Black history is the story of how God has been faithful and sufficient for those of African descent. I believe each individual included in the story of black history was an instrument in the hands of God. I believe God used the militancy of the Black Panthers and the peacefulness of MLK for his divine purposes. One significant person, God has used to impact black history is Frederick Douglass.
Through reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass I learned several lessons, but the most significant lessons were about conviction and having the resolve to fight. I believe Douglass’s life along with the life of other African-Americans can contribute to our understanding of the Christian life and theology.
Frederick Douglass was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland in February 1818. He was born into slavery and had several masters during his time as a slave. For a season in his life, he was owned by the family of Mr. and Mrs. Auld. Mrs. Auld secretly taught Douglass the alphabet and spelling, which was highly discouraged. Once her husband discovered she was teaching him, he immediately urged her not to educate him anymore because she would ruin him as a slave. “A n***** should know nothing of but to obey his master—to do as he is told. Learning would spoil the best n***** in the world.” said Mr. Auld. He continued with “if you teach that n***** how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever make him unfit to be a slave.” Douglass overheard this conversation, which sparked his determination to pursue knowledge so he might escape the horrors of chattel slavery.
During Douglas’s time, a black man was born as a slave and died as a slave. They were never offered the opportunity to receive an education, and they only knew what their masters told them. Douglass refused to accept the norm after hearing Mr. Auld’s words. He developed a deep conviction that motivated him to pursue knowledge and be free from bondage.
In his autobiography, he writes “From my earliest recollection, I date of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace.” As a result, Douglass became an educated free man and abolitionist who spoke about the evils of slavery. Though his journey was difficult and contained a lot of opposition, his conviction spurred him onward.
Resolve to Fight
When Douglass was born he was his master’s property and not a person. Black people in his time were considered a result of the curse of Ham. Therefore, the popular opinion was that slavery was morally correct and biblically supported. As a result, Douglass was subject to being painfully beaten at any time while his master quoted scripture to him such as, “He that knoweth his master’s will and doeth, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Reference to Luke 12:47).
Douglass had multiple significant events that occurred during his time as a slave, but one particular incident changed Douglass’s perspective as a slave. On one occasion Mr. Covey, one of Douglass’s masters, was preparing to whip Douglas as he had many times before, but this time Douglass had a “resolved to fight.” He grabbed Mr. Covey by the throat, which led him to call for help. Douglass bested Mr. Covey’s helpers in an altercation that lasted about two hours. After their fight, Douglass said, “I did not hesitate to let it be known of me that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.”
His fight changed his relationship with his oppressors. Douglass was never again whipped anymore while he was with Mr. Covey, but he did have several fights. Douglass’s “resolve to fight” resulted in him no longer peacefully submitting to his oppressors, but fighting them.
Where’s the Conviction?
Douglass’s steadfast conviction is a wonderful attribute that Christians should strive to have. Where have our deep biblical convictions gone? What are we willing to exchange for our conviction of the Gospel? Are we willing to lay our convictions at the altar of a political party or candidate? Do we put them aside for the sake of our need for entertainment or for the sake of being relevant? If these questions do not pierce the soul of anybody else, they do mine because I have missed the mark. I have bowed my knee too many times to worldly ideas when I should have focused on my biblical convictions. Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to “stand firm in the faith”, which through the help of the Spirit I must encourage myself to do.
Will you Fight?
Douglass had a resolve to fight because he was tired of his oppressors. His life leads me to ask the questions to myself “Am I willing to fight my oppressor?” Sin is the greatest oppressor on this earth. It has been wreaking havoc among men since Adam and Eve left the Garden. It has held countless individuals captive and has done more damage than the most brutal slave master.
I began my life as a slave to this cruel master and I was held firmly by its chains. However, Jesus broke the chains that gripped me so tightly and transferred me to a different master, the King of Kings. Jesus set me free, and now my old master is like a bossy roommate. Sin is like a roommate, but I am not obligated to live peacefully with it. I should be a terrible roommate and fight with my sin every chance I get. Reading the book of Proverbs has given me a clearer view of sin and has given me a resolve to fight. Sin is not a harmless, little puppy with no teeth. Sin is a devilish, deceitful oppressor, that we must fight until Christ returns. The good news is until Christ returns he has given us the Holy Spirit to fuel and guide our fight with sin. The question that I must answer often is “have I resolved to fight sin?”