Justice and mercy for slavers

I admire the way John Wesley can speak both grace and truth. He never soft-pedals justice when offering mercy. He never forgets mercy in crying out over injustice.

In his “Thoughts Upon Slavery” we find an excellent example of this quality. In the fourth section of this essay, Wesley has this word for the captains of slave ships.

May I speak plainly to you? I must. Love constrains me; love to you, as well as to those you are concerned with. Is there a God? You know there is. Is he a just God? Then there must be a state of retribution; a state wherein the just God will reward every man according to his works. Then what reward will he render to you? O think betimes! before you drop into eternity! Think now, “He shall have judgment without mercy that showed no mercy.”

Do you hear both justice and mercy there? I do. Love for these men doing this vile thing compels him to speak to them of God’s justice. Care for them, as much as for the slaves they abuse, motivates his writing.

Wesley goes even further in the next paragraph, which is among my favorite passages in all of his writings for its force, grace, and compassion.

Are you a man? Then you should have an human heart. But have you indeed? What is your heart made of? Is there no such principle as compassion there? Do you never feel another’s pain? Have you no sympathy, no sense of human woe, no pity for the miserable? When you saw the flowing eyes, the heaving breasts, or the bleeding sides and tortured limbs of your fellow-creatures, was you a stone, or a brute? Did you look upon them with the eyes of a tiger? When you squeezed the agonizing creatures down in the ship, or when you threw their poor mangled remains into the sea, had you no relenting? Did not one tear drop from your eye, one sigh escape from your breast? Do you feel no relenting now? If you do not, you must go on, till the measure of your iniquities is full. Then will the great God deal with you as you have dealt with them, and require all their blood at your hands. And at “that day it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you!” But if your heart does relent, though in a small degree, know it is a call from the God of love. And “to-day, if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart.” To-day resolve, God being your helper, to escape for your life. Regard not money! All that a man hath will he give for his life! Whatever you lose, lose not your soul: Nothing can countervail that loss. Immediately quit the horrid trade: At all events, be an honest man.

For me, the most powerful turn in the passage is when Wesley names grace to the captains. When he writes, “But if your heart does relent … know it is a call from the God of love,” he speaks both truth and grace. He has not come to condemn but to save the men who carry on this vile trade. He names for them the workings of grace in their own hearts and urges them to grab hold of its leading.

I hope to be able to write and speak as wisely, faithfully, and powerfully as John Wesley one day.


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