Bonds of Love

At Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum is a huge collection of nautical kit and naval souvenirs. Among them, predictably and rightly, are items connected to the transatlantic slave trade. Two display cases exhibit the manacles, shackles, neck irons and thumbscrews with which captured and enslaved Africans were secured.

Such articles are rather sickening, clearly demonstrating man’s inhumanity to man. That one’s liberty and freedom would be so glibly sacrificed on the altar of another’s greed is symptomatic of the fallenness of our race.

Interestingly, while traipsing round Colchester’s Castle Museum, a similar display was made of Roman bonds, whereby enslaved locals (or possibly imports) were chained in gangs to work the land and enrich the wealthy. Handcuffs, collars, ankle restraints- all tailor-made for the human body.

Although these trappings of oppression are far older, their victims even more forgotten than those recalled at Greenwich, and their wearers' selection being less motivated by racial prejudice, they still serve to remind me about unjust subjugation. The master desires to keep a slave, and the slave desires release, seeking opportunity for freedom and self-determination.

I once heard the tail-end of an old Billy Sunday sermon, in which he excitedly described God’s desire to keep us in a saved state, fastening us to His throne "by the golden chains of love". Indeed, Robert Robinson’s hymn Come Thou Fount, describes our problem:

Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love…

Before requesting God’s own solution:

Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

The chains of man are oppressive, harsh and exploitative. They chaff the skin, deprive the wearer and ruin a life. Yet I am grateful for those golden chains of heaven, which keep a fool like me from running away. Like the prodigal son, I would sooner eat swill with the pigs than live comfortably on my Father’s estate. Now, I would sooner trust His gentle yoke than my own resolve to remain true, to keep me enduring to the end.