In 1850, The US didn’t know it yet, but tempers were primed for war.
Unbeknownst to Americans, they would soon face the most horrific domestic war in their history. They also didn’t know how it would leave long traces of shame, racism, and prejudice for more a century over, lasting even to today.
One catalyst for this “war of Northern aggression”, as one of my college classmates from South Carolina once called it, was the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. This was part of the Compromise of 1850, an act that was truly a band-aid over the core issues that needed to be addressed.
This law dictated that Northerners must return runaway slaves from the South. As I allowed myself to understand their mentality, I began to empathize with their plight--they were to be complicit within this peculiar institution.
In what I hold as nothing less than divine providence, I observed a crucial truth and applied that truth to us. Why was this Fugitive Slave Law so necessary? No person in their right mind would run back to an old master. In the 1800s, masters brutally beat and dehumanized their slaves and all the more when captors returned these runaways.
In this sudden moment of realization, a truth actualized in my mind: we do the same thing.
The beloved apostle Paul wrote this:
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.”
And again later:
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Sin once enslaved us. It brutally beat us with our own bodies. It dehumanized us and convinced us we were ‘good-for-nothings” as did the wicked slave owners in the 1800s.
Often, however, we run immediately back to sin, the wicked slave master.
Throughout my life, I have been taught that sin is fun for a season. Of all the things I learned in my youth, many I have forgotten, whether by will or by whim, this truth refuses to escape me. Sin feels great, for a time. It is a short-lived good time, but it is a nostalgic good time. Sin whispers, “It’s been awhile.” Sin beckons time and again. It knows no recompense or remediation. Whether you forsook sin yesterday or a million yesterdays ago, sin will call again.
When sin calls again, we lose our wits and run eagerly to its beck and call.
This makes as much sense as a fugitive slave willingly running back to their master.
What ex-slave would do this?
The whole point of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 involved forcibly removing slaves from freedom in the North and back into their shackles in the South. When Paul wrote in Romans, “For sin shall not be master over you,” he meant it. Sin holds neither dominion nor possession over us any longer; likewise, slaves who escaped would have thus experienced this freedom without the Fugitive Slave Act forcing the Northerners’ hands.
Since we have been freed of sin’s authority over us, why do we run back to the brief, overrated, shallow glory of sin?
We do not fully value the deep pleasures of God.
I recently listened to a John Piper podcast. Although I do not now remember the topic, one idea stood out to me: all things are meant to point us to pleasure in Christ, our food, relationships, the Earth, entertainment, and every other thing we have. God draws us to Him through what He gives us.
A key difference between the returned slaves in the 1850s and us is that we have every ability to taste and embrace the hope of freedom. The certainty of God’s promise to us is that He has reconciled us to Himself. Yet, with that knowledge, we choose the whippings of sin.
We are such a short-sighted people. The list of things we value includes what we are able to see five inches from our faces. Granted, this probably does not describe all Christ followers, but it definitely describes me.
I am the nonsensical runaway slave running back to my master in the South. I need not legislation to force me back into the evil clutches of my old master. I voluntarily, and at times gleefully, flee to the solitude of sins prickly, abrasive, seductive embrace.
I often do not value who Christ is and I frequently opt out of the blessings of grace and its promises through Christ that I am free of sin.
Until we (I) value the intense pleasures of God, we as ex-slaves will continually and freely run back to what we know: wanton, momentary pleasure and sin’s slavery.