by Al Maxey
Issue #790 -------
February 16, 2020
To make good the cause of Freedom against Slavery,
you must be Declarations of Independence walking.
Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882]
The apostle Paul gives us all some good advice when it comes to how we treat others: "Render to all what is due them: ... honor to whom honor" (Romans 13:7). This teaching follows closely on the heels of some equally sound advice from this apostle of Christ: "Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor" (Romans 12:9-10). Paul closes the chapter with this admonition: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). We are called to rise above the baser inclinations of our human nature, and to exhibit in our attitudes and actions a more godly nature: one made visible to us in the life of Jesus, and one in which we grow with the aid of His indwelling Spirit. The darkness about us is filled with evil, yet now and then we find brave souls who are boldly letting their light shine in that darkness and doing all in their power to push that darkness back. One such person was Granville Sharp (1735-1813). I think I would be safe in saying that many of you have never heard of this man, nor of his accomplishments both socially and spiritually. You have also most likely never heard of the scandalous event that occurred on November 29, 1781 known as "The Zong Massacre." It was a shocking and disgraceful mass murder of 132 precious souls aboard a British ship, an event which would lead to, with the help of such men as Granville Sharp, a much-needed national transformation in Britain (and in other nations as well). More about Granville Sharp later. First, let me share with you some of the horrific details of this brutal mass murder.
The backdrop for our horrific story is 18th century England, a time of considerable social unrest caused by a variety of unfortunate and even ungodly circumstances. The British empire was witnessing the growing dissatisfaction of the American colonies with what the latter perceived to be oppressive British oversight, a situation that was deteriorating so rapidly that few doubted some form of revolt or revolution was almost certainly imminent. Additionally, there was a growing concern among a growing number of citizens over the matter of human slavery. The slave trade (i.e. the buying and selling of human beings, primarily from Africa) was proving to be very lucrative, yet it was also enormously disturbing to those who strongly believed this was against the will of God. The Africans, who had been taken forcefully from their communities and families, and who were being shipped to other countries within the British Empire, were considered by many to be something less than human, and they were thus mistreated accordingly. "These people were created by God to be enslaved," some maintained. "They don't have souls, like the rest of us do," it was declared. They were "cattle with the outward appearance of humans." In short, they were viewed (even by the law) as property, not people. Property can be bought and sold; it can be traded away; it can be disposed of if it becomes inconvenient to its owner. Killing the African slaves was not regarded as murder; it was not a crime. Killing one's slaves was viewed legally as little more than the disposal of assets that were no longer useful or profitable. It was a dark time (not only for the British, but for other nations involved in the slave trade as well), and few people dared speak out against it publicly for fear of reprisal.
As is always true, however, and which always manifests itself historically during such times, there were a number of people who possessed a boldness of character sufficient to compel them to speak out against the ills of society, and to stand with and stand up for those who were being oppressed. Men, women and children were being stolen from their places of abode and then sold or traded for profit by the thief. This was not only a crime against humanity, it was a sin so severe in the sight of God that the punishment was death. "Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death" (Exodus 21:16; cf. Deuteronomy 24:7). This is a theft of a human being, and it is not only condemned in the Bible, but in the laws of other peoples as well (as can be seen in the Code of Hammurabi 14). The greed of the "flesh peddlers," however, had blinded them to the abominable nature of their actions. It is hard for us to fathom at times just how callous and cruel one person can be toward another, yet history is filled with examples of brutality toward others so extreme that it defies human comprehension. Sometimes it takes a horrific, mind-numbing act to finally awaken a people to the horrors existing around them which they have tolerated. It further takes a brave person (or persons) rising up at exactly the right moment following such events to rouse and motivate a people to a change of course. What happened on the slave ship "Zong" on November 29, 1781, and the days following, was such a time and event, and Granville Sharp was just the man needed to awaken the British public to what was happening around them and to call them to a much needed spiritual and societal change.
On September 6, 1781 the British slave ship Zong set sail from Africa with its "cargo" of 470 slaves. These men, women and children were packed into the ship's hold like sardines, without any concern for the comfort of these people. The ship was owned by a group of merchants in Liverpool who saw ownership of such a ship as an easy way to make money, for the slave trade was a very profitable business. On this particular occasion the ship's captain, Luke Collingwood, had underestimated the amount of water to take on board for the voyage, and when they found themselves in an area of the mid-Atlantic ocean known to sailors as "the Doldrums" (an area where there was, on occasion, little or no wind, which was disastrous for sailing vessels), the ship remained stranded for some time. With supplies running out, many of the crew and "cargo" became ill, with a number dying. Seven of the seventeen crew members died, as did around 60 of the slaves. Finally, Capt. Collingwood ordered some of the "cargo" to be thrown overboard so that the remaining food and water might last longer. This was "legally permissible," by the way, according to British Maritime Law (what was known as "the notion of general average") which declared: "Cargo purposely jettisoned at sea to save the remainder of the cargo is eligible for insurance compensation." The slaves were "cargo," so the ship's owner could file a claim for monetary compensation for each slave lost (30 pounds per slave). Thus, 132 African slaves were thrown overboard, with an additional 10 slaves hurling themselves into the sea to join their dying friends and loved ones.
Later, through the effort of Granville Sharp, this massacre was brought to the attention of the public, and it ended up in the British court system. He sought to have the owners, captain and crew charged with murder. Sadly, no person was ever charged with a crime, and the court ruled that the owners were entitled to compensation for lost property. This was appealed, which resulted in that compensation being revoked, as the court found the fault for the loss of cargo was the captain's, as he had miscalculated the water and rations. The Solicitor General for England and Wales, whose name was John Lee, made this declaration, "The case is the same as if assets had been thrown overboard. A ship's master can drown slaves without a surmise of impropriety." Although nobody was actually prosecuted for this massacre (since no "people" were lost, just "property"), it nevertheless got the attention of the public, who were horrified. It woke a good many of them up to what was happening to men, women and children in the slave trade business, and it began mobilizing many of them into action against this godless buying and selling of precious souls.
Let's turn our attention to the man who boldly sought justice for these murdered African slaves. Granville Sharp (a few sources spell the last name "Sharpe") was born on November 10, 1735 in Durham, England. He was the son of Thomas Sharp (1693-1759) who was Archdeacon of Northumberland. His father was a noted theologian and writer, and the son of John Sharp, who was Archbishop of York. Granville's mother was Judith Wheler (died: 1757), who was the daughter of the famous travel writer George Wheler. Granville was one of 14 children born to Thomas and Judith (he had 8 older brothers and 5 younger sisters). The family was not financially well off, so funds for education were rather scarce (what funds were available went to his older brothers). Thus, Granville was largely home schooled, although he did attend for a while at Durham School, which was a local grammar school. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to a linen-draper in London, a man who also happened to be a Quaker. He would go on to work for a number of different linen-drapers over the next eight years who were members of various other Christian sects (even working for one who was an atheist, and another time for a Jew). During this period he had some interesting conversations with these individuals about their beliefs (it was said that Sharp loved to argue and debate theological matters), which motivated Granville to teach himself to read both biblical Greek and Hebrew.
In 1758 he left the linen-draper business and accepted the job of Clerk in the Ordnance Office at the Tower of London. During this time he began writing and publishing, and he produced several works a year on various theological and linguistic topics. Granville was also an excellent musician and singer. Along with two of his brothers (William and James) and two of his sisters (Elizabeth and Judith), they formed a family orchestra, and gave concerts around London. It was reported that Granville had a beautiful bass voice. In fact, King George III (Granville's brother William was the personal physician to the king) said that his bass voice was "the best in Britain!" He also played several instruments: the oboe, flageolet, kettle drums, harp and flute. He would often sign his name "G#" in notes written to people who knew him. Perhaps he is best known to some of us who are students of the Scriptures for his work in Greek grammar. This is where I personally first became aware of this man. As he studied NT Greek, he began to notice patterns within the grammatical constructions of the text, and these led him to some interesting conclusions with respect, especially, to those texts that dealt with the deity of Christ Jesus. This is known as "Granville Sharp's Rule," and I have dealt with that in Reflections #740 in my article titled "The Case of the Added Article: 'Thou'-Distancing 'The' of 2 Thessalonians 1:12."
Around the year 1765, an event took place that changed the focus of this young man's life. While visiting his brother William one day (who, as noted above, was a physician), Granville noticed a young black man standing in line waiting to see the doctor. He had been very badly beaten by his owner (David Lisle); beaten with the butt of a pistol, and then thrown into the gutter of the street and left for dead. This young black man was named Jonathan Strong. Somehow, this slave managed to get himself to the doctor, and William and Granville Sharp spent two years caring for him at their own expense. One day the owner happened to spot this slave somewhere and, without informing anyone, he sold him to a Jamaican planter named James Kerr for 30 pounds. Plans were then made to kidnap this young slave and transport him to the Caribbean. When this plot was discovered, Granville Sharp decided to devote his time and energy to helping Jonathan Strong overturn this injustice. Sharp brought Strong's case before the Lord Mayor of London, and he won the case. The Lord Mayor freed Jonathan Strong. James Kerr then tried to sue Granville, and David Lisle challenged Granville to a duel. Sharp simply ignored them both. Sadly, Jonathan did not get to enjoy his freedom for long. In 1770, at the age of only 25, he died from complications that arose from his earlier beating by his owner.
Granville Sharp was emboldened by this event and decided his life would be devoted to attacking full-force the issue of slavery, taking it much farther than many were willing to take it in England at that time. Most of the abolitionists of that day were declaring the Slave Trade to be wrong because of the horrible conditions these slaves had to endure. They cited Bible passages where, instead of condemning slavery, the Lord had established laws declaring they were to be treated fairly. Sharp was not satisfied with stopping there. He argued that slavery itself was wrong; that is was an abomination and must be utterly abolished! As a result of his efforts on the behalf of this young black slave, Granville Sharp became somewhat of a legend in London, with many referring to him as the "protector of the Negro." Sharp had his work cut out for him, however, for, as one biographer noted, "By this time, Great Britain was by far the largest trafficker in slaves, transporting more Africans across the Atlantic than all other nations put together, and the slave trade and slave labour were important to the British economy." Shortly before the death of Jonathan Strong, Granville wrote and published the very first tract in England against the practice of slavery. It was titled: "A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery." This attracted the attention of such great men as James Oglethorpe (a Member of Parliament and later the founder of the colony of Georgia) and William Wilberforce (also a Member of Parliament). The latter would become their "voice" in Parliament, helping the nation move toward the abolition of slavery. In July, 1776, Sharp resigned from his work as a clerk in the Tower of London. He did this because he believed the British government was wrong to go to war against the American colonies. He refused to be part of a government office that had any part in sending war materials to British soldiers to be used against the colonists. He was left penniless, so his older brothers took him in and supported him for the remainder of his life so he could continue his work for the abolition of slavery.
Granville Sharp represented and fought for a number of other slaves over the years, winning the freedom of some, but not winning the freedom of others. The nation was still pushing back against the abolitionists. Something huge was needed to utterly shock and horrify the people of Great Britain before any lasting change could occur. That something was the 1781 Zong Massacre. This got people's attention. Sharp's efforts were also not going unnoticed "across the pond," and Benjamin Rush (a physician in Philadelphia and one of our Founding Fathers) entered into a correspondence with Granville Sharp that would last for 36 years. Both believed strongly that it was slavery itself that should be abolished, not just the mistreatment of the slaves, and that the abolition of such an evil was in keeping with the spirit of both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.
In the latter years of the 18th century, Sharp sought to find a way for the growing number of slaves living in England, who had been kidnapped from their homelands in Africa, to be restored to that homeland. He came up with a plan to establish communities for these slaves in Sierra Leone. This was met with various levels of success (and some degree of failure and frustration, as well). Yet, many slaves did choose to return, and this city is today known as Freetown, Sierra Leone. Granville Sharp is to this day credited as being one of the founding fathers of Sierra Leone. He was also the founder of a number of societies designed to further the teachings of Jesus. He founded and was the first president of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Society for the Conversion of the Jews. He always saw his work, whether for the abolition of slavery or the better understanding of the Scriptures, to be a work of the Lord and a work for the Lord. When he learned that the Act of Abolition had finally been passed by both Houses of Parliament, and that on March 25, 1807 it had been given Royal Assent, it is reported that he fell to his knees and immediately offered a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.
Although some may not be aware of it, February is National African-American (Black) History Month in the United States. I have noticed several of my fellow Christian writers devoting studies to those men and women who made a difference in how God's children perceive one another and treat one another. I especially appreciate the devotion of Bobby Valentine to this effort. I humbly offer this present issue of my Reflections to this growing number of contributions to this important topic. Granville Sharp was neither African nor American, but he had a godly love for those from/in both continents who struggled to find freedom. This man, who is sometimes referred to as "the Abraham Lincoln of England," was gladly willing to face insults and abuse and even death in order to boldly fight for the freedom of those oppressed and enslaved by those who felt themselves "superior." He refused to accept such behavior, and he rebuked those who tolerated it. Granville Sharp passed from this life on July 6, 1813 and was buried at All Saints' Church in Fulham beside his brother William and sister Elizabeth. The National Portrait Gallery in London has seven portraits of him on display, and his portrait appeared in 2007 on a set of postage stamps issued by the Royal Mail. There has also been a memorial erected to him in Westminster Abbey in the Poet's Corner. On his tombstone is this engraving: "Here by the Remains of the Brother and Sister whom he tenderly loved lie those of GRANVILLE SHARP Esqr. at the age of 79 this venerable Philanthropist terminated his Career of almost unparalleled activity and usefulness July 6th 1813 Leaving behind him a name That will be Cherished with Affection and Gratitude as long as any homage shall be paid to those principles of JUSTICE, HUMANITY and RELIGION which for nearly half a Century he promoted by his Exertions and adorned by his Example."
From a Reader in Unknown:
Al, over the years I have greatly enjoyed reading your Reflections. They have been a great assistance for me in dealing with some of the issues of life. Somewhere along the way, however, I stopped getting your Reflections articles, and I would really like to begin receiving them again! Please add me back to your mailing list. Thank you for your work in this area.
From a Reader in Australia:
Al, my wife and I were saddened when we arrived home this week from a holiday and learned that your father had passed away. Please accept our condolences. We are praying for you. Al, it has been quite some time since I last wrote to you and inquired as to how you and Shelly and your family are doing, but I do continue to pray for you all daily. Whilst I don't write much, it is only because I don't want to encroach on your time. I love you, mate, and look back fondly on our times together at The Tulsa Workshops. I long for the day when we will meet up again, but suspect that it will have to wait until we are both in Heaven. Thanks for continuing to produce regularly your Reflections. Even after producing so many of them, they still remain relevant and insightful. As you know, I have been reading them for more than 12 years now, and I am still unable to disagree with any of your insights. Yes, they do often challenge my thinking, but after reflection I find that I agree with you. Currently, I am leading a study with a group of guys on the seven churches in Revelation, so your current article on "The Tree of Life" is very timely. May you and Shelly continue to be blessed in your ministry, and may you both continue to have good health so that you can continue to be a blessing to so many. I love you, brother!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
Al, I read your study titled "Obedience of Faith: Our Response to God's Gracious Gift" (Reflections #157). Thank you for that article. Regarding this topic of "obedience of faith," I think it is critical to realize that Paul is talking about a particular type of obedience: a faith obedience that comes from the heart; a faith that is genuine and real, not feigned. This is consistent with his argument in Romans 3:21 - 5:21, and also in passages like Romans 9:30-33. He is contrasting a faith-focused obedience with a works-focused obedience. I am very suspicious now if anyone starts insisting upon all Christians subscribing to any uniform act of perceived obedience as being necessary for salvation. What people don't seem to realize is that in the example of Abraham in Romans 4, this was a singular (in contrast to a uniform) demonstration of faith that already resided in the heart of Abraham. On that point, who could be more like "chalk and cheese" than Abraham and Rahab in James 2? What is true is that they both had faith; they just demonstrated it differently and uniquely from one another. When faith becomes personalized and individualized in this way, it becomes real. God bless you, brother!
From a Reader in Canada:
Al, your article "The Tree of Life: A Reflective Perspective" (Reflections #789) is another fantastic study. But Al, I thought the tree was a banana tree, not an apple tree; you totally missed that point in the Scriptures! (LOL). But seriously, I love you and your ability to explain and share biblical truths in a way we can all understand. The clarity of your writings opens our minds and removes the doubts that we have experienced in the past. To be honest, it is rare that I ever feel the need to delve into my notes and books to "check you out." You are so clear in your presentations as you explain the origin of many of our old misguided beliefs. You have the ability to tell me that I have believed and repeated error, and yet you make me feel good about myself even though my beliefs and teachings were wrong. That's a rare gift. Jesus is that tree of life, and all who eat of Him, accepting Him as Savior, will live forever. Yes, we can be absolutely sure of our salvation. After He returns and restores the garden, we will be with Him in that paradise for eternity. Love you, brother!
From a Reader in Georgia:
This is a very timely appearance of your study of "The Tree of Life," Al, as I'm about to mention you, Homer Hailey, Edward Fudge and F. LaGard Smith as part of a discussion with my Church of Christ Elders regarding Conditionalism and the "Eternal Conscious Torment" question. I love your related book on this: "From Ruin To Resurrection." I look forward to reading and digesting your "Tree of Life" analysis. Peace, brother!
From a Minister in Texas:
Good article, Al, on the tree of life. When we approach Scripture (both OT and NT) with a resolve to keep the main story in mind, the words of Jesus in John 5:39-40 will shout out in almost every story.
From a Reader in Georgia:
There is always the challenge to know what in the Scriptures is literal and what is figurative and/or symbolic. I guess that debate will continue until "the perfect" comes. It does make sense that even at the very beginning man was given choices; sadly, when left to us like this we tend to choose the wrong path. God loves us anyway; He puts us back on the right path; and He continuously, since the beginning, has been pulling our cart out of the ditch. Who in their right mind would ever want to base their salvation on their own ability?! With respect to the "tree of life," this verse came to mind: "He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:3 - English Standard Version). I also wonder: what was it about a "tree" that caused the ancient world to hold it in such high regard?! Blessings, brother. As always: well done!
From a Reader in Alaska:
Brother Al, I do not ever remember being told that Jesus is the true "tree of life," but I believe it, and I have for a long time, longer even than I have been a Christian. Here is my take on the real Church of Christ: ALL who have accepted Christ are in that church, regardless of location, name of town or city, or Christian group (denomination). The only differences may be traditions, and as long as traditions do not take a group away from Christ, then those members are Christians in His church. Doctrinal statements for the most part seem to me to close doors. Our Father God is not in a box, so I don't want to be in a box. It seems to me that most preachers and teachers have no understanding that people learn in different ways; they are not all in one box or another. I never want to hear a preacher; please give me a teacher every time! As I mentioned to a dear friend, a graduate of the Sunset Bible Institute, "I don't want your relationship with Jesus, I want mine." That said, I trust God to trust me to learn what I need to know to stay with Him. Thank you for your work, Al. You are a blessing!
From a Reader in Virginia:
Al, it has been a while since I emailed you, but I still enjoy your Reflections. Also, my condolences on the loss of your father. My question to you concerns the term "sinner." I read in Romans 7 that Paul identifies himself as a sinner. I realize that we all sin, even after our salvation. In Bible classes I lead I am puzzled why so many Christians readily identify themselves as sinners and not saints. I've always believed that the term sinner describes a person's lifestyle, not the fact that they sin. I've often thought that changing our thinking about ourselves from "sinner" to "saint" was healthy and in line with Romans 12:2. However, my study of some of your older issues of Reflections, as well as other commentators, is causing me to reconsider my understanding. What are your thoughts today on this topic? Thanks for your time, and for the work you continue to do for the church.
The apostle Paul never lost sight of a painful reality: his fleshly nature was continually in conflict with his earnest desire to be transformed into the likeness of the nature of Jesus. That he was always somewhere short of that mark plagued him, for there was an obvious disconnect between where he was and where he longed to be with regard to his attitudes and actions. Even though he was an apostle of Christ, even though he was saved and thus could lay claim to being a "saint," he nevertheless was still aware of his own inadequacies. This led him to bemoan his "wretchedness" (Romans 7:24). Paul rejoiced in the knowledge that "by grace through faith" in the accomplished work of the Son of God his wretchedness was covered; indeed, from the perspective of the Throne, he was washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Yes, Paul continued to sin (as we all do), and that awareness of the power of his sinful nature in his life tormented him. "I am not practicing what I would like to do, but am doing the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). "For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish" (vs. 19). Paul was by nature a sinner, yet he was also, by virtue of God's gracious gift of the atoning work of His Son, a gift he had accepted by faith, a saint. Satan loves pointing out to us, and to others around us, our sins and failings. They are real; they are ever before us; they torment us. If we deny the reality of our sinfulness, then we are liars, says John, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). On the other hand, we can confidently state: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). This spiritual reality trumps our fleshly reality. In our eyes we are sinners; in His eyes we are saints! Let us therefore exclaim, as did the apostle Paul, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15). We cannot deny that we sin, but neither should we allow that fact to overwhelm us with despair, for we are recipients of a gracious gift from God. In the flesh we remain sinners; in Christ we are deemed saints. Lord help us to perceive and rejoice in this greater reality. -- Al Maxey
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