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Slaves Of White People, Slaves Of Christ

Slaves Of White People, Slaves Of Christ

God used the Atlantic slave trade to free some African slaves from another kind of slavery. This other kind of slavery is even more horrifying than the Atlantic slave trade.

If you’re a student of the history of slavery in Africa, you probably think I’m referring to the Trans-Saharan slave trade—the mostly unknown trade of West Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa to Arab Muslims in North Africa. It nearly equals the Atlantic slave trade in scope but far surpasses its brutality. The North African slaveowners castrated their slaves, which resulted in the deaths of most of their millions of male slaves.

But there is a more horrifying kind of slavery, a slavery that continues and worsens even after death: slavery to sin.

In Ghana, where I was born, every person was a slave to sin before the Atlantic slave trade. Like all sub-Saharan Africans in the first 1,500 years of Christianity, Ghanaians had never heard the gospel. So God used the slave trade to save sinners from slavery to sin.

It’s difficult for many of us to accept God’s sovereignty over suffering. But we shouldn’t be ashamed of God’s sovereignty. If God isn’t sovereign over everything, he isn’t provident or helpful in everything. If he wasn’t sovereign over the slave trade, then he wasn’t sovereign over its abolition.

God isn’t just sovereign over good things, he’s also sovereign over bad things (Isaiah 45:7). And since he’s sovereign over bad things, good things always come out of bad things. We shouldn’t forget that the good news of Jesus Christ came out of the worst thing to ever happen. The Bible says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18).”

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the greatest injustice in history. However, through that injustice, sinners were justified by faith. Jesus’ sufferings were necessary to bring us to God. 

He had to die for our sins before he could resurrect for our salvation. Suffering, especially slavery, has always been part of God’s redemptive plan. This is why the Bible uses words associated with slavery to articulate the nature of sin and the hope of the gospel.

Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years because of God’s redemptive plan (Genesis 15:13-16). That was predicated on Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery. But God blessed Joseph and made him the most powerful person in Egypt after Pharaoh. So years later, when famine forced his brothers to ask for his help, he said: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones (Genesis 50:20-21).” 

In the same way, though African and European participants of the slave trade meant evil, God meant it for good, to bring many slaves into eternal life.

That doesn’t mean we should downplay the evils of the slave trade. We can grieve over the slave trade while rejoicing over God’s sovereignty over slavery. 

I’ve been an emotional wreck as I read Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species by abolitionist Quobna Ottabah Cugoano. 

Like me, Quobna (Kwabena is the correct spelling) Ottabah Cugoano is a member of the Fanti tribe in Ghana. When he was 13 years old, he was kidnapped by African merchants and sold to Europeans as a slave. Describing what his kidnappers received in the trade, he wrote: “I saw him take a gun, a piece of cloth, and some lead for me, [and] told me that he must now leave me there, and went off. He continued, “This made me cry bitterly, but I was soon conducted to a prison, for three days, where I heard the groans and cries of many, and saw some of my fellow captives…And when we found ourselves at last taken away [in the slave ships], death was more preferable than life.”

For two years, he suffered the brutality of slavery in Grenada before a British slaveowner he describes as a “gentleman” purchased him and brought him to England. There his Christian slaveowner freed him and sent him to school. Years later, he became one of the most passionate and persuasive abolitionists in Britain. 

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With his friend, Olaudah Equiano (a former Nigerian slave), they founded the Sons of Africa and worked with Adam Clarkson and the Anti-Slavery Society to abolish slavery.

But just as there is a worse kind of slavery, there is a better kind of freedom. According to Ottabah Cugoano, freedom from slavery isn’t the best kind of freedom he received. In his book, he said:

“But among other observations, one great duty I owe to Almighty God, (the thankful acknowledgment I would not omit for any consideration) that, although I have been brought away from my native country, in that torrent of my robbery and wickedness, thanks be to God for his good providence towards me; I have both obtained liberty, and acquired the great advantages of some little learning, in being able to read and write, and, what is still infinitely of greater advantage, I trust, to know something of HIM who is that God whose providence rules over alland who is the only Potent One that rules in the nations over the children of men. It is unto Him, who is the Prince of the Kings of the earth, that I would give all thanks. And, in some manner, I may say with Joseph, as he did with respect to the evil intention of his brethren, when they sold him into Egypt, that whatever evil intentions and bad motives those insidious robbers had in carrying me away from my native country and friends, I trust, was what the Lord intended for my good. In this respect, I am highly indebted to many of the good people of England for learning and principles unknown to the people of my native country. But, above all, what have I obtained from the Lord God of Hosts, the God of the Christians! In that divine revelation of the only true God, and the Saviour of men, what a treasure of wisdom and blessings are involved? How wonderful is the divine goodness displayed in those invaluable books the Old and New Testaments, that inestimable compilation of books, the Bible? And, O what a treasure to have, and one of the greatest advantages to be able to read therein, and a divine blessing to understand!”

Like Ottabah Cugoano, we should be deeply saddened about the slave trade and we should be deeply grateful for God’s sovereignty and providence. Inhumane actions cannot stop divine providence. 

African and European slave traders intended the slave trade for evil, but God meant it for good. They sold Africans to make them slaves of white men, but God purchased them with the blood of Jesus to make them slaves of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22). 

In other words, the slave traders’ intention was to take the slaves to the New World, but God’s intention was to take many slaves to the new earth.

When I meet Kwabena Ottabah Cugoano in the new earth, I look forward to singing about the sovereignty, providence, and grace of God in our Fanti language.

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