Harriet Beecher Stowe, in her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, depicts this contrast very powerfully toward the end of the book in the relationship between the slave, Uncle Tom, and his cruel master, Simon Legree. As it would appear, Tom is the slave and Legree is the free man – the master. But things are not as they seem. Legree is a wicked man who lives in the bondage of his own vices. His superstitious thinking fuels his fear, and he is haunted by the many evils he has done. Tom, on the other hand, in spite of the abuse he endures, experiences the true freedom of knowing that Christ is his Savior and will one day take him home to heaven.
Legree hated Tom for this. The more Tom showed kindness to Legree and others, the more Legree seethed with anger toward Tom. One evening Legree yelled harshly to Tom to stop singing his hymns and get to bed. Tom cheerfully obeyed, which made Legree so angry that he lashed out with blows.
“Tom stood perfectly submissive; and yet Legree could not hide from himself that his power over his [slave] was somehow gone. . . . He understood full well that it was God who was standing between him and his victim, and he blasphemed him.” 1.
Then, later, when Legree is threatening to kill Tom, he says to him, “I’ll conquer ye, or kill ye!—one or t’ other. I’ll count every drop of blood there is in you, and take ‘em, one by one, till ye give up!”
Tom looked up to his master, and answered, “Mas’r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I’d give ye my heart’s blood; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I’d give ‘em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than ‘t will me! Do the worst you can, my troubles’ll be over soon; but, if ye don’t repent, yours won’t never end!” 2.
You tell me: who’s the free man? According to the laws of the land, Legree may have been a freeman, and Tom a slave. But in reality, the opposite was the case. And that’s a lesson that is so important for us to understand as we think about spiritual bondage and spiritual freedom. There is a vast difference between the pseudo-freedom that the world applauds, but leads to eternal death, and another kind of freedom that comes through Jesus Christ, the only One who can truly liberate us from our spiritual captivity.
2. Chapter 40. Page 436.