Uncle Tom's Cabin
How we cite our quotes:
"I's faith to believe that day will come," said Tom, earnestly, and with tears in his eyes; "the Lord has a work for Mas'r."
"A work, hey?" said St. Clare, "well, now, Tom, give me your views on what sort of a work it is; – let's hear."
"Why, even a poor fellow like me has a work from the Lord; and Mas'r St. Clare, that has larnin, and riches, and friends, – how much he might do for the Lord!"
"Tom, you seem to think the Lord needs a great deal done for him," said St. Clare, smiling.
"We does for the Lord when we does for his critturs," said Tom.
"Good theology, Tom; better than Dr. B. preaches, I dare swear," said St. Clare. (28.19-24)
Though Tom longs for his freedom, he is unwilling to leave his "master" as long as St. Clare has not made a profession of faith. In a few words, Tom drives home two important points: every individual can and should make a difference, and a loving God wants people to care for one another and redress evils.
St. Clare read on in an animated voice, till he came to the last of the verses.
"Then shall the king say unto him on his left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, an ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: I was sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they answer unto Him, Lord when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he say unto them, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not to me."
St. Clare seemed struck with this last passage, for he read it twice, – the second time slowly, and as if he were revolving the words in his mind.
"Tom," he said, "these folks that get such hard measure seem to have been doing just what I have, – living good, easy, respectable lives; and not troubling themselves to inquire how many of their brethren were hungry or athirst, or sick, for in prison." (28.79-82)
St. Clare begins to realize that the wealthy of the world who fail to help the poor won’t make it to heaven. He discovers that sins of omission (failures to act) are just as serious as sins of commission (wrong actions). It’s not enough to avoid doing harm – you have to actively do good.
"My view of Christianity is such," he added, "that I think no man can consistently profess it without throwing the whole weight of his being against this monstrous system of injustice that lies at the foundation of all our society; and, if need be, sacrificing himself in the battle. That is, I mean that I could not be a Christian otherwise, though I have certainly had intercourse with a great many enlightened and Christian people who did no such thing; and I confess that the apathy of religious people on this subject, their want of perception of wrongs that filled me with horror, have engendered in me more scepticism than any other thing." (28.104)
St. Clare has avoided becoming a Christian because he realizes the enormous moral burdens that his conscience would cause him. Although he is weak-willed and has failed to act, he’s not a hypocrite in this sense – he won’t call himself a Christian unless he really behaves with complete love and justice – and becomes an abolitionist, too.