As a young man, James Mitchell Varnum hated the slave trade that occurred in American colonies. As a general in the Continental Army, he wanted to do something but what? The need for more men in the army provided the perfect opportunity.
In February of 1778, the Rhode Island Assembly acted upon a suggestion made by General George Washington and General Varnum. “Every able-bodied negro, mulatto or Indian man slave” that chose to do so could enlist in the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. “Every slave so enlisting shall…be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free.”
By a legal act, any slave that wanted to, could walk away from his slave master and enter into the Continental Army. He would be a free soldier. And when the war was over, he would be completely free.
But of all the slaves in that area, 88 enlisted. Why not the others? Perhaps they did not hear the news. Perhaps they were afraid of the unknown and were not willing to step forward. Perhaps some were comfortable as a house servant. The chains they knew were better than the unknown war. The comforts they knew were better than the discomforts they could imagine.
I see several illustration for those who seek to live the Christian life:
1. You and I are born slaves to sin. We are enslaved to gossip, lust, anger, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. We are born selfish. Jesus said, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. But Jesus said he came to proclaim liberty to the captives. And securing that liberty came not from a legislative decision but cost him his own life. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom to set you free.
2. We are set free from slavery. But it is not a liberty to indulge the flesh. No, it is a liberty to fight in the Lord’s army. It is a liberty from your old slave master to serve a new master. Jesus is our Savior and our Warrior-King. We leave the slavery of sin and enter into the commander’s Army. The time for complete rest will not come until the war is over. Jesus has set us free from slavery to be enlisted in his army. And in that army, we fight with love and truth. And we proclaim liberty to others who are still captive.
3. We tell others about the freedom that is offered. We are one former slave telling another former slave how to be free. We are enlisted former slaves walking through Rhode Island saying, “Come with us. Leave your chains and join us.”
You are set free from slavery to be a free soldier. What a joy!