There was held, in Hartford, some years ago, a convention of the colored Baptist Association of New England. I was invited to address one of the sessions. To show what those converted in early life are sometimes enabled to endure by God’s grace, I related the following story.
“What’s dat, Willie?”
“That’s a spelling book, Jack.”
“What’s de spellin’ book fer?”
“To learn how to read.”
“How’s you do it?”
“We learn those things first.”
And so Jack learned A, B, C, etc., mastered the spelling book, and then learned to read a little, though the law forbade any colored person to do it.
One day Willie brought home a little black book.
Jack asked, “What’s dat, Willie?”
“That is the New Testament, that tells about Jesus.”
And, erelong, Jack learned to read the New Testament, and when he read that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16) and that he really loved us and died for us, and that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” (1 John 1:9) his heart went out in love to Jesus. He believed in Him, his sins were forgiven, his heart was changed, and he became a happy Christian.
Though a mere child, he at once began to tell others of Jesus’ love. When he became a young man, he was still at work for the Lord. He used to go to the neighboring plantations, read his Bible, and explain it to the people.
One day the master said to him, “Jack, I am told that you go off preaching every Sunday.”
“Yes, mas’r, I must tell sinners how Jesus died on de cross for dem.”
“Jack, if you go off preaching on Sunday, I will tell you what I will do on Monday.”
“What will do you on Monday, mas’r?”
“I will tie you to that tree, take this whip, and flog all this religion out of you.”
Jack knew that his master was a determined man, but when he thought of Christ’s sufferings for us, and heard his Lord saying unto him, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” (Revelation 2:10) he resolved to continue his work for the Lord the next Sunday.
With his New Testament in hand, he went down to the plantation and told them that his master might whip him half to death the next day, but if he did, he would not suffer more than Christ had suffered for us.
The next morning his master said, “Jack, I hear you were preaching again yesterday.”
“Yes, mas’r. I must go and tell sinners how Jesus was whipped that we might go free.”
“But, Jack, I told you that if you went off preaching Sunday, I should whip you on Monday, and now I will do it.”
Blow after blow fell upon Jack’s back, while oaths fell from the master’s lips. Then he said, “There, Jack, I don’t believe you will preach next Sunday. Now go down to the cotton field and go to work.”
When next Sunday came, Jack could not stand straight, for his back was covered with sores and scars. But, with his Testament in his hand, he stood before the people of the plantation, and said, “Mas’r whip me mos’ ter death last Monday, an’ I don’t know but he will kill me tomorrow, but if he does, I shall not suffer more than Jesus did when He died on the cross for us.”
Monday morning the master called him and said, “Jack, I hear you have been preaching again.”
“Yes, mas’r. I must go an’ tell sinners how Christ was wounded for our transgressions, how He sweat drops of blood for us in the garden, an’ wore that cruel crown of thorns that we might wear a crown of joy when He comes.”
“But I don’t want to hear your preaching. Now bare your back, and take the flogging I told you I should give you if you went off preaching.”
Fast flew the cruel lashes, until Jack’s back was covered with wounds and blood.
“Now, Jack, go down to the cotton field and go to work. I reckon you’ll never want to preach again.”
When the next Sunday came, Jack’s back was in a terrible condition. But, hobbling along, he found his friends in the neighboring plantation, and said, “Mas’r whipped me mos’ ter death last Monday, but if I can only get you to come to Jesus and love Him, I am willing to die for your sake tomorrow.”
If there were scoffers there, do you not think they were led to believe there was a reality in religion? If any were there who were inclined to think that ministers preach only when they get money for it, do you not think they changed their minds when they saw what wages Jack got? Many were in tears, and some gave themselves to that Savior for whose sake Jack was willing to die the death of a martyr.
Next morning the master called Jack, and said, “Make bare your back again; for I told you that just as sure as you went off preaching, I would whip you till you gave it up.”
The master raised the ugly whip, and as he looked at Jack’s back, all lacerated, he could find no new place to strike, and said, “Why do you do it, Jack? You know that as surely as you go off preaching Sunday, I will whip you most to death the next day. No one pays you anything for it. All you get is a terrible flogging, which is taking your life from you.”
“Yer ax me, mas’r, what I’se doin’ it fer. I’ll tell you, mas’r. I’se goin’ ter tak all dos stripes an’ all dos scars, mas’r, up to Jesus, by an’ by, to show Him how faithful I’se been, ’cause He loved you an’ me, mas’r, an’ bled an’ died on the cross for you an’ me, mas’r.”
The whip dropped, and that master could not strike another blow. In a subdued tone he said, “Go down in the cotton field.”
Do you think Jack went away cursing his master, saying, “O Lord, punish him for all his cruelty to me”?
No, no! His prayer was, “Lord, forgive him, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”
About three o’clock, a messenger came down to the cotton field, crying: “Mas’r dyin’! Mas’r’s dyin’! Come quick, Jack. Mas’r’s dyin’!”
In his private room, Jack found his master on the floor in agony, crying: “O Jack, I’m sinking down to hell! Pray for me! Pray for me!”
“I’se been prayin’ for you all de time, mas’r. You mus’ pray for yourse’f.”
“I don’t know how to pray, Jack. I know how to swear, but I don’t know how to pray.”
“You mus’ pray, mas’r.”
And finally they both prayed, and God revealed Christ on the cross to him, and then and there he became a changed man.
A few days after, he called Jack to him and said, “Jack, here are your freedom papers. They give you your liberty. Go and preach the gospel wherever you will, and may the Lord’s blessing go with you.”
While telling this story at the convention, I noticed a man, perhaps sixty years of age, with quite gray hair, who was deeply moved. When I had finished, he sprang to his feet, and, with a clear but tremulous voice, said, “I stand for Jack. Mr. Hammond has been speaking of me. He has been trying to tell my sufferings, but he cannot describe the terrible agony I endured at the hands of my master, who, because I was determined to preach the gospel on the plantations around us, every Monday morning for three weeks called me up and laid the cruel lash upon my back with his own hands until my back was like raw beef. But God helped me to pray for him, until he was forgiven and saved through Christ. And, thank God, Jack still lives.”
I have given you only a few of his burning words, but I can tell you there were many eyes filled with tears during this touching scene, which will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it.