Peter Cartwright and Slavery

Peter reflects on slavery during a time when it was very much a part of our country. In fact, he dedicates an enter chapter of his autobiography to the topic. While he was no MLK, as a white preacher during a time when many of his peers owned slaves, he did have some rather encouraging (and even profound) things to say. Here are a few quotes that I found particularly encouraging: 

First, he believed the end of slavery would have come much quicker if two things would have happened in the church. I find these things particularly helpful when facing any sort of oppression or societal sin: 

“…if Methodist preachers had kept clear of slavery themselves, and gone on bearing honest testimony against it.. thousands upon thousands more would have been emancipated who are now groaning under an oppression almost too intolerable to be borne.”

Second, here is a rather simple, yet profound statement. 

“I will not attempt to enumerate the moral evils that have been produced by slavery; their name is legion.”

Peter forces us to remember Mark 5:9 when he reminds us of the legion of evil the sin of slavery unleashed on our nation, the effect of which I believe we are still feeling today.

Finally, he tells a powerful story of how entire sanctification (reaching perfection or “perfect love”) plays out in a slave owner’s life. 

While I don’t have time to go into the idea of entire sanctification, all you need to know is that it was an essential doctrine during this time, and something the devote longed for greatly.  In summary, it was viewed as a blessing from God, but in practical terms, it meant having the ability to simultaneously experience perfect peace while loving God and neighbor perfectly, and only possible through an outpouring of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. When worded like that, you can see the common sense of it: perfect peace is the obvious result of loving God and neighbor perfectly, which is only possible because God first loved us.  Anyways, here’s how this idea plays out with a slave owner. 

“At our Breckenridge circuit camp meeting the following incident occurred, There were a brother S. and family, who were the owners of a good many slaves, It was a fine family, and sister S. was a very intelligent lady, and an exemplary Christian. She had long sought the blessing of perfect love, but she said the idea of holding her fellow-beings in bondage stood out in her way. 

Many at this meeting sought and obtained the blessing of sanctification. Sister S. said her whole soul was in an agony for that blessing, and it seemed to her at times that she could almost lay hold, and claim the promise, but she said her slaves would seem to step right in between her and her Savior, and prevent its reception; but while on her knees, and struggling as in an agony for a clean heart, she then and there covenanted with the Lord, if he would give her the blessing, she would give up her slaves and set them free. 

She said this covenant had hardly been made one moment, when God filled her soul with such an overwhelming sense of Divine love, that she did not really know whether she was in or out of the body. 

She rose from her knees, and proclaimed to listening hundreds that she had obtained the blessing, and also the terms on which she had obtained it. She went through the vast crowd with holy shouts of joy, and exhorting all to taste and see that the Lord was gracious, and such a power attended her words that hundreds fell to the ground, and scores of souls were happily born into the kingdom of God that afternoon and during the night. 

Shortly after this they set their slaves free, and the end of that family was peace.”

Quotes taken from: Cartwright, Peter (2014-12-12). The Autobiography of Peter Cartwright (Kindle Locations 1376-1378). Jawbone Digital. Kindle Edition.


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