Frederick Douglass grew up as a slave in Maryland in the early nineteenth century. For Frederick, slavery was brutal. He was taken from his mother when he was only a baby. For years as a child, his owner would dump runny corn meal in something like a pig trough, then call all the slave children to come and eat. They were given oyster shells to scoop up as much as they could. They were literally treated like pigs. Then he would work in the hot fields from before sunup until after sundown. If he did work well enough to please his master, he would be whipped. Many times he was whipped many times with a cowhide whip until blood ran down his back. On other occasions, he was kicked and beaten by his master until he almost died. Another time, he was attacked with a spike by a gang of whites.
But even so, when Frederick considered trying to escape to freedom, he struggled with the decision. He writes about his indecision in his book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. He wrote that, for him, potential freedom held two great fears.
The first was leaving behind his friends. He wrote
I had a number of warm-hearted friends in Baltimore, friends that I loved almost as I did my life, and the thought of being separated from them forever was painful beyond expression. It is my opinion that thousands would have escaped from slavery, who remained, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their friends.
His second fear was the fear of failure. He said, "If I failed in this attempt, my case would be a hopeless one. It would seal my fate as a slave forever."
I told you earlier of Frederick Douglass. He was the slave that wrote about what it was like to be in slavery and seek to be free. He said that there were two fears that kept people enslaved: One was the fear of leaving dear friends and the other, the fear of failure. It’s that last fear that he shares with many of us. We’re afraid that we’ll fail. Somehow we think that its better to live the life of a slave than to step up into freedom. Well if that’s you, this morning I want you to hear what happened to Frederick Douglass:
On September 3, 1838, he escaped to freedom. Here’s what he wrote about that:
I left my chains, and succeeded in reaching New York without the slightest interruption of any kind;. I have been frequently asked how I felt when I found myself in a free State;. It was a moment of the highest excitement I ever experienced. I felt like one who had escaped a den of hungry lions.
Be watchful, the Bible says, because your enemy, the Devil, walks around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And today he’s roaring at you. He’s telling you that you are enslaved and you’ll never be free, but greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. Listen, you may be enslaved to sin today, but the wonderful cross shouts to you four beautiful, unbelievably liberating words: YOU CAN BE FREE!