb: “Dull as a sermon.”

It is easy for us to trifle with these truths; it is easy for us to take the most important subjects, and cast them about as though they were foot-balls; but whatever men may say, whatever bodies of men may say, whatever I may say, to you, do you go to the Word of God, with an honest heart, and ask, “Lord, what sayest Thou?” and that there may be no possible mistake, go to Him who knew how, out of the very clay, to make the eyes of the blind see, and say, “Touch mine eyes that I may see;” and in prayer get your vision. Go from the Bible to the throne, and from the throne to the Bible, listening to no counsels less authoritative than the voice of God; and while you are so guided, I shall not fear the result.


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