Delivered before the African-American Female Intelligence Society of Boston.
The frowns of the world shall never discourage me, nor its smiles flatter me; for, with the help of God, I am resolved to withstand the fiery darts of the devil and the assaults of wicked men. The righteous are as bold as a lion, but the wicked fleeth when no man pursueth. I fear neither men nor devils; for the God in whom I trust is able to deliver me from the rage and malice of my enemies, and from them that rise up against me. The only motive that has prompted me to raise my voice in your behalf, my friends, is because I have discovered that religion is held in low repute among some of us; and purely to promote the cause of Christ, and the good of souls, in the hope that others more experienced, more able and talented than myself, might go forward and do likewise. I expect to render a strict, a solemn, and an awful account to God for the motives that have prompted me to exertion, and for those with which I shall address you this evening.
What I have to say concerns the whole of us as Christians and as people; and if you will be so kind as to give me a hearing this once, you shall receive the incense of a grateful heart.
The day is coming, my friends, and I rejoice in that day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be manifested before saints and angels, men and devils. It will be a great day of joy and rejoicing to the humble followers of Christ, but a day of terror and dismay to hypocrites and unbelievers. Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not even the angels in heaven, but the Father only. The dead that are in Christ shall be raised first. Blessed is he that shall have a part in the first resurrection. Ah! methinks I hear the finally impenitent cry: ''Rocks and mountains, fall upon us and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb, and from him that sitteth upon the throne."
High on a cloud our God shall come,
Bright thrones prepare his way;
Thunder and darkness, fire and storm,
Lead on the dreadful day.
Christ shall descend in the clouds of heaven, surrounded by ten thousand of his saints and angels, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him; and before him shall be gathered all nations and kindred and tongues and people; and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. They also that pierced him shall look upon him and mourn. Then shall the king separate the righteous from the wicked, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats, and shall place the righteous on his right hand and the wicked upon his left. Then, says Christ, shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham and the prophets sitting in the kingdom of heaven, and ye yourselves thrust out. Then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of their Father as the sun. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. The poor, despised followers of Christ will not then regret their sufferings here; they shall be carried by angels into Abraham's bosom, and shall be comforted; and the Lord God shall wipe away their tears. You will then be convinced before the assembled multitudes whether they strove to promote the cause of Christ or whether they sought for gain or applause, "Strive to enter at the straight gate; for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in and shall not be able. For except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Ah! methinks I see this people lying in wickedness; and as the Lord liveth, and as your souls live, were it not for the few righteous that are to be found among us, we should become as Sodom, and like unto Gomorrah. Christians have too long slumbered and slept. Sinners stumbled into hell, and still are stumbling, for the want of Christian exertion; and the devil is going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And I make bold to say that many who profess the name of Christ at the present day, live so widely different from what becometh the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they cannot and they dare not reason to the world upon righteousness and judgment to come.
Be not offended because I tell you the truth; for I believe that God has fired my soul with a holy zeal for his cause. It was God alone who inspired my heart to publish the meditations thereof; and it was done with pure motives of love to your souls, in the hope that Christians might examine themselves, and sinners become pricked in their hearts. It is the word of God, though men and devils may oppose it. It is the word of God, and little did I think that any of the professed followers of Christ would have frowned upon me and discouraged and hindered its progress.
Ah, my friends, I am speaking as one who expects to give account at the bar of God; I am speaking as a dying mortal to dying mortals. I fear there are many who have named the name of Jesus at the present day that strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. They neither enter into the kingdom of heaven themselves nor suffer others to enter in. They would pull the motes out of their brother's eye when they have a beam in their own eye. And were our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ upon the earth, I believe he would say of many that are called by his name: "O, ye hypocrites, ye generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell." I have enlisted in the holy warfare, and Jesus is my Captain; and the Lord's battle I mean to fight until my voice expire in death. I expect to be hated of all men, and persecuted even unto death, for righteousness and the truth's sake.
A few remarks upon moral subjects, and I close. I am a strong advocate for the cause of God and for the cause of freedom. I am not your enemy, but a friend both to you and your children. Suffer me, then, to express my sentiments but this once, however severe they may appear to be, and then hereafter let me sink into oblivion, and let my name die in forgetfulness.
Had the ministers of the gospel shunned the very appearance of evil; had they faithfully discharged their duty, whether we would have heard them or not, we should have been a very different people from what we now are; but they have kept the truth, as it were, hid from our eyes, and have cried: "Peace! peace!" when there was no peace. They have plastered us up with untempered mortar, and have been, as it were, blind leaders of the blind.
It appears to me that there are no people under the heavens so unkind and so unfeeling toward their own as are the descendants of fallen Africa. I have been something of a traveler in my day; and the general cry among the people is, "Our own color are our greatest opposers;" and even the whites say that we are greater enemies toward each other than they are toward us. Shall we be a hissing and a reproach among the nations of the earth any longer? Shall they laugh us to scorn forever? We might become a highly respectable people; respectable we now consider ourselves, but we might become a highly distinguished and intelligent people. And how? In convincing the world by our own efforts, however feeble, that nothing is wanting on our part but opportunity. Without these efforts we shall never be a people, nor our descendants after us.
But God has said that Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto him. True, but God uses means to bring about his purpose; and unless the rising generation manifest a different temper and disposition toward each other from what we have manifested, the generation following will never be an enlightened people. We this day are considered as one of the most degraded races upon the face of the earth. It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded reproaching the whites, for that will never elevate us. All the nations of the earth have distinguished themselves, and have shown forth a noble and a gallant spirit. Look at the suffering Greeks. Their proud souls revolted at the idea of serving a tyrannical nation who were no better than themselves, and perhaps not so good. They made a mighty effort and arose; their souls were knit together in the holy bonds of love and union; they were united, and came off victorious. Look at the French in the late rebellion; no traitors among them to expose their plans to the crowned heads of Europe. "Liberty or death" was their cry. And the Haytians, though they have not been acknowledged as a nation, yet their firmness of character and independence of spirit have been greatly admired and highly applauded. Look at the Poles, a feeble people. They arose against three hundred thousand mighty men of Russia: and though they did not gain the conquest, yet they obtained the name of gallant Poles. And even the wild Indians of the forest are more united than ourselves. Insult one of them and you insult a thousand. They also have contended for their rights and privileges, and are held in higher repute than we are.
And why is it, my friends, that we are despised above all the nations upon the earth? Is it merely because our skins are tinged with a sable hue? No, nor will I ever believe that it is. What then is it? O, it is because we and our fathers have dealt treacherously one with another, and because many of us now possess that envious and malicious disposition that we had rather die than see each other rise an inch above a beggar. No gentle methods are used to promote love and friendship among us, but much is done to destroy it. Shall we be a hissing and a reproach among the nations of the earth any longer? Shall they laugh us to scorn forever?
Ingratitude is one of the worst passions that reigns in the human breast. It is this that cuts the tender fibres of the soul; for it is impossible for us to love those who are ungrateful toward us. "Behold,'' says that wise man, Solomon, counting one by one, ''a man have I found in a thousand, but a woman among all those have I not found."
I have sometimes thought that God had almost departed from among us. And why? Because Christ has said if we say we love the Father and hate our brother, we are liars, and the truth is not in us; and certainly if we were the true followers of Christ, I think we could not show such a disposition toward each other as we do, for God is all love.
Finally I have exerted myself both for your temporal and eternal welfare as far as I am able; and my soul has been so discouraged within me that I have almost been induced to exclaim: "Would to God that my tongue hereafter might cleave to the roof of my month and become silent forever;" and then I have felt that the Christian has no time to be idle, and I must be active, knowing that the night of death cometh, in which no man can work. And my mind has become raised to such an extent that I will willingly die for the cause that I have espoused; for I cannot die in a more glorious cause than in the defense of God and his laws.
O, woman, woman, upon you I call; for upon your exertions almost entirely depends whether the rising generation shall be anything more than we have been or not. O, woman, woman, your example is powerful, your influence great; it extends over your husbands and over your children, and throughout the circle of your acquaintance. Then let me exhort you to cultivate among yourselves spirit of Christian love and unity, having charity one for another, without which all our goodness is as sounding brass and as a tinkling cymbal. And, O my God, I beseech thee to grant that the nations of the earth may hiss at us no longer. O, suffer them not to laugh us to scorn forever.
Stewart, M. W. (1879). Meditations from the pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart: (Widow of the late James W. Stewart) now matron of the Freedman's hospital, and presented in 1832 to the First African Baptist church and society of Boston, Mass. Washington.