In Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he said the following about slavery: “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” How is it morally justifiable to steal men and women, enslave them, and then put them to work for the benefit of others and then claim that God approves? He doesn’t.
George Bourne (1780–1845), a 19th-century American abolitionist, editor, and Presbyterian minister, was the author of The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable (1816), “the most critical American anti-slavery book of its day.” The “Book” in the title is the Bible. Bourne’s message was not well received:
The theological importance of the book was that Bourne identified slaveholding as a sin. In his protest in 1815, he had cited I Timothy 1:10, which links whoremongers and man-stealers. The Westminster Larger Catechism (1647) cites this verse (A. 142)1 in listing crimes against the Ten Commandments. This document has been one of the three official standards of American Presbyterianism from its formation in 1720.
Bourne’s arguments were irrefutable, but they did not stop the governing body of his denomination to reject them. “In 1815, he presented an overture to the General Assembly raising the question of whether Presbyterians who owned slaves could be Christians. The Assembly refused to act. Upon his return home to Harrisonburg, his presbytery voted” to remove him from the ministry. Too many people were benefitting from slavery to abolish it.
While the United States went through a horrible period of slavery, using men and women for the benefit of others, there remains a subtle form of slavery that is said to be a form of social justice based on the will of God. It’s called wealth distribution or “tax fairness.” The beneficiaries are people who wring “their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.” There aren’t plantations, whips, and overseers to see, but they’re there nevertheless.
The claim is made that if enough people vote for civil rulers who impose progressive tax rates, then the confiscation is morally justified. Slavery — condemned as “man stealing” in the Bible (Ex. 21:16, KJV) — was also justified by law and majority opinion.
The following popular quotation is attributed to Alexander Tyler (or Tytler) (1747–1813). While there is no evidence that he is the author, it’s obvious that someone wrote it, and it is spot on in describing where we are as a nation:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.
Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.
Like in Bourne’s day, a majority of people are not persuaded by the facts because they are beneficiaries, recipients of the labor of others, and they are OK with it.
- “The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving any thing that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing landmarks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust inclosures and depopulations; ingrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbour what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us.” [↩]
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