James W. Hood (1831 – 1918)—bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church during the Civil War—was the first black man in America to publish a book of sermons. Having spent most of his life in Pennsylvania, he moved to North Carolina near the end of the war to minister to freed slaves. Tensions ran high in the region, and he even received some death threats from slavery enthusiasts. As the following excerpt from his sermon, “Personal Consecration,” shows, this did nothing to rob him of his joy in serving the Lord. His infectious words apply most directly to those involved in Church ministry, but as Ephesians 6:6-7 and Colossians 3:23 counsel, Christians (even slaves) should count all their labor as service unto God.
I am aware of the fact that some professed Christians complain and whine about their troubles and vexations. They will have it that their lot is a hard one . . . But to the sound, healthy Christian, the service of God is really delightful. It must be so, for the true Christian loves the Lord with all his heart, and can it be hard work to serve one we love with all the heart? Does the lover find it hard work to serve his spouse? Does the bridegroom find it hard work to serve his bride? Does the loving mother find it hard work to serve her helpless infant? I anticipate the answer, there can be but one. In all these cases love makes the service delightful, and the more that can be done, the more happiness there is afforded.
It is midnight! The cloud hangs heavy and dark. Heaven’s artillery shakes the earth. Lightning flash chases lightning’s flash. Yet, in the midst of this storm and darkness I see a man leave his bed, dress himself and prepare to brave the storm. Where goes that man in the storm and darkness reigning without? Why does he leave his comfortable bed, and comfortable room, and go forth to grope his way in the dark? He is a loving husband, his wife is suddenly ill, he goes for the doctor who is five miles away, the streams are swollen, bridges are afloat, so that crossing would be dangerous in day light, yet the husband ventures. Love lends speed to his pace, which he slacks not until the desired object is reached. Was it hard work to get that man out of his bed? It would have been hard work to have kept him in it. It would have taken chains, and strong chains, to have held that man back. Why? Because he loved his wife.
Now if we love God with all our heart, it will be our chief delight to serve him. The angels don’t find it hard work to serve God, it is their delight. Jesus says: “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Solomon says, “her ways are ways of pleasantness.” If we have on a heavy yoke, it is not the yoke of Jesus; if your way is not pleasant, it is not the way to heaven . . . The truly pious find it joyful work to serve God; hence they sing, “Let the children of Zion be joyful in their king,” and again, “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.”
The devil, in his attempt to slander Job, by mistake uttered a very important truth. He said that Job did not serve God “for nought.” It is true. The Christian does not serve God for nought. He that serves God has the assurance of an abundant reward. The sinner toils in vain, and labors all his day to reap eternal woe. But he that serves God is assured of an inheritance with the saints. God grant you grace to “consecrate your service unto the Lord this day.”1
1 James W. Hood, “Personal Consecration,” in The Negro in the Christian Pulpit (Raleigh: Edwards, Broughton and Co. 1884), 30-32.