Lenten Classics - Conversion

Frederick Douglass Conversion

During each week of Lent this year, we will post an excerpt from a classic writing on Christian spirituality, followed by some questions for personal reflection.

This week’s post is an excerpt from the memoir of the famous American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1817 or 1818. At the age of 20, he escaped to freedom and became an internationally known author and speaker who worked tirelessly for the emancipation of enslaved people.

Though often sharply critical of racism and hypocrisy in the White American church, Douglass was a committed Christian. In this passage from his memoir, he describes the moment of his spiritual conversion.

I was not more than thirteen years old, when in my loneliness and destitution I longed for some one to whom I could go, as to a father and protector. The preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson, was the means of causing me to feel that in God I had such a friend. He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God: that they were by nature rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ. I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what was required of me, but one thing I did know well: I was wretched and had no means of making myself otherwise.

I consulted a good old colored man named Charles Lawson, and in tones of holy affection he told me to pray, and to "cast all my care upon God." This I sought to do; and though for weeks I was a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light, and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially, did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.

Personal Reflection:

  • Before his conversion, Douglass began to see God both as a friend and as one who called him to repent. To what extent have you come to understand God in these ways?
  • In Douglass’ description of his conversion, what evidence do you see of genuine change in his heart and life?
  • Where have you seen evidence of spiritual conversion in your life?