RELIGION OF THE COLORED
The old-time religion of the colored people was a reality to them, was a comfort in their days of trouble here, but their greatest joy was in the conception of the future. In one of their hymns the chorus runs:?"Hard times and tribulation; we'll part no more when we meet in heaven."
Their faith rested mainly on dreams and visions, and who can say that in the days of enforced ignorance God did not reveal himself to them who truly sought Him, in this manner.
They had a formula of questions which they asked the convert, much as follows:
What started you out to pray?
The usual answer was "Trouble."
How did you feel as you prayed?
I got worse and worse the longer I prayed.
What troubled you?
4. Tell how you were delivered.
The answer to this question usually included a long list of visions, beginning with, "I saw myself carried here and there (perhaps to hell), saw myself hanging over hell by the hair of the head. At last I went out and said, 'Lord help me; do your will with me.' Then deliverance came."
(Is not this really your experience? The sinner tries in many ways to save himself--sometimes by prayers and tears, without relief till he surrenders, and by faith receives Christ as his Savior. Then comes peace and rest.)
For whose sake were you forgiven?
Unless the candidate could say," God forgave me for Jesus' sake," he was turned back to seek longer.
They seem to have a clear idea of the atonement. After conversion they often saw themselves carried up to heaven, where they tried on their long white robes, golden slippers, and crowns, all of which exactly fitted. Then God said, "Go back to yonder world and tell both saint and sinner what a dear Savior you have found." Often one saw his heart taken out all black with sin, but the Savior washed it white. Is not this the gospel? I John 1: 7. I believe their conversion was genuine?the trouble was and still is this, that after conversion they were not taught how to keep that heart clean. This is where the church errs in its teachings to-day.
One of my fireside pupils wrote me a few days ago, saying: "Our people believe in sinning every day, but I accepted the gift of the Holy Spirit and have such rest and peace as never before. I can be patient with my children and kind to the people who hate me. I am kept sweetly trusting but they say I am mistaken, that I do sin every day but I know I've got something that keeps me from sinning."
I answered as follows:
Dear Sister?You are on the right road. Give the people the Bible and pray for them. While you keep hid away in Christ, Satan cannot touch you. Jesus came to save his people from their sins and not in their sins. The Christian is no longer the servant of sin. Read Romans, 6th chapter.
But few of our colored people could read their Bible and their teachers failed to make this truth plain. Hence they went back into the world and half of the people you met were "fallen members," as they called backsliders. Some taught that this old body sinned but the soul did not sin; for example at a funeral I heard a minister say, "There lies sister Jane; her tongue often told lies, but her soul never sinned." They got this doctrine from a false interpretation of the seventh chapter of Romans. I know a multitude of religious teachers to-day who have about the same method of apologizing for sins. It is a dangerous thing to teach half the Gospel as the result of such teaching is a backslidden church.
I have often heard it said that the colored man's religion did not keep him from lying and stealing. Does the white man's religion keep him from pride, from conformity to the world, from neglecting to send the Gospel to the heathen, and many other sins? Many of the colored preachers did not know that indulgence in strong drink was sinful. They had seen it used freely by professing Christians. I explained Habakkuk 2:15 to a minister who drank wine. He asked with great earnestness, "Is there really a curse on those who drink and treat their neighbors to wine?" He could not read very well and spent a long time learning to read that verse, and then vowed not to touch wine again and not to give it to others, and kept his vow.
The students of our schools who go over the country, singing what they call plantation songs, do not know how to sing them. God taught our dear people the melody of those songs in the furnace of afflictions. It is music that cannot be learned in any other school. There was an undertone of sadness that brought tears to your eyes and those who listened heard much that was not expressed in words. Those songs were the channel for the overflow of sorrow that they had not liberty to express in any other way.
I remember the first Sabbath in Rev. John Mark's church in New Orleans after a choir was formed. The old people rose but could not sing. They tried to sway back and forth with the music, but could not. This hurt them, and it hurt me. It is true there was a kind of music in the singing of that choir, but, to them, it lacked the "melody in the heart unto the Lord."
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