Summary: We too were enslaved once. We too were held down by the bonds of sin, and yes, we can remain in slavery on account of our ignorance. We are no longer slaves, we are now in fact sons, entitled to the full rights of an heir.
William Knibb sailed for Jamaica in November of 1824. He traveled to replace his missionary brother Thomas, who had died just a few months before his departure from England.
His school in Jamaica dedicated to the children of slaves prospered. Slaves flocked from the sugarcane fields every night to hear him teach. Sunday morning services were packed. The churches in Jamaica grew like wildfire under his guidance. But success brought persecution. The slaves were soon forbidden from attending evening services. One of the church’s deacons, a slave, was flogged and ordered to work in chains by order of the magistrates for holding prayer meetings. Still, the slaves openly sang hymns and prayed for each other. The Colonial Legislature even attempted to forbid the building of new chapels for the slaves.
Finally, Knibb and other missionaries were arrested and the chapels they built were destroyed by angry mobs, with many of the mobs incredibly led by the magistrates themselves. The sugarcane planters were furious at Knibbs and his companions, for imagine the effect on the soul of a now literate slave as he or she read these words from St. Paul, Gal. 4:7 “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” These Jamaican believers understood the depth of these words, the gospel of Jesus Christ was very alive and real to them; They had tasted a depth of freedom in their spirit from Jesus Christ that would cause them to hunger even more for freedom from physical slavery.
William Knibb sailed back to England and his testimony alone swept away any hesitation from the churches of England from supporting abolition of the slaves in Jamaica. The churches lined up behind the cause of abolition. Finally, on August 1st, 1838, complete freedom was granted throughout the British West Indies.
Back in Jamaica, On July 31st, 1838 Knibb led a late night worship service packed with over 10,000 men and women who sang praises to Jesus Christ until at the stroke of midnight, when they were literally freed from the bonds of slavery. How powerful is that? The Gospel of Jesus Christ woke these people to freedom, and it was to Jesus Christ they gave the credit for their truly being free. The next day a children’s celebration ensued with the burial of a casket containing a slave collar, a whip and a chain. Freedom had come at last Jamaica.
There was now not a soul in the West Indies that was truly a slave. But in remote areas, there were those who did not hear the news, there were those who had no idea they were now free. Former slave masters kept these slaves in the dark, and free people continued to work as slaves for months after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Can you imagine that? They were free, but in their ignorance, they remained enslaved.
We too were enslaved once. We too were held down by the bonds of sin, and yes, we too like those freed in the West Indies, can remain in slavery on account of our ignorance. We are no longer slaves, we are now in fact sons, entitled to the full rights of an heir. Well, then, Paul encourages us this morning, let us set aside our ignorance, let us set aside our slavery, and live as free people.