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Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. Psalm 125:1.

 

Last week we began the story of Zilpha Elaw, an early nineteenth-century black female evangelist. Zilpha had married in 1810, had a daughter the following year, and was widowed in 1823 at age 32. We now pick up our story at that point.

Zilpha Elaw continued to work to support herself after both her husband and her sister died. She had long ago received a call from God to go out and preach the Gospel. She kept putting it off because she did not feel worthy to do so. She was uneducated compared to other ministers who had been to seminary. Zilpha was also worried about the fact that she was black. She prayed to God, “Lord! Send by whom thou wilt send, only send not by me; for thou knowest that I am ignorant; how can I be a mouth for God! — a poor, coloured female; and thou knowest we have many things to endure which others do not.”

IICor.3-5Zilpha had not yet learned the lesson from 2Corinthians 3:5 (“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”). God answered her objection, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”

Placing her child with some relatives, Zilpha began her journey of preaching salvation to lost souls. She would travel to many states including the slaveholding states in the South. Here she ran the risk of being kidnapped and sold into slavery. The Lord protected her; she preached to both black and white folks. Some wealthy white people put her under their wings, caring for her even when she got ill.

Many people came to the Lord because of her preaching and at least one person was healed. Though Zilpha was worried that being black and a female would be detrimental, those factors are actually what attracted people to come and hear her. Some came out of curiosity; a few even came to mock her, but most were genuinely convicted and came back to hear her preach again. More than a few women would weep and beg her to pray for them at the meetings. Some of these women would become life-long friends.

Zilpha encountered many obstacles throughout her ministry. Besides young men who would come to the meetings specifically to hassle her, there were other church members and church leaders who opposed her because of her gender or color. Often these turned out to be people who were jealous of the reception that she got wherever she went. Sometimes after they heard her preach, they would repent of their attitude, ask her forgiveness and encourage her to continue on.

One example of this was a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Mr. House, who declared that he would have her stopped when she came to his city of Hartford. While in that city, Zilpha visited a very sick man and prayed for him. He immediately got so much better that his attending physician declared that he would like to go and hear Zilpha preach. After hearing her, the physician visited Rev. House and told him all that he had witnessed. Rev. House changed his mind about stopping Zilpha exclaiming, “Well, if God has sent her, I bid her God’s speed.” A revival broke out in Hartford among the people of every denomination.

Zilpha also encountered those who were skeptical of traditional, Evangelical Christian beliefs. Universalism was taking hold in the Northeastern United States at this time. The Universalists not only believed that everyone would be saved, thereby denigrating the cross of Christ, but they behaved as Deists, denigrating the immanent power of our Sovereign God. Many of these people came to hear her preach and she was able to exhort them in the whole Gospel including repentance for sin and genuine faith in a crucified Redeemer. She preached that mankind was lost and in need of a Savior. She warned them to flee from the wrath to come. Some did turn and believe.

By the nineteenth century the different denominations had separated themselves from each other. There was a group of women however who held monthly union prayer meetings Eph. 4  4-6together. This brought them into closer contact with each other as well as allowed them to share Christian love free from bigotry. Zilpha loved these meetings and was delighted to hear Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists sharing the Gospel truth as one. She said, “The Christian church should manifest one fold and one shepherd; one body and spirit; one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; and one God and father of all who is above all, and through all, and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Of course, Zilpha missed her daughter. Eventually her daughter married and had two sons. Zilpha was very close to her daughter and grandsons.

Zilpha had received a vision some years before this promising her that she would travel to London. Zilpha was never sure how this could come about, and she argued the matter with the Lord in prayer, pleading her ignorance, her sex, her color, and her inability to minister the Gospel in a country “so polished and enlightened, so furnished with Bibles, so blessed with ministers, so studded with temples; but the Lord said, ‘say not, I cannot speak; for thou shalt go to all to whom I send thee, and what I command thee, thou shalt speak’.” (Jeremiah 1:7).

The Lord opened the way for her in 1840. She went home for a short time and spent some time with her daughter and two grandsons. The parting was tearful when it was time for her to leave for New York. From there she traveled to Philadelphia, then went by ship to London. Zilpha preached over one thousand sermons over a five-year period in England. She lived on the edge of poverty and endured “a thousand privations, hardships, targetfires, vexatious anxieties and deep afflictions, to which my previous life was an utter stranger.” She was occasionally ill, even near death, but the Lord sustained her.

While in England, Zilpha published her memoirs. Nearing the end of her life, she exhorts all her readers to stand fast in their faith. “Dear brethren, the time is short, it is ominous, and it is perilous; be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Truly, Zilpha Elaw practiced what she preached. She is a model for us of a courageous woman who put aside all of her own feelings and wants and made herself totally available to God.

There is a hint near the end of her memoirs that she wants to return to the United States, but we don’t know whether or not she did. There is up to now no further information about her life after 1845. We can be sure that she is in Heaven rejoicing with all of the other saints including many that she had the privilege to lead to Christ.

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“Go preach the Gospel!”

These are the words that Jarena Lee distinctly heard one day a few years after she was saved and “sanctified”.

It is not my purpose to discuss theology at this time. Jarena Lee held to a view of sanctification that was Wesleyan Methodist. Many have debated John Wesley’s view of “perfectionism”, but at the very least, Christians are called to live “in the world” but not be “of the world”. This takes a commitment on the part of believers and reliance on the Holy Spirit to do the sanctifying work. Some believe that sanctification comes all at once as a “second blessing” and others believe that there may be an initial blessing from the Holy Spirit as He causes the Christian to realize that, though saved, she still sins and needs more help. Thus begins a process of “progress sanctification”.

In any event, Jarena knew that she was called to a purpose that involved more than justJerenaLee.2 her own personal comfort. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to men and women alike. All are called to exercise those gifts to build up the Kingdom of Christ. How are women to exercise their gifts? In the early nineteenth century as well as today there are many who restrict women to using their gifts at home only. For example, women may teach their children at home, but women may not exercise the gift of teaching in public. Some say they may never exercise the gift of preaching because that is for men only.

Again, this is a discussion that I would like to continue at another time. I invite you, readers, to jump in here with your thoughts. What gifts does the Holy Spirit give to women? When may they use them?

Recall that the last posting, “Jarena Lee – Part 1”, I recounted the story of the first time Jarena approached Rev. Richard Allen and told him about her call to preach. He turned her away. He told her about a woman who was given permission to lead prayer meetings and to “exhort” under a licensed preacher, but that women should not preach.

At first, Jarena was a bit relieved to hear this. Later she acknowledged though that it was her own fear of following her call that made her glad to hear Rev. Allen’s reply. However she found that not heeding her call made her lose her burning desire to tell others of Jesus Christ.

Jarena married, had children, and was widowed over the space of six years. She had occasions to speak to others about their souls, warning them to flee from the wrath to come. She still longed to preach the Gospel but was obedient to God in her present calling of wife and mother.

After eight years had gone by since the first time she applied to Rev. Allen, she received a fresh impression in her mind “as a fire shut up in my bones” to go and preach. She approached the now Bishop Richard Allen and simply asked for permission to hold prayer meetings. He granted that to her. This she did for some time.

Jarena’s account of her first opportunity to preach in public was given in Part 1. This was the story of her impromptu preaching from the book of Jonah. She was not sure of how she would be received, but actually she was well received and began her public ministry.

It was important to Jarena that her call was truly of God. She did not want it to be of her own desire or to be a temptation from Satan. She recognized the devil could “transform himself into an angel of light for the purpose of deception.” The first time Jarena heard her call she was very careful to make sure it was from the Lord. She immediately “went into a secret place, and called upon the Lord to know if he had called me to preach, and whether I was deceived or not; when there appeared to my view the form and figure of a pulpit, with a Bible lying thereon, the back of which was presented to me as plainly as if it had been a literal fact.” In other words, Jarena had a vision. That night she had a vivid dream. She took a text and preached in her sleep. This convinced her of her call and she approached Rev. Allen for that first time.

When she began her public ministry, Jarena defended her right to preach on three grounds. First was God’s direct call to her (recounted above). Secondly, she could point to the results. There was no doubt about the support she received from men and women. And third, there were the Scriptures.

Along with other black and white women who wanted to serve by using their call to preach, Jarena pointed to many Scriptures in support of her ministry. Here in her own words is her defense:

“If a man may preach, because the Saviour died for him, why not the woman? seeing he died for her also.”

“Did not Mary first preach the risen Saviour, and is not the doctrine of the resurrection the very climax of Christianity — hangs not all our hope on this, as argued by St. Paul? Then did not Mary, a woman, preach the gospel? for she preached the resurrection of the crucified Son of God.

But some will say, that Mary did not expound the Scripture, therefore, she did not preach, in the proper sense of the term. To this I reply, it may be that the term preach, in those primitive times, did not mean exactly what it is now made to mean; perhaps it was a great deal more simple then, than it is now: — if it were not, the unlearned fishermen could not have preached the gospel at all, as they had no learning.”

Some might reply that only men are inspired to preach the gospel. Jarena replied, “If then, to preach the gospel, by the gift of heaven, comes by inspiration solely, is God straitened; must he take the man exclusively? May he not, did he not, and can he not inspire a female to preach the simple story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and accompany it too, with power to the sinners’ heart. As for me, I am fully persuaded that the Lord called me to labour according to what I have received, in his vineyard. If he has not, how could he consistently bear testimony in favour of my poor labours, in awakening and converting sinners?”

How indeed?

sisters:19thcenturyJarena’s story is one of a series of four women (including Maria W. Stewart) that I want to explore over the coming weeks. Was Jarena’s call real, or only the product of a vivid imagination? If a woman’s call to preach is real, how should we deal with it? This is not as easy as it sounds, for we must define “preach” and also “where” a woman may “preach”. Is the call to share the Gospel with others for all Christians?

More in the weeks to come.

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Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though your were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

—  For the last month we have looked at the lives of four very remarkable women. Three lived in the nineteenth century and one in the eighteenth century. Three were slave-born blacks; one was a free black. In spite of the fact that they had seemingly everything going against them as black women, at the bottom of the social scale, they rose above their circumstances and gave much to humanity while serving their Savior.

Why were they able to live in a realm above their circumstances? It is because they all received strength from God. They all answered the call in their lives to serve.

Phillis Wheatley came to Boston from West Africa in 1761. Her owners, John and Phillis Wheatley - 1Susanna Wheatley, were devout Christians. Susanna recognized Phillis’ gift for learning and educated her. Phillis was brilliant enough to read and understand even the most difficult parts of Scripture. She loved poetry and was familiar with Alexander Pope, John Milton, Horace, Virgil and many others that twenty-first century college students cannot read.

Phillis lived as a slave until the death of her owner in 1778. During that time she wrote poetry and much of it reflected her thoughts on the cruelty of slavery. But her poetry also reflected her strong Christian faith. She was able to put into perspective the difference between physical and spiritual slavery. One reason she was able to rise above her circumstances was that she knew that her life with Christ would be forever and life on this earth is short. She was grateful to God for saving her soul:

“On being brought from Africa to America”
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Phillis looked forward to the day when slavery would be ended but lived a righteous life that honored God in spite of her circumstances.

 

If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1)

Sojourner-Truth - 1   —  Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth) was born around 1797 to slave parents in New York. She ran away from a cruel owner around 1826. Kindly Quakers took her in and purchased her from her owner when he caught up with her. Isabella had a life changing experience where her faith became more real to her. There came to her “the true revelation of the character and attributes of God, and of the office of Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Savior; and the converted Sojourner became from that time henceforward one of the most faithful, consistent, and zealous of Christian disciples.” It was during this time that Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner wanted to do something to help her people. Besides trying to get the United States government to give land to the colored people, she became a reformer. She was nearly six feet tall and had a strong, deep voice. When she spoke, people listened. She was active in the temperance movement and argued for better treatment of women.

In Sojourner we have another woman who lived above the pettiness of society. Many other black women of her day went on to live mediocre lives after their emancipation, but not Sojourner. “People ask me,” she once said, “how I came to live so long and keep my mind; and I tell them it is because I think of the great things of God; not the little things.” Sojourner kept her eyes on the things above.

 

I’ll meet you in de mornin’,
When you reach de promised land;
On de oder side of Jordan,
For I’m boun’ for de promised land.    

—  The little lady who rescued three to four hundred slaves in the mid-nineteenth HTubman-1century, earning the title, of a “Moses to her people” was born Araminta Ross around 1820 to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves. Harriet Tubman later took her mother’s name, Harriet. She took her husband’s name when she married John Tubman.

Harriet would not blame God for any of the hard circumstances of her early life, but acknowledge that her difficult upbringing prepared her for the tasks ahead of her when she followed her calling to rescue slaves.

In 1849, she and some other slaves were to be sold. She determined not to be sold and so one night she just walked away. Eventually she arrived in Philadelphia where a white woman befriended her and she got a job. She saved her money and two years after her own escape from slavery she went south to rescue her husband. She found him living with another woman and unwilling to take her back. This did not stop her from her plan of rescuing other family members. She just moved on trusting in the Lord.

Harriet didn’t acquiesce to her slave condition; she did something about it. Risking her health and even her life she lived in crude circumstances in order to rescue and move slaves to freedom. She had to live by her wits but she always gave the credit to God. When someone would express surprise at her boldness and daring she would reply, “Don’t I tell you, Missus, ’twasn’t me, ’twas de Lord!”

Harriet’s life is an example of what can be done, even in horrible circumstances, when a person does not give up or give in. It was her faith in God and her attitude that made all of the difference.

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

MariaStewart_   —  Maria Miller was born a free black in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. Other than their last name, we don’t really know anything about Maria’s parents. She was orphaned at the age of five and became a servant girl in the home of a minister. While there she learned to read and became very familiar with the Bible. She understood it so well in fact that one she would later incorporate it into her speeches in very intelligent and appropriate ways. When she was twenty-three, Maria Miller married James W. Stewart at the African Baptist Church in Boston. She took not only his last name but also his middle initial and became known as Maria W. Stewart after that.

Maria is well known for her speeches and article on abolition and women’s rights. She was cruelly robbed of her inheritance by white, unscrupulous businessmen when James died. She knew how unfair life was for blacks and especially for female blacks.

In spite of that, she was also a devout Christian who knew what God expected of His people – all of His people. Maria boldly lectured the blacks themselves for doing little to better their own plight. “It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us,” she said.

Here was another woman who understood that the most important thing in life is to be right with God. She fought for social justice, but always in the context of the Bible.

All of these women understood that the most important freedom is freedom in Christ. Yes, human slavery is wicked and cruel. We still have it with us today in the form of human trafficking. As long as wicked men have the power to abuse others they will. We will not be free of sin until Christ comes again. We can fight for social justice as all of these women did. It is in service to others for the Lord that we find a meaning in our lives that keeps us going. We are able to rise above our circumstances keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and on the tasks at hand.

We can learn from the examples of these four remarkable women who understood that:

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:29) and If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36)
 

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Thou, Lord, whom I behold with glory crown’d,

By what sweet name, and in what tuneful sound

Wilt thou be prais’d? Seraphic pow’rs are faint

Infinite love and majesty to paint.

To thee let all their grateful voices raise,

And saints and angels join their song of praise.

(From: On the death of a young Lady of Five Years of Age. Phillis Wheatley)

Phillis Wheatley was born around 1753 in West Africa, probably between present-dayPhillis Wheatley - 1 Gambia and Ghana. She was kidnapped and brought to Boston. Of course Phillis Wheatley was not her birth name, but the name she was given when she arrived at the home of her new owners, John and Susanna Wheatley. The ship that brought her over to America in 1761 was the Phillis, a slave ship owned by Timothy Fitch. At the time, approximately 1000 of Boston’s more than 15,000 residents were slaves.

John Wheatley bought Phillis to be a servant to his wife. Phillis was a sickly child, but Susanna recognized her agile and intelligent mind and gave her an extraordinary education for any woman of that time, let alone a slave. The Wheatley’s were devout Christians and we are not sure when Phillis became a believer but it was very early in her life. She was baptized at the Congregationalist Old South Church on August 18, 1771.

Phillis learned English, the Bible, Christianity, Latin, ancient history, geography, and classical literature. She was a quick learner; within sixteen months Phillis was proficient enough in the English language to be able to read even “the most difficult parts of the Sacred Writings” according to her the Wheatley’s. Phillis especially loved poetry. Her poems and letters show that she was familiar with Alexander Pope, John Milton, William Shenstone, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Terence, and Homer.  How many fourteen-year olds in our day can read the writings of these classical giants?

Though Phillis was treated very kindly by Susanna, she was still as slave. Her poetry would reflect thoughts on slavery, but also on the kindness of her mistress, whom she loved very much.

Phillis’ poetry would reflect the Christianity that she had learned from Susannah and from George Whitefield. Susannah Wheatley was a supporter of the famous evangelist and Phillis went with her to hear Whitefield and other Calvinist Methodist preachers.

Phillis’ first published poem, “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin”, was a tale of two men who nearly drowned at sea and their steady faith in God. Published by the Newport Mercury in 1767, this poem reflected Phillis’ strong faith in God and would anticipate the Christian piety that would characterize most of the poetry that she would write.

For the next several years, Phillis continued to write and publish occasional poems. Her fame became international however after she wrote a funeral elegy for George Whitefield after his death in 1770. This poem was addressed to the Countess of Huntingdon, Lady Selina Hastings. (See my April 2012 posting for more information on Lady Selina.) The Countess of Huntingdon was a supporter of George Whitefield and Charles and John Wesley. Left a fabulous fortune when she was widowed, Lady Selina chose to advance the cause of the Gospel by using most of her money for evangelical causes. Whitefield was Lady Selina’s chaplain.

After this elegy was published, Phillis’ reputation as a gifted poet spread throughout the colonies and Great Britain. Here is an excerpt from “On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, 1770”:

Hail, happy saint, on thine immortal throne,

Possest of glory, life, and bliss unknown;

We hear no more the music of thy tongue,’

Thy wonted auditories cease to throng.

Phillis also wrote letters or poetry addressed to George Washington, King George, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and many others. She wrote on the theological topics of Atheism and Deism as well, showing her understanding of the Bible and practical wisdom.

Slavery and her own experience were the topics of several poems. Though she longed for an end to the cruel practice of slavery, she was able to put into perspective the difference between physical slavery and spiritual slavery. She understood that eternal life is forever and life on this earth is short. She was grateful to God for rescuing her soul:

“On being brought from Africa to America”

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,

Taught my benighted soul to understand

That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:

Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,

“Their colour is a diabolic die.”

Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,

May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

phillis-wheatley- PoemsPhillis’ first volume of poetry was published in London in 1773. Later in her life she hoped to publish a second volume but was unable to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately for us, that volume is lost.

Of course the early 1770’s was a time when tensions were growing between the colonists and Great Britain. The War for American Independence interrupted Phillis’ career. People were buying books on other topics. Her master moved several times. Her beloved mistress, Susanna died on March 3, 1774. Phillis continued to live in the Wheatley house until John Wheatley died in 1778. Phillis was effectively, if not legally freed.

Phillis struggled to support herself by selling copies of her poetry. She met and married John Peters, a free black, on April 1, 1778. At first this marriage seemed to be a sound one, but it deteriorated. We are not sure what all happened, but apparently Peters changed jobs frequently and was often in debt. He seems to have been conceited as well. John and Phillis had three children all of whom died early. The third child died at the same time as Phillis on December 5, 1784. Her last known poem was addressed to George Washington. On December 8 they were buried together in an unmarked grave.

John sold Phillis’ manuscripts and books to cover his debts. The first American edition of her “Poems” was finally published in Philadelphia in1786.

Phillis Wheatley’s poetry continued to be used as evidence for the humanity, equality, and literary talents of African Americans. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, her place in the developing tradition of literature by people of African descent is secure as the mother of African-American literature. No one should ever doubt that talent and intellect are not a function of color but are gifts of God to any of His children no matter where they are from. We are thankful that God blessed us with Phillis Wheatley. May we learn from her life to have confidence in our callings no matter our circumstances.

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“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

The date of birth of the woman we know as Sojourner Truth is not certain, but many think itSojourner Truth - 2 was around 1797. She was born in Ulster County, New York to parents who were slaves.

The state of New York did not give emancipation to the slaves until 1827, so Isabella Baumfree was a slave until her mature adulthood. Isabella had many last names over her lifetime, because she had a number of masters and of course slaves took the last name of their master to show his ownership of them.

Isabella’s family lived on a Dutch plantation and she grew up speaking Dutch. At around age nine, she was sold to another family. They only spoke English and so there were frequent miscommunications. They beat her cruelly until she learned English, but she always spoke with a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.

She went through many trials until she finally ran away with her youngest daughter, Sophia who was only an infant. She had intended to stay with her owner until her emancipation, but he took advantage of her. He had promised her that he would free her one year before the New York law went into effect if she would render him faithful service until that time. When the time came, he reneged on his promise. She now faced one more year of harsh treatment. She was so angry that she determined to take what was justly her own.

She asked God to help her escape. She thought that she heard a voice telling her to leave in the early hours of the morning, so she did. Then she asked for direction and was given a vision of a house that she actually found later on her journey. There were some kindly Quakers living there. They invited her to stay. When her master caught up with her and tried to take her back, these kindly Christians, Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, paid the price of her last year’s service and so he went home with his $20. Isabella remained with these good people a long time.

It was during this time that Isabella underwent a life changing experience. She had always had faith that God was real, but now she began to sense God’s overwhelming presence. There came to her “the true revelation of the character and attributes of God, and of the office of Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Savior; and the converted Sojourner became from that time henceforward one of the most faithful, consistent, and zealous of Christian disciples.” (“A Brief Biography of Sojourner Truth” by Harriet Carter and John W. Cromwell).

At some point, Isabella wanted to change her name in order to leave behind all of the associations of her old life. She believed that the Lord gave her the new name of Sojourner. Later, a Quaker woman whom she met asked her for her name.

“Sojourner.”

“Sojourner what?”

She had not troubled over having only a Christian name, but since it seemed good to have a surname she asked the Lord for help. “And it came in that moment, like a voice, just as true as God is true, ‘Sojourner Truth.’ And I leaped for joy. ‘Why,’ said I, ‘thank you, God; that is a good name. Thou art my last master, and thy name is Truth; and Truth shall be my abiding name till I die.'”

Sojourner wanted to do something to help her people. Among other things she tried to get the United States government to give the colored people (as they were called in those days) some land out west. She believed that they could become self-supporting. This dream never materialized.

Sojourner-Truth - 1But Sojourner did many other good things. She became a reformer. For one thing, due to the influence of the Quakers, she was concerned about how women dressed. We could use her advocacy today! She believed that modesty was more important than just blindly following the fashions. She had adopted Quaker style dress for herself. She was also an active worker in the temperance movement.

She was nearly six feet tall and strongly built. She had a deep voice and when she spoke people listened. She had been blessed with native intelligence and was quick witted. She could debate opponents on issues point by point with irrefutable answers. One of her most famous speeches, which has been preserved for us is – “Ain’t I a Woman?” This was given at a women’s rights convention in Ohio in 1851. Here is a part of the speech as printed in the local paper at the time:

“And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunders, she asked ‘And a’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear de lash a well! And a’n’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’n’t I a woman?…….Den dey talks ’bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?” (“Intellect,” whispered some one near.) “Dat’s it, honey. What’s dat got to do wid womin’s rights or nigger’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?’ And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

“If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let ’em.” Long-continued cheering greeted this. “Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me, and now old Sojourner han’t got nothin’ more to say.”

Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude.”

There are many other incidents that could be related about this fascinating woman. She is to be admired not only for her courage, but also for the way she rose above her circumstances.

Sojourner had no “book learning” but she was a power at meetings; there was no tongue more feared than hers. She did not accomplish as much for her people as she would have liked, but it was not her fault. Change was slow. Many other black women were freed and went on to poor or mediocre lives, but not Sojourner. “People ask me,” she once said, “how I came to live so long and keep my mind; and I tell them it is because I think of the great things of God; not the little things.” She was truly a remarkable woman.

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“I’ll meet you in de mornin’,
When you reach de promised land;
On de oder side of Jordan,
For I’m boun’ for de promised land.”

We recently watched “The Ten Commandments” a great movie with Charlton Heston. It was made in the 1950’s when it was still ok to talk about the Bible in a movie in a positive way. The nearly four-hour movie told the story of Moses and the rescue of God’s people during the Exodus from Egypt.

We don’t know why God allowed His people to bear cruel slavery for four hundred years before sending a deliverer and rescuing them. We must not run the danger of accusing God for the evil that sinful men are doing. He did allow the slavery for His own purposes. Our response should be of gratitude when He hears our prayers and rescues us and not question His sovereignty.

One woman who did just that was Harriet Tubman, the little lady who rescued three to fourHTubman-1 hundred slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, earning the title, of a “Moses to her people”. Harriet would not blame God for any hard circumstances but instead she would acknowledge that her difficult upbringing prepared her for the tasks ahead of her when she followed her calling to rescue slaves.

Born Araminta Ross around 1820 to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves, she later took her mother’s name, Harriet. She took her husband’s name when she married John Tubman.

Harriet was born in Maryland and had ten brothers and sisters. She was later able to rescue many family members and her parents, who retired in New York on property that Harriet purchased for them.

When Harriet was six years old she was sent to live with the James Cook family and learn the trade of weaving. Her mistress was cruel. James Cook sent her out to check muskrat traps, and so she had to wade in water. Already ill from measles she grew very sick and was eventually sent home.

When she was in her teens she worked as a field hand. While working for that farmer she received a wound to her head that would affect her for the rest of her life. The farm overseer was trying to punish a disobedient slave and threw a two pound weight at him which fell short and hit Harriet, cracking her skull. It took her a long time to recover from this and for the rest of her life she was subject to sleeping spells. At times a sort of stupor would come over her even in the midst of a conversation and she would need to sleep. This would give the appearance of laziness or stupidity, but Harriet would show that she really had a fine mind and a courageous strength.

After this Harriet worked for John Stewart. She did many jobs usually given to men, such as cutting and hauling wood. Here she built up the incredible strength that would later allow her to do such things as carry grown men through the water to their safety.

Harriet married a free “colored” man named John Tubman around 1844. They had no children.

In 1849, she and some other slaves were to be sold. She determined not to be sold and so one night she just walked away. Eventually she arrived in Philadelphia where a white woman befriended her and she got a job. She saved her money and two years after her own escape from slavery she went south to rescue her husband. She found him living with another woman and unwilling to take her back. This did not stop her from her plan of rescuing other family members. She just moved on trusting in the Lord.

Between 1852 and 1857 she made many journeys to the south rescuing many people. It was during this time that people began to call her “Moses”, a name she retained for the rest of her life. She rescued so many people that a reward was put out for her capture.

Let’s don’t forget that a Fugitive Slave Law had been passed, making it a crime for people to help slaves escape. Harriet had to find ways to get the rescued slaves all the way to Canada since even many Northerners would not help for fear of getting fined or arrested for breaking the law. Many Christians would say that Harriet should not have defied the government because of what it says in Romans 13 about obeying all those in authority over us (see Romans 13:1). That is a subject for another post in the future, but for now let us not judge her conscience. Slavery is evil and the Lord helped Harriet to rescue many people.

Harriet was able to discern the voice of the Lord speaking to her, warning her and giving her guidance. Because of this she was able to avoid capture many times. She said that she always knew when danger was near though she didn’t understand quite how exactly, but “pears like my heart go flutter, flutter,” and she would know that something bad was going to happen.

One example of this was a time when Harriet was going back North and she had a premonition that told her to turn aside and cross a stream. The stream was swollen there and she did not know how deep it was. She obeyed the whispered warning in her head and stepped in to cross the water. The men that were with her hung back, but when they saw that the water was only up to her chin they followed her and all safely crossed the stream. Later they found out that there was a party waiting down the road to arrest her and if she hadn’t crossed the stream she would not have escaped.

Another time Harriet fell asleep in a park beneath a notice that was offering a reward for her capture! Of course, Harriet couldn’t read and had no idea of the irony until some friends found her and told her.

Because she was on the run, Harriet slept in wet swamps or in potato fields where she could lie hidden. Besides the obvious risk to her health there was always danger of being spotted. But the Lord always rescued her, sometimes through friends or by her own wits. And Harriet always gave the credit to God. When someone would express surprise at her boldness and daring she would reply, “Don’t I tell you, Missus, ’twasn’t me, ’twas de Lord!”

All through the War Between the States Harriet rescued slaves and nursed wounded soldiers. She was never paid for her efforts. Harriet remained poor for the rest of her life but she never complained.

Harriet-Tubman-2Harriet died on March 10, 1913, in Auburn, New York at around the age of ninety-three!  All through her life she had depended on the Lord and God had never disappointed her trust in Him.

Her life is an example of what can be done, even in the most horrible of circumstances, when a person does not give up or give in. Harriet’s attitude in life made all the difference in the world. Here we sit in our comfort and can’t seem to find time to help those around us. Harriet accomplished much in spite of illness, threats, poverty, and danger all around her. Her childlike faith and determination is an example for us all.

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