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Tract for the Times, on the Question, Is It Right to Withhold Fellowship from Churches or from Individuals that Tolerate or Practise Slavery?


An 1859 sermon by Congregationalist minister and antislavery activist Henry T. Cheever arguing for separation from pro-slavery churches.


Henry Theodore Cheever (1814-1897) was a well-known Congregationalist minister and antislavery activist. After finishing studies at Bowdoin College in 1834, teaching in Louisiana, and then completing a theology degree at Bangor Theological Seminary in 1839, he traveled to the South Seas during 1840-1846. During this period he was a correspondent of the New York Evangelist; he became associate editor after his return.  Cheever published many books about his travels, including The Whale and his Captors (New York, 1849), The Island World of the Pacific (1852), Life and Religion in the Sandwich Islands (1854), Short Yarns for Long Voyages (1855), and The Whaleman’s Adventures (1860). Other of Cheever’s works include Memorials of the Life and Trials of a Youthful Christian (1851), Correspondences of Faith and Views of Madame Guyon (1888), and various religious and travel texts.
Beginning in the late 1840s, Cheever served as a pastor for a series of congregations in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. He served also as Secretary and agent for the Church Anti-Slavery Society from 1859 until the end of the Civil War.
In “A Tract for the Times,” Cheever discusses the question, “Is it right to withhold fellowship from churches or from individuals that tolerate or practice slavery?” He argues that from the teachings of the Bible, “the teaching and entertaining of doctrines contrary to the Gospel are implied and declared to be sufficient reason for not merely withholding, but for positively withdrawing fellowship and countenance” (5). He then argues that owning men is against the Gospel, “for God, our great proprietor, never gave property in man, and we can hold no property in anything for which we have not a grant from God and nature” (7). Therefore, according to Cheever, churches or individuals who tolerate or practice slavery must be denied fellowship with the Church.  
Cheever’s older brother, George Barrell Cheever (1807-1890), was the long-serving pastor of the Church of the Puritans in New York City and a famous abolitionist.
- Deborah Elam