Additional Warrants for Abolition from the Westminster Larger Catechism

I have written previously on how the teachings of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms proscribed chattel slavery as practiced in colonial and Antebellum America. An additional basis for this position was brought to my attention in John Murray’s excellent book on Christian ethics, Principles of Conduct. Murray includes a brilliant chapter on the ethics of labor and its implications for slavery. Murray argued persuasively that American slavery violated the biblical principle that the “laborer is worthy of his wages” (Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:15, 1 Corinthians 9:9, 1 Timothy 5:18). Slaves were not paid for their labor, and therefore this principle was disobeyed by slave owners.

The Westminster Larger Catechism 141 states that the 8th Commandment¬† requires, “truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to every one his due.” The WLC’s citations include Romans 13:7 as a way of substantiating that those who labor are owed the value of their work. Slavery as practiced in America violated the 8th Commandment and the Westminster Standards’ teaching on it by withholding from slaves what they were owed for their work. And if slaves were actually paid fairly for their labor, the necessary implication is that they would possess the freedom to either work or not, a freedom incompatible with the practice of slavery. Faithfully following the Westminster Standards would have ended the practice of American slavery.