Valiant K. Jones is the author of The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in the Book of Mormon. This article includes excerpts from that book. For more information, see valiantjones.com. The book is currently on sale at cedarfort.com.

Classic literature often teaches Christian principles in creative ways. By creating realistic characters and an interesting plot, a skilled and inspired author can teach gospel truths in such a way that many people may not recognize that they are being taught about Jesus Christ and the principles He taught. However, the astute, faithful reader will see parallels that teach and edify.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and first published in 1852. The novel had a huge impact on nineteenth century America, strengthening the anti-slavery sentiment in the years leading up to the Civil War. Its social characterizations and style are now considered somewhat outdated, causing the novel to fall out of favor in many circles today. Its many Biblical references and strong Christian influence have probably also contributed to its fall from grace in the modern world, but in the mid-1800s, when those values were widely espoused in America, the novel raised social awareness about the evils of slavery and its impact on families.

The novel includes a segment in which Tom, the lead character, beautifully demonstrates an attitude of consecration and enduring to the end. He was able to show kindness in the face of hardship by focusing on the sacrifice and Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Tom was a slave who came under the evil command of a wicked master, Simon Legree. Mr. Legree managed to debase Tom to a point of almost breaking him, but then Tom had a sacred experience wherein he had a vision of the Lord. It changed him. Harriet Beecher Stowe told the story as follows:

Tom sat, like one stunned, at the fire. Suddenly everything around him seemed to fade, and a vision rose before him of one crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding. Tom gazed, in awe and wonder, at the majestic patience of the face; the deep, pathetic eyes thrilled him to his inmost heart; his soul woke, as, with floods of emotion, he stretched out his hands and fell upon his knees,—when, gradually, the vision changed: the sharp thorns became rays of glory; and, in splendor inconceivable, he saw that same face bending compassionately towards him, and a voice said, “He that over-cometh shall sit down with me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father on his throne.”

How long Tom lay there, he knew not. When he came to himself, the fire was gone out, his clothes were wet with the chill and drenching dews; but the dread soul-crisis was past, and, in the joy that filled him, he no longer felt hunger, cold, degradation, disappointment, wretchedness. From his deepest soul, he that hour loosed and parted from every hope in the life that now is, and offered his own will an unquestioning sacrifice to the Infinite.[1]

Tom “offered his own will an unquestioning sacrifice to the Infinite.” That sounds very much like Amaleki’s invitation to “offer your whole souls as an offering unto [Christ]” (Omni 1:26). Tom, a slave, had nothing to give his Savior but his heart, his soul, his will—and those he freely gave. He fulfilled Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s description of consecration: “The submission of one’s will . . . is the only possession which is truly ours to give! Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory!” [2]

The effect that came upon Tom from this focus on Jesus Christ was just such a victory. It was transformative. Mrs. Stowe wrote of Tom:

When the dim gray of dawn woke the slumberers to go forth to the field, there was among those tattered and shivering wretches one who walked with an exultant tread; for firmer than the ground he trod on was his strong faith in Almighty, eternal love. Ah, Legree, try all your forces now! Utmost agony, woe, degradation, want, and loss of all things, shall only hasten on the process by which he shall be made a king and a priest unto God!

From this time, an inviolable sphere of peace encompassed the lowly heart of the oppressed one,—an ever-present Saviour hallowed it as a temple. Past now the bleeding of earthly regrets; past its fluctuations of hope, and fear, and desire; the human will, bent, and bleeding, and struggling long, was now entirely merged in the Divine. So short now seemed the remaining voyage of life,—so near, so vivid, seemed eternal blessedness,—that life’s uttermost woes fell from him unharming.

All noticed the change in his appearance. Cheerfulness and alertness seemed to return to him, and a quietness which no insult or injury could ruffle seemed to possess him.[3]

Consecration had changed Tom. It prepared him to be made a king and a priest unto God (see Rev 1:6). Legree became bothered by Tom’s attitude and suspicious of his motives. He went to the slave quarters one night and, upon hearing Tom sing an old Methodist Hymn, Legree beat Tom again. “But the blows fell now only on the outer man, and not, as before, on the heart. Tom stood perfectly submissive; and yet Legree could not hide from himself that his power over his bond thrall was somehow gone.”[4]

Tom’s submissiveness was like Christ’s example of submissiveness when He was beaten and mocked (see Matthew 27:26–31). Tom had been changed: He was a new creature. And what was the effect of the transformation? He used his new, lighter heart to lift those around him who were burdened. It seems that the Spirit taught him the same principle that King Benjamin had taught when he said, “When ye are in the service of your fellow men, ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Harriet Beecher Stowe described the effect on Tom in these words:

Tom’s whole soul overflowed with compassion and sympathy for the poor wretches by whom he was surrounded. To him it seemed as if his life-sorrows were now over, and as if, out of that strange treasury of peace and joy, with which he had been endowed from above, he longed to pour out something for the relief of their woes. It is true, opportunities were scanty; but, on the way to the fields, and back again, and during the hours of labor, chances fell in his way of extending a helping-hand to the weary, the disheartened and discouraged. The poor, worn-down, brutalized creatures, at first, could scarce comprehend this; but, when it was continued week after week, and month after month, it began to awaken long-silent chords in their benumbed hearts. Gradually and imperceptibly the strange, silent, patient man, who was ready to bear every one’s burden, and sought help from none,—who stood aside for all, and came last, and took least, yet was foremost to share his little all with any who needed,—the man who, in cold nights, would give up his tattered blanket to add to the comfort of some woman who shivered with sickness, and who filled the baskets of the weaker ones in the field, at the terrible risk of coming short in his own measure,—and who, though pursued with unrelenting cruelty by their common tyrant, never joined in uttering a word of reviling or cursing,—this man, at last, began to have a strange power over them; and, when . . . they were allowed again their Sundays for their own use, many would gather together to hear from him of Jesus.[5]

Like Uncle Tom, if we give our whole souls to God through a covenant of consecration, then we, too, can be filled with joy and peace in spite of the difficult circumstances of our lives. In His great intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Tom experienced this. He exemplified the following statement by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

One of the last, subtle strongholds of selfishness is the natural feeling that we “own” ourselves. Of course we are free to choose and are personally accountable. Yes, we have individuality. But those who have chosen to “come unto Christ” soon realize that they do not “own” themselves. Instead, they belong to Him. We are to become consecrated along with our gifts, our appointed days, and our very selves. Hence, there is a stark difference between stubbornly “owning” oneself and submissively belonging to God. Clinging to the old self is not a mark of independence, but of indulgence![6]

[Valiant K. Jones is the author of The Covenant Path: Finding the Temple in the Book of Mormon. This article includes excerpts from that book. For more information, see valiantjones.com. The book is currently on sale at cedarfort.com.]

Notes


[1] Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, (New York City: Harper-Collins, 1852), 340. For A public domain version of the text, see books.google.com/books?id=rlDaAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. See also gutenberg.org/files/203/203–h/203–h.htm.

[2]Neal A. Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1995/11/swallowed–up–in–the–will–of–the–father?lang=eng.

[3] Stowe, Uncle Tom, 341.

[4] Stowe, Uncle Tom, 343.

[5] Stowe, Uncle Tom, 343. Emphasis added.

[6] Neal A. Maxwell, “Put Off the Natural Man, and Come Off Conqueror,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1990/11/put–off–the–natural–man–and–come–off–conqueror?lang=eng.