But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it . . . will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:25)

Wesleyan abolitionists called for an immediate end to slavery in the years before the Civil War. In the North, that made them radicals. In the South, it made them targets.

The first church they planted below the Mason–Dixon Line was called Freedom’s Hill. It became a station on the underground railroad, as pastor and people committed themselves to help escaping slaves toward freedom in defiance of a federal law forbidding it. They paid a great price for following their consciences: their lives were threatened, the door of their one-room church was riddled with bullet holes, they were jailed, the surrounding countries tried to revoke their freedom of speech, and a member of the congregation was even lynched for his antislavery views. Still they persevered, and today we applaud them for standing on the right side of history.

But Freedom’s Hill stood for more than freedom from slavery. It also stood for freedom from sin. Sunday after Sunday believers knelt on rough flooring around a handcrafted mourner’s bench in that rustic church and found peace with God.

Americans often call freedom of religion “the first freedom” because it’s the first of the freedoms listed in the first amendment to the Constitution as a part of the Bill of Rights. Long ago, Martin Luther had a better perspective. He said, “The first freedom is freedom from sin.”

Claim through Christ the freedom for which you were created.

Bob Black is professor emeritus of religion at Southern Wesleyan University, where he served for thirty-two years. He co-authored the denominational history, The Story of The Wesleyan Church.

© 2020 Wesleyan Publishing House. Reprinted from Light from the Word. Used by permission. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®.