It was my mentor, Dick Simmons, who first pointed out to me that the abolition of slavery was the product of past great awakenings. If there had been no outpourings of the Holy Spirit in answer to the prayers of the saints, during which God wrote His laws on many hearts, we would no doubt still be keeping slaves throughout the world today. God was the real author of the abolition movement.
Each wave of spiritual awakening produced a fresh set of abolitionist fanatics who refused to tolerate the thought that slavery would last even one more generation in God’s world. First, it was the Quakers, who were learning to hear the voice of God. Then, a century later, it was the Methodists (during the Great Awakening), who put their emphasis on discipleship groups (Methodist Societies). Both these groups, when they came to America, refused to let anyone join their fellowships, if they held slaves. These groups had already heard from God about slavery before arriving on these shores. But then God began to convict slave-owners here in America about this.
The teaching I share with you today tells the story of the grandson of Robert “King” Carter, who was the most notorious Virginia slave-holder of them all. But something happened to Robert Carter III (his grandson) when God converted him out of “the Christian religion” and into “the Kingdom of God.” He was convicted of the sin of slavery and was tormented about it until he formed a plan to emancipate all of his slaves. Running the gauntlet of his family on the one side, and the general opinion of Virginia society on the other, this aristocrat succeeded in freeing every one of his slaves, in batches, over decades, setting them up as free blacks. Today, he is called “the First Emancipator.” There is no better example of the difference between “the Christian religion,” owned and operated by people, and “the Kingdom of God,” under the control of King Jesus.
Robert Carter III is just one more of those forgotten heroes who were blasted by the Holy Spirit and knew, after that, that they were under the lordship of King Jesus. What a shame that we have not chosen to remember him and the thousands of others like him who ridded the world of one of the most wicked institutions of human history. Instead of wringing our hands over past sins, wouldn’t it be a better idea to celebrate the people who listened to God and became faithful disciples? –and then imitate them!