From the words thus opened and explained, there clearly arise certain duties, which you are expressly concerned in. Allow me with affectionate plainness to state and recommend them.
1. The first is Gratitude to God, for having directed, in his own wise Providence, that you should come from a land of Pagan darkness, to a land of Gospel light; from a state, afterwards, of slavery, to a state of liberty; and now, from guilt and sinfulness, to this state of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As for those who brought you, or your fathers, from your own country, -- one may say of them, with a little variation, because of the different circumstances -- as Joseph said to his brethren, "But as for you, ye thought evil against us; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive."
I am aware that your condition, or cases severally, may differ a good deal, one from the other. I will specify an instance, and consider it with you, a moment; not losing sight of the gratitude just mentioned. As the greater number of you are free, so there may be others of you yet in bondage; these nevertheless, have received mercies enow to thank God for. His dispensations are unquestionably wise and proper. Whatever he permits, will turn to the real profit of such as do resign themselves to his good pleasure. Your present situation does not hinder you from being Christ's freemen. Your present situation gives you some advantages above what others have: yes, and very possibly, above what your masters have, -- in that your humbleness of mind, your patience, faithfulness, and trust only in God, will add to the greatness of your future happiness.
2. The next duty is gratitude to your earthly benefactors, who planned your emancipation from slavery.
There are certain evils, which, when once they have obtained footing, and become epidemic, as it were, are scarcely seen as evils; no wonder then if they be slow and difficult to remove; so it hath been with slavery. A few humane, considerate persons, at an early period of our settlement in this country, -- yes, in Pennsylvania particularly, were moved by the Divine Spirit, to open light upon this darkness. Their testimony was treated as a visionary for a while; but, in time, it gained upon the judgment and consciences of men.
Here, you will recollect the names of LAY, of WOOLMAN,-- and above all, ANTHONY BENEZET; -- whose labors were unwearied in your behalf; whose works of benevolence and love, have followed them to the regions of peace and blessedness beyond the grave.
There are also living characters not a few, in this city, and throughout the United States, heartily engaged in the same business of humanity. Behold, how intent they are to do your people good!
You owe much likewise, to those persons who planned schools for the instruction of your children.
This instruction is as the door introducing the young people to the great light. Knowledge is the best foundation for integrity and usefulness: and it is the element and life of Freedom.
You owe much to the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the abolition of slavery, and the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage. The memory of Franklin here rises before you. He was its President. With the like views in which it originated, may it persevere, till its work be completed.
But especially, do you owe a large debt of gratitude to the citizens of Philadelphia, who assisted you by donations and loans, in the building of this handsome, spacious, and very convenient church. You thought that to have an house of your own to assemble in for public worship, was, in consideration of your increased numbers, now desirable and expedient. In the same view have your patrons and friends regarded the matter, and countenanced your proceedings. And, as with brotherly kindness and complacency, they leave it to yourselves to fix upon, or adopt such system, order, and mode of worship as may be most agreeable to you; so have they found a perfect freedom in helping you to prepare a place, where that system, order, and mode may peacefully reside, and operate.
On the pleasing ground marked out above, I could go farther, indulging your feelings, -- and my own, by particularly mentioning some characters in this place, preeminent for generous actions, whenever they have opportunity; and who truly have been so, with regard to you :-- But we are restrained in that satisfaction. There is, however, what will be infinitely more acceptable to them; namely, to see that their acts of kindness do good.
Most favorably assisted, the pious labor of your hands hath prospered thus far; and you are now happily assembled, for the first time, within these walls;-- we offering our congratulations; and cheerfully uniting with you to worship the God of All.
3. Another duty, is compassionate love to your brethren, who are yet in darkness, or bondage, in other parts of the world. Be tenderly affectioned towards their condition. Pray publicly, and privately, that "the Lord may hear your voice, and look upon their affliction, and their labor, and their oppression."
O, mighty God! Thou dost encourage us in this thing. For notwithstanding the confusion of nations, and the corruption and madness of human passions, there is some prospect that the general cause of justice, of freedom, and of peace on earth, will at last prevail!
4. Humility is the next duty. Remember your former condition. Pride was not made for man, in any, even the highest stations in life; much less for persons who have just emerged from the lowest. It is said, there is a great deal of this among your people, already; and that it is increasingly extremely fast. I wish this might be no more than a surmise: and then, that even the surmise itself might be dropped; for your friends meet with discouragements on this head. Will you, my brethren, guard against pride? Will you reflect on the nature of the evil itself; the offences that come by it; and other unhappy consequences!
It was a custom among the Jews, as you find recorded by Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy, ch. 26:5; when the Priest received the Basket of first fruits from them; for each person to declare, in the house and presence of the Lord, the history of the mean and wretched origin of his family: "A Syrian ready to perish, was my father."
In like manner, when you are tempted to cherish the least pride, in your freedom -- in dress -- in your favorable reception among your fellow-citizens, and even in this stately building; or in any of your civil, as well as religious privileges; then check yourselves, by confessing privately and publicly, that "a slave ready to perish, was my father:" or if all cannot say this; you may unite in expressions still more humbling, and say "a sinner -- a fallen man -- a rebel against God -- an heir of wrath; and, until redeemed, a child of hell, was my father."
5. Circumspection in your conduct and intercourse with the world, is another duty that you are especially concerned in. "See that ye walk circumspectly; not as fools, but as wise." Remember, that you have enemies, as well as friends; that you will be narrowly watched; and that less allowance will be made for your failings, than for those of other people. This circumspection will be more necessary, as you have become a religious society.
Peaceableness among yourselves, and with all men, is indispensable to a fair character; as also truth in your dealings, in your words, and in your inner man; diligence in providing things honest: temperance and sobriety; an obliging, friendly, meek conversation.
Here a particular thought occurs to me, which is not to be suppressed: with regard to those of you who are not free, you must not be cast down, nor discontented. It is a dispensation of Providence, as I hinted already, to which you should submit in quietness, for conscience sake: and in so doing, you shall certainly meet with good. I give you St. Paul's advice, adapted exactly to your situation: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke, count their own masters worthy of all honor: that the name of God, and his doctrine be not blasphemed"
Annals of the First African Church in the United States of America Now Styled the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia..., by the Rev. Wm. Douglass, Philadelphia: King & Baird Printers, 1862