In the state of Virginia, in an early day in the history of Methodism in the western country, there lived a wealthy and influential planter, who owned a large number of slaves. He was a kind master, and treated his slaves with respect and affection, regarding them as members of his own household. As an evidence of this he procured for them every advantage of intellectual and moral culture within his power. When the neighborhood was visited by Methodist ministers, he invited them to preach on his plantation, and not only gave all his servants an opportunity to attend preaching, but was particular in urging them to go. It was not long till the Gospel, preached in simplicity and power, reached the hearts of the colored people, and they embraced religion. And not only were the servants brought to taste the joys of pardoning mercy, and made happy in a Savior’s love, but the master and mistress were alike included in the happy number of the converted. If before the relation of master and servant was one of respect for the rights, and concern for the happiness of the latter, now that they had been baptized by the same Spirit, and made one in Christ Jesus, there was a bond of union far more powerful than could possibly grow out of any natural or social relations.

Among the number of the servants who had obtained religion and joined the Church, was one noted for his piety. This servant, whose name was "Cuff," was not particularly remarkable for any loud profession, though he was always ready, in the spirit of meekness, to be a witness for Jesus; but for unbending integrity and open, straightforward consistency of conduct, he had few superiors any where. For one who enjoyed no greater advantages, he possessed an order of intellect superior to most of his colored brethren. All having the most unwavering faith in his piety, he was unanimously selected by his brethren to lead in religious exercises at the meetings when no preacher was present. Every thing went on pleasantly and happily in this religious family for years. The religion of Jesus, which is adapted to all, and designed to bring the highest blessings to mankind in general, proves of especial benefit to the slaves; and that Church which is the most actively engaged in preaching the Gospel to this portion of our fellow-beings most certainly gives the strongest evidence of being the true Church of Him who said, "The poor have the Gospel preached to them." A Church having been established on this plantation, through the influence of Methodist preachers, meetings were kept up regularly, and when the intervening Sabbaths would come, at which time the preacher was absent at another appointment, the voice of praise and prayer would ascend from the humble chapel, and Cuff would pour out his full heart in exhortations, with an eloquence and power none could resist. Often have the hearts of proud and wicked masters, from adjoining plantations, who had been attracted out of mere curiosity to attend the meetings, been made to tremble, while the falling tear from proud and haughty mistresses, who would wonder at the audacity of the negro, would betray the emotions his eloquence had produced. Many a conscience had thus been smitten by burning words which had been proof against the Gospel in the fashionable Churches of the city.

The happy seasons enjoyed at the little plantation Church were fearfully broken in upon by a most melancholy event. The old master was called to pronounce upon his faithful servants his parting blessing, and then to pass away to that world where such relations are unknown. Death came to the aged patriarch, and he was followed by his weeping family and friends to his silent home. This event, as is often the case, broke up the family, and the servants were divided among the children. Cuff fell into the hands of one of the sons. This young man commenced the world as many do in similar circumstances, whose parents are affluent. Having formed no habits of industry, and wholly unfitted for business, improvident and careless, believing that to-morrow would be as to-day, and much more abundant of blessing, he was not long in squandering the estate left him by his father; and becoming hopelessly involved, an attachment was sued out by his creditors on all his property, and the servants, with the rest of the estate, were advertised at public sale. In that neighborhood there lived a young man, who had recently married, and was making preparations for keeping house. To complete these preparations it was necessary for him to purchase a good servant; and having knowledge of the sale, he accordingly attended. He was by profession an infidel, and carefully avoided going to any religious meetings, though his wife, previous to her marriage, had often attended, and had listened with unusual interest to the eloquent negro. Having gone round and inspected the slaves, as was customary among buyers, he was struck most favorably with the appearance of Cuff, and believing he would suit him, he began to question his master in regard to his good and bad qualities. The young master informed the infidel that Cuff was the most honest and upright negro he ever knew, and he could only think of one fault which he had that might make him objectionable to the purchaser, and that was, that "he would pray and go to meeting."

"Ah," said the infidel, "is that all you have against him? I can soon whip that out of him."

He made the purchase and took him home. Cuff, with a sad heart, left the old homestead, and his brethren, and the little chapel, where he had enjoyed so much religious comfort. When he had performed the duties of the day enjoined by his new master, he started out to seek a place for private prayer. Adjoining the garden was a nursery, and it being a secluded spot, he retired amid the thicket of young trees with which it was filled, and there alone he kneeled and poured out his burdened spirit to God. While engaged in his devotions his young mistress, who was walking in the garden, overheard him, and, drawing nigh to listen, she soon recognized the eloquent voice that had thrilled her at the Woodland Chapel. She was chained to the spot, as the low and melancholy tones of the supplicant were breathed into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth; and when, with fervor, he prayed for the blessing of God to come down upon his new master and mistress, the unsealed fountain of her heart poured forth its tears.

On the ensuing Sabbath Cuff went to meeting, and also at night, but returned so as to be ready for duty early on Monday morning. He was not aware of the infidel character of his master, though, from what he had seen and heard during the short time he had been with him, he knew that he was a stranger to grace. Knowing, also, that there are many irreligious people, who, nevertheless, have a great respect for religion and its institutions, when Cuff was asked the next morning by his master where he had been, he said, "I have been to meeting; and, bless de Lord, it was a good time, massa."

"Cuff," said the master, in a gruff, angry voice, "you must quit praying; I will have none of it about the place."

"Massa, I do any thing you tell me dat I can do; but I can’t quit praying. My Massa in heaven command me to pray."

"But you shall quit it, and promise to do so or I will whip you."

"I can not do one nor the other, massa."

"Follow me, then, you obstinate negro," said the master, greatly excited, "and we shall see whose authority is to be obeyed in this matter."

The slave was led out, and, after being stripped of the few tattered garments that covered his person, he was tied to a tree in the yard. With a rawhide the master inflicted twenty-five strokes upon his bare back. The master then said, "Now, Cuff, will you quit praying?"

"No, massa," was the reply, "I will pray to Jesus as long as I live."

He then gave the negro twenty-five more lashes, and the blood ran down to the ground. At the close of this horrid scene in the brutal tragedy, the master exclaimed, "You will quit now, won’t you?"

Meekly as his divine Master bore the cruel scourge before him, he replied, "No, my massa, I will pray to my blessed God while I live."

This so enraged the infuriate fiend, that he flew at him with all the rage of a tiger thirsting for blood, and plying the bloody weapon with all his remaining strength, he stopped not till he was obliged to give over from sheer exhaustion.

"Will you stop your praying now, you infernal nigger, you?"

The same meek voice replied," No, massa, you may kill me, but while I live I must pray."

"Then you shall be whipped this much every time you pray or go to meeting."

He was untied, ordered to put on his clothes, and go about his work. When out of sight and hearing of his master, he sang, in a low and plaintive tone,

"My suffering time will soon be o’er,
Then shall I sigh and weep no more;
My ransomed soul shall soar away
To sing God’s praise in endless day."

While this cruel scene was transpiring, the young mistress was looking through the window weeping, and when S. M came into the house, she said, "My dear husband, why did you whip that poor negro so, just for praying? I am sure there can be no harm in that."

"Silence," shouted the enraged husband; "not another word on the subject, or I will give you as much as I gave him."

All that day S. M raved like a madman, cursing the negro and all his race, and cursing God for having created them. Night came. He retired to his chamber, and fell upon his couch to rest. In vain he courted sleep, if for nothing else than to shut out the horrid visions of his tempest-tossed mind. He turned from side to side with unutterable groanings. Just before day he exclaimed, "I feel that I shall be damned! O, God, have mercy on me!" He then said to his wife — the first word be had spoken to her since his threat — "Is there any one about the house that can or will pray for me?"

"None," said she, "that I know of but the poor negro you whipped yesterday."

"O, I am sure he will not, he can not pray for me!"

"Yes," said the weeping wife, "I think he will."

"Then, for God’s sake, send some one to call him!"

A servant was soon dispatched; and when Cuff heard that his master wanted him, expecting a renewal of the scenes of yesterday —for he had been praying all night — he went from his low, dingy cabin into the chamber of his master. What was his astonishment, when he entered, to find his master prostrate on the floor, crying for mercy!

"O," said he, at sight of his injured slave, "will you, can you pray for me? I feel that I shall be damned before morning unless God have mercy upon me."

"Yes, massa, I bless God, I have been praying for you and mistress all the night."

He then fell upon his knees, beside his prostrate master and kneeling wife, and, with a fervor and a faith that opened heaven, he wrestled hard with God for the guilty man. Thus he continued in prayer and exhortation, pointing the guilty to the guiltless one, till morning light, when God, in mercy, stooped to answer prayer, and set the dark, sin-chained soul of the infidel at liberty, and wrote a pardon on his heart. Soon as the love of God was shed abroad in the master’s soul, he embraced his servant in his arms, exclaiming, "Cuff, my dear brother in Christ, from this moment you are a free man."

Great was the joy and rejoicing in that house on that day. The wife had also found the pearl of great price, and now one in Christ, as they were before one in flesh, their souls were dissolved in the bliss of heaven. The slave was freed, and employed by his master as chaplain at a good salary, and Cuff went everywhere among his scattered brethren preaching the word. The master himself became a zealous and successful minister of the Gospel, and lived many years to preach that Jesus whose name he had blasphemed, and whose disciple he had scourged.


—Sketches of Western Methodism, 1857


Rev. James B. Finley



There Is a Balm in Gilead  


There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

If you cannot preach like Peter,
If you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say, "He died for all."


--- Traditional Spiritual ----