Sojourner Truth was a woman one can only admire. The youngest of 12 children, Sojourner was born into slavery in 1797 in Ulster County, New York State and given the name Isabella Baumfree by her African-American parents. Like most of her siblings, Isabella was sold and separated from her family at the age of nine; then sold again and again, until, in 1826, she took her baby daughter and walked away from her life as a slave and into a life of challenging the status quo.
Isabella, or Belle, appears to have had a questioning mind and not only did she question the establishment of her day, she spoke out boldly for truth and justice, matching her words with actions. Isabella was a woman with passion. She passionately believed in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and she passionately believed He had made all people equal, no matter what colour they happened to be. When addressing a predominantly white crowd in Battle Creek, Michigan she once said:
Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? Does it not cast a reproach on our Maker to despise a part of His children, because He has been pleased to give them a black skin? Indeed, children, it does; and your teachers ought to tell you so, and root up, if possible, the great sin of prejudice against colour from your minds…..Does not God love coloured children as well as white children? And did not the same Saviour die to save the one as well as the other? (2)
In her narrative she recounts an experience that occurred in 1843, on the day of Pentecost, when she was called by the spirit, who instructed her to leave New York, a “second Sodom,” and travel east under the name Sojourner Truth. Sojourner based her new first name on the biblical verse:
We are here for only a moment, strangers and sojourners in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace. (1Ch 29:15)
In her narrative we also find:
Truth adamantly believed that all humans are sojourners waiting for the second-coming of the Lord who will welcome all into eternal life. She took her responsibility as a Christian disciple and prophet seriously, dedicating her life to spreading the word of the gospel alongside her messages of racial equality and women’s rights. The surname Truth is somewhat self-explanatory for a born-again Christian and street preacher, but Truth has published various accounts of how she chose her last name. (1)
One of these accounts is recorded in her narrative where she explains:
…… her surname had always been the name of her master. Now that she served only God, she served the Truth, and took that as her last name.” (1)
Under the name Sojourner Truth, Isabella set out to travel east of New York, through Connecticut and Massachusetts and as an itinerant preacher she determined to tell the truth and work against injustice. She saw her mission as teaching people “to embrace Jesus, and refrain from sin.” And she saw quite clearly that enslavement was a terrible sin. Selling fellow human beings as though they were nothing more than a flock of sheep was a sin against their Maker, who had created them in His own image.
Sojourner’s strong faith and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ gave her the power to rise “above the battlements of fear” as she stood against slave masters and other slaves who counselled her to accept her lot and submissively pray for good masters. She saw the inhumanity of slavery for what it was; an evil that followers of Jesus must work to eradicate. At the end of her narrative she takes great joy from hearing that one of her slave masters had also reached this conclusion.
Although Sojourner was illiterate, she had a clear and incisive mind and she often sat for hours discussing topics with fellow believers. As she could not explore ideas through her own reading, she took advantage of her time travelling and when she found groups who held differing views she would spend time discussing The Bible with them. Her narrative tells us she had:
….. no preference for one sect more than another, but being well satisfied with all who gave her evidence of having known or loved the Saviour.(1)
She also had people read to her from The Bible, but she preferred that children perform this task, as adults tended to add their own commentary. She said:
Children, as soon as they could read distinctly, would re-read the same sentence to her, as often as she wished, and without comment;—and in that way she was enabled to see what her own mind could make out of the record, and that, she said, was what she wanted, and not what others thought it to mean. She wished to compare the teachings of the Bible with the witness within her” (1)
Rather than submitting to the prevailing worldview of the people around her, Sojourner spoke out against racism and sexism with Jesus as her “soul-protecting fortress.” Although she spoke English as her second language, her first language being Dutch, she was able to hold the attention of English speaking audiences with her ability to cut to the point, her strong voice and her powerful songs.
It is remarkable to find that despite the fact that she was an illiterate, female slave, on October 29, 1864 she had an audience with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House and later met President Ulysses S. Grant. Even today this would be an amazing feat for any person of such humble origins. But Sojourner believed she had a mission and she gave her life to work for those things she felt the Lord had put on her heart to change. She lived her life working tirelessly for truth and justice and ended her life with the words “be a follower of the Lord Jesus.” She believed that this meant following Jesus’ teachings and I believe she would acknowledge that it was through His power and strength that she was able to accomplish all that she did.
If an illiterate slave woman of the 19th century could live out her faith and fight for truth and justice, despite the dreadful situation she found herself in, surely believers today who claim to follow the Lord Jesus Christ can do the same. However, I believe God’s people are hamstrung by one terrible doctrinal error. The prevailing opinion of Sojourner’s day amongst the ruling class was that slavery was acceptable and slaves were commodities. Even people who claimed to be Christians held to this age old idea. Sojourner refused to look at life in that way because she knew it was not God’s truth. The Bible taught that:
There cannot be Jew nor Greek, there is no slave nor freeman, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
Sojourner could see no reason why this truth should not be acted upon. Even though Paul had taught caution to the slaves of his day (Eph 6:5), Sojourner understood that the inhuman slavery practiced in her time was not something her Lord would allow to continue. She once admitted to an audience that she had at one time hated white people, but she went on to say that when she met her final master, Jesus, she was filled with love for everyone. When slaves were finally emancipated she knew her prayers had been answered.
Today, there are many people who claim The Bible teaches the doctrine of eternal torment. These people look to tradition and suggest that those who see The Bible as teaching a different destiny for the unsaved are not following the clear teachings of the church. This horrific doctrine has never appeared to be biblical to me, no matter how long the church has held to this view. There are many theologians today who have also changed their minds on this issue after a closer look at God’s Word.
I believe we are tinkering with the truth when we refuse to look at the overall teachings of The Bible concerning this issue and we are also slandering our Father, who has declared He is Love (1 John 4:8). It is my contention that people who accept this doctrine have a warped understanding of the nature and character of our Creator. They believe Him to be vindictive, whereas He is working to save as many as possible from the destruction that will come on our present creation. This destruction will be the outpouring of God’s wrath on sin and its consequences, death, pain and suffering and its entire purpose will be to eliminate these corruptions of God’s original creation.
Had Sojourner Truth and William Wilberforce simply accepted that one verse told the whole story (Eph 6:5), without taking the overall teachings of The Bible into consideration – as many people do with a particular understanding of Matthew 25:46 – the church might still be championing the cause of the slave holder. But we know better than to base our understanding of the nature of God on one word in The Bible. We have many verses in both the Old and New Testaments that declare the ultimate destiny of the unbeliever is that they will perish, or be eternally destroyed.
Many people claim Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians supports the case for eternal torment, but this verse tells us quite clearly that eternal destruction – which means a final, eternal separation from the Creator by this destruction – awaits those who refuse God’s rescue plan. Paul tells the Thessalonians not to worry about the people who are persecuting them. God is not going to allow people to inflict pain on other people forever, He will bring this world and all it’s pain and suffering to an end. Paul writes:
And to you that are troubled, be at ease like us, because when the Lord Jesus comes from heaven with the angels of power and with flaming fire, He will bring forth punishment on them that do not see God, and do not listen attentively to the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will themselves be punished with eternal destruction, and removed from the face of the Lord and from the worship of His might. (2 Th 1:7-9)
Indeed the punishment for those who refuse to listen to the gospel, and therefore cannot see God, will have dire eternal consequences. Unbelievers will be eternally removed from the Lord’s presence by the eternal destruction (or the eternal punishment mentioned in Mat 25:46) awaiting this present creation. The Father wants to save everyone from His final elimination of death, pain and suffering (2 Peter 3:9), but there will be those who have refused to listen to Him and accept His rescue plan. These will suffer the final punishment, which is the second death in the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).
As Sojourner reminds us:
Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace. (1Ch 29:15)
Like so many other people who had not been subjected to traditional teachings, Sojourner rejected the concept of eternal torment, stating that:
I have found out and know that God’s brightness and goodness and glory is hot enough to scorch all the sinners in the world. (2)
God is probably not going to send an angel declaring the imminence of the destruction of this present creation until the very end (Rev 14:6), so people need to start listening now if they want to be part of His new creation. Have you taken the time to examine God’s message to you? He sent His only Son to proclaim the Good News. He is going to destroy death, pain and suffering, but to do that He will need to destroy all that is outside of His rule and reign. There is only one way to be part of the new creation He will bring into existence after the final destruction of this corrupted creation and that is to accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Redeemer.
(1) Truth, Sojourner (2004-07-01). The Narrative of Sojourner Truth [with Biographical Introduction] . Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.