Spurgeon on Alice Morse Earle - Burying the sins of Christians past

Status
Not open for further replies.

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I found what may have been Spurgeon's final inscription, or one of his very last, before his death. These are his remarks on the work "The Sabbath in Puritan New England" by Alice Morse Earle, a work which goes into detail on oddities and Pharisaical legalities in the keeping of the Sabbath in New England.

A quote from Spurgeon.org, which may be found here.

"‘An amusing but saddening book. The seamy side of New England religion exposed. The authoress is the wife of that Ham of whom we read in Genesis.—C.H. Spurgeon, Dec., 1891.’”[6] For Spurgeon, Earle unsympathetically shined the lantern light on the excesses and sins surrounding the New England Puritans’ Sabbath observance. To make his point, he compared Earle to Ham from Genesis 9:21. He saw Noah’s nakedness and did not cover him up. In Spurgeon’s opinion, Earle viewed the Puritans’ nakedness too. Instead of covering them up, she gazed and announced it to the public. Hence, the editors of Spurgeon’s Autobiography commented, “He knew that there was a ‘seamy side’ even to his beloved Puritanism; but he felt that it ought not to be thus exposed to the public gaze, but to be kindly and charitably concealed.”[7]"

A lesson in us in allowing the sins of past Christians to remain in the past, to love them as ourselves, to do to them as we want done to our own memories, and to let their good deeds shine.
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
The Bible doesn't really do that with Noah, though -- it tells us the story. It does that with all the OT saints. The hero of the tale is God, not the human whose fallibility and need are as clear as the grace.

When I die, I want the record to show that I was just another sinner who desperately needed God. And that God is good enough to save and use even someone like me. What help does my life do any other soul if it covers that truth?
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
As Heidi has remarked, the Bible does not do that with the lives of the saints. It frankly records the gross sins of David, Solomon, Peter, and a host of others. The honesty of scripture with respect to indwelling sin in believers saves us from the misery of crude hagiographies, which fail to deal properly with the faults of believers. I have always found it odd that Reformed believers, who are supposed to believe in imperfect sanctification, suddenly become Wesleyan Perfectionists when it comes to biographies of their heroes.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
I suspect there's a difference between what the Holy Spirit did in recording the sins of the fathers and what many historians and biographers do in their books.

I doubt very seriously Spurgeon was ignorant of how Scripture portrays the sins of its heroes. Is it beyond us to see how there are both times to expose the sins of previous generations as well as times to, as it were, "cover their shame" in honor to their persons?

If there is an excess toward either of these in the present day, it is most certainly in the direction of the former and not the later.
 
Last edited:

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I suspect there's a difference between what the Holy Spirit did in recording the sins of the fathers and what many historians and biographers do in their books.

I doubt very seriously Spurgeon was ignorant of how Scripture portrays the sins of its heroes. Is it beyond us to see how there are both times to expose the sins of previous generations as well as times to, as it were, "cover their shame" in honor to their persons?

If there is an excess toward either of these in the present day, it is most certainly in the direction of the former and not the later.

I think this is the spirit of what Spurgeon is saying. He did call some of the actions and ways of the New England Puritans "seamly", but dealt with it no further than was needed, like Shem and Japheth with Noah's nakedness.

If anyone's sin is highlighted, it's unrighteous Ham's.

I'm sure National Enquirer would've rushed a mugshot of Lot to their front cover for a feature story, if given the chance. But what does the apostle Peter by the Holy Spirit say about him?

"...and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked" - 2 Peter 2:7

Lot played with fire, and we are warned, yet we are obligated to call him a righteous man. A good name is precious ointment. We ought to value it in other brothers and sisters.
 
Last edited:

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
We know what Paul is referencing because we have much more full account in the Old Testament, unglozed. Many sins of individuals and tribes are told in bald detail -- some parts of the lives of the Patriarchs and Judges make me physically sick.

A child, parent, spouse, friend, would hardly be worthy of trust if they did not cover our shame. That's how truth works in those relationships. They do know the worst, they know our need of grace. They know the truth of our life. A historian's work is different. If we'd only ever heard the phrase 'righteous Lot' but did not know what Lot had done, his life would not bring half so much praise to the grace of God.

I don't know anything of this particular woman, who may well have been more National Enquirerish. But she would have been equally in error, if she was writing a historical work, not to tell the truth and to tell it without fudging. It's not ultimately edifying to muddy the clarity about God that comes out in a real life with all its struggles with a false ideal of what it means to be righteous.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
It's not ultimately edifying to muddy the clarity about God that comes out in a real life with all its struggles with a false ideal of what it means to be righteous.
Your point is certainly well taken. But if "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14), can you see how the above comment might just as well have been made by Ham with regard to his father? Ultimately, these are judgment calls. Spurgeon made his. We are of course free to question it. My point is only this: There are times when it is sinful to expose the shame of our fathers (Gen. 9:24-25); and when covering it is the path to blessedness (Gen. 9:26-27). Agreed?
 
Last edited:

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Yes -- if we remember that we hold Moses penned all that about his fathers? So there are also times to be blunt.

One concern, though it's not really germane to what you're talking about here -- but people sometimes use these arguments anyway -- is that none of this should ever be used to silence people who have been deeply wronged in these relationships. But I think we are probably agreed about that, also.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I have always found it odd that Reformed believers, who are supposed to believe in imperfect sanctification, suddenly become Wesleyan Perfectionists when it comes to biographies of their heroes.
I love good Reformed biographies but am yet to read one where the impression is given that this particular person was a 'Wesleyan perfectionist'. A modern example would be Iain Murray's 2 vol biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones which had a big impact on me. One gets the impression Iain Murray sought to point out genuine faults and failings. Where it gets a little tricky is where the person discussed has recently died. The immediate family may not want certain failings broadcast to the public. It is different if the person has be dead 100 years or more.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
Yes -- if we remember that we hold Moses penned all that about his fathers? So there are also times to be blunt.
Oh indeed! But then, Moses spoke those things by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That must, of necessity, distinguish his writings from the writings of men.

One concern, though it's not really germane to what you're talking about here -- but people sometimes use these arguments anyway -- is that none of this should ever be used to silence people who have been deeply wronged in these relationships. But I think we are probably agreed about that, also.
Sister, we are agreed.
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Shem and Japheth are mirroring the act of God, in the way this passage parallels the garden. There's a sin involving fruit, an element of shame in nakedness, and a covering provided.

They show us something about God's actions in theirs. Moses is also concerned to tell us about God's actions. I don't think Ham comes across as concerned about that. I think the difference between Moses and Ham has more to do with motivations, than simply that one was inspired (which goes back to what you said about the National Enquirer -- gossip is malicious; biography should not be).
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
There's certainly no disagreement on my part that the sins of men of the past ought at times to be known and put out there. Richard Baxter is in my top three of Puritans, but his theological errors were serious. He was rightly called out in his own day. Nonetheless, where the man was right, he had attained unto David's mighty men.

I'm thankful for the realism of Scripture concerning the heroes of the faith. While they are no encouragement to sin, it helps to know for example that a man of faith like Abraham seriously faltered and miscarried at certain points, or even that bold Peter had a fallen, repentance, and restoration--twice.

Nonetheless, the Spirit does indeed sum up their lives in a glowing hagiography.

Abraham is the father of those who believe.

David was a man after God's own heart.

Lot was a righteous man.

Sarah commended because she called her husband "Lord"--in the same breath that she laughed at the promise.

I think the Spirit assesses these characters so because, among other things, there is more to commend in grace than there is to condemn in sin. When men sin they do what is natural. When they do righteously, it is supernatural. They have acted against corruption and denied the natural bent of the will, by supernatural power. The latter alone gives the act astounding worth, as it is the mediation of Christ at work in His people, and the Father sees the work of His beloved Son. Scripture doesn't gloss over the sins of the men who made it into Hebrews 11 as champions of faith, yet in the end, they were champions of faith, and eminent soldiers in the ranks of Christ's army.

And if anything, the Lord is overlooking daily infinite depths of sin in our hearts which show up in our thoughts, words and deeds in multiple imperceptible ways. We are daily walking over unmarked graves and defiling ourselves, walking into worship with spots on our skin, and each moment offending God's majesty in some fashion or another. But nonetheless at the Last Day we joyfully anticipate the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Those are wonderful thoughts, Jake. We see God's charity in the Bible very clearly and it's such an encouragement to us. We see it more clearly because God has not concealed the struggles of those saints. And we should be trying to live with that kind of charity.

What I've been most concerned about is when 'preserving good names' becomes so important that our relationships become hypocritical. The reality is hollow -- it's only projected reality that looks good: it's only the projected reality that we really care about. And we justify that as a Christian value.

This can be crippling for those who need to ask for prayer for the family burdens (which are usually the most crushing burdens we carry) or if we need counsel, or if we just need to help the discouraged person who thinks that our family is so much better than theirs. It's easy for the church to become a group of people who all look so spic and span -- but if you scratch the surface, X is drinking and driving, and Y is struggling with p0rnography, Z is yelling at the kids till they walk on eggshells, and so on, and neither they themselves nor anyone around them can be honest about the real contours of their Christian lives because we have to maintain our good names. {I think this is often an idea we get from materials about Christians we admire in other epochs -- not from Scripture.}

The golden rule was referenced in the OP. I didn't really mean to kidnap the thread. But I do not, when dead, or even living, want my life to burden another soul with a sense that I am so good and that is why God loves me. If I'm doing to others as I want them to do to me -- I want the hope in the goodness of God that I have learned in my persistent failings, and in the deep family heartaches, to help them. And that means some honesty about me and my lack of goodness, and even some honesty about my people.
 
Last edited:

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Those are wonderful thoughts, Jake. We see God's charity in the Bible very clearly and it's such an encouragement to us. We see it more clearly because God has not concealed the struggles of those saints. And we should be trying to live with that kind of charity.

What I've been most concerned about is when 'preserving good names' becomes so important that our relationships become hypocritical. The reality is hollow -- it's only projected reality that looks good: it's only the projected reality that we really care about. And we justify that as a Christian value.

This can be crippling for those who need to ask for prayer for the family burdens (which are usually the most crushing burdens we carry) or if we need counsel, or if we just need to help the discouraged person who thinks that our family is so much better than theirs. It's easy for the church to become a group of people who all look so spic and span -- but if you scratch the surface, X is drinking and driving, and Y is struggling with p0rnography, Z is yelling at the kids till they walk on eggshells, and so on, and neither they themselves nor anyone around them can be honest about the real contours of their Christian lives because we have to maintain our good names. {I think this is often an idea we get from materials about Christians we admire in other epochs -- not from Scripture.}

The golden rule was referenced in the OP. I didn't really mean to kidnap the thread. But I do not, when dead, or even living, want my life to burden another soul with a sense that I am so good and that is why God loves me. If I'm doing to others as I want them to do to me -- I want the hope in the goodness of God that I have learned in my persistent failings, and in the deep family heartaches, to help them. And that means some honesty about me and my lack of goodness, and even some honesty about my people.

I'm thankful for the reflections you posted. Just yesterday I received help in considering the account of Elijah. Such great feats Elijah performed with conviction and boldness, yet this man of God cowered before Jezebel and spiraled into depression. Our lives are not so clean as we'd like others to believe, nor are the lives of other saints. "The heavens are not pure in His sight" and "He charges his angels with folly." Such kindness of God that still Elijah evades physical death and goes to glory in a chariot, and several centuries later serves to personally encourage Christ about His own approaching sufferings. Who can understand that?

A quote by John Newton, which probably goes along with what you are saying, discussing whether the sins of believers will be revealed at the Day of Judgment:

"But what of our sins being made known to other people? I admit that I would hate for anyone else to know my true thoughts and feelings for a single day, but I suppose it is because I am still so sinful and care too much what other people think, and too little about what I am in God’s sight. In the next life, I expect that whatever tends to glorify His grace will be fine with me, even if that means my secret sins will be publicized, for then I will be completely purged of pride and my will perfectly conformed to God’s."
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Things to consider in this context:

WLC Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own: appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; study and practising of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
I'm thankful for the reflections you posted. Just yesterday I received help in considering the account of Elijah. Such great feats Elijah performed with conviction and boldness, yet this man of God cowered before Jezebel and spiraled into depression. Our lives are not so clean as we'd like others to believe, nor are the lives of other saints. "The heavens are not pure in His sight" and "He charges his angels with folly." Such kindness of God that still Elijah evades physical death and goes to glory in a chariot, and several centuries later serves to personally encourage Christ about His own approaching sufferings. Who can understand that?

A quote by John Newton, which probably goes along with what you are saying, discussing whether the sins of believers will be revealed at the Day of Judgment:

"But what of our sins being made known to other people? I admit that I would hate for anyone else to know my true thoughts and feelings for a single day, but I suppose it is because I am still so sinful and care too much what other people think, and too little about what I am in God’s sight. In the next life, I expect that whatever tends to glorify His grace will be fine with me, even if that means my secret sins will be publicized, for then I will be completely purged of pride and my will perfectly conformed to God’s."

Thank you for understanding and saying it so well. Relentless and 'hammering'* as it is -- the sun out here is an incredible joy to me. After months of being utterly exposed to that light whole landscapes turn the most intense shade of gold I have ever witnessed.

I don't want to hide anything of me in the darkness. And while I am grateful that God is the light, and no one else -- that when we live entirely before Him, He provides a complete covering for our sin -- there's a relentless and hammering aspect to learning to walk in His light with my neighbor also. But there's immense love in that light. If Jesus could bear my shame for my sake, I can learn to be honest about some of it for the sake of my neighbor. I think maybe the OT saints (whose lives were recorded for our benefit) teach us that too.

*'hammers the rocks with light' -- a phrase that sticks in my head from one of Lewis' poems about the desert.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
"But what of our sins being made known to other people? I admit that I would hate for anyone else to know my true thoughts and feelings for a single day, but I suppose it is because I am still so sinful and care too much what other people think, and too little about what I am in God’s sight. In the next life, I expect that whatever tends to glorify His grace will be fine with me, even if that means my secret sins will be publicized, for then I will be completely purged of pride and my will perfectly conformed to God’s."

Just for reference, that citation from Newton is to an abridged paraphrase (the diction is a dead giveaway). This is how Newton expressed himself:
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
Just for reference, that citation from Newton is to an abridged paraphrase (the diction is a dead giveaway). This is how Newton expressed himself:
John Newton
Be careful there. GraceGems likes to modernize most of the stuff on their site. Here's what they say on modernizing language:

“Editor's note: In keeping with the above sentiments — we have updated, revised, re-written and adapted all materials on GraceGems to modern English.

I love their site, but do not think they are always well served by this approach.
 
Last edited:
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top