The Slave’s Cause: A Review

Most people don’t know very much about abolitionism in America. Perhaps the name that springs most often to mind is Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. A few more know of figures like Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman, with little sense of the details of their lives or how they fit in their historical context. Some with an interest in America’s Civil War may know a little bit about William Lloyd Garrison and of course there is the field of scholarship covering the history of American slave-holding and its converse, the anti-slavery movements. Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition has something for every one of these groups, from the most barely acquainted to the seasoned scholar.

Sinha’s book is “a comprehensive new history of the abolition movement” (1) It is indeed comprehensive, and highly synthetic, challenging a number of “long-standing interpretive binaries” that have sprung up in the study of the movement (5). On a macro-level, this synthetic work is seen in the basic structure of the book, in two parts: The First Wave and The Second Wave. Where many think of mid-nineteenth-century figures like Garrison as typical of the abolitionism, Sinha documents how “the American abolitionist movement unfolded in a hundred-year drama in law, politics, literature, and on-the-ground activism. To reduce emancipation to an event precipitated by military crisis is to miss that long history” (2). The book opens with a rough sketch of slavery and anti-slavery in Europe and the “Pioneers” like Bartolomé de las Casas, before focusing attention on American and British abolitionists. This review could be filled (as Sinha’s book is) with names and dates of partly-known, little-known, or utterly unknown figures in the “hundred-year drama.” Worth mentioning in the first wave are Anthony Benezet, “an eighteenth-century abolitionist who matched the pivotal role of William Lloyd Garrison in the nineteenth century” (20) Benezet’s active life involved writing, publishing, and correspondence which “created an antislavery network” (24). His correspondents included Granville Sharp, Benezet’s “British Counterpart” and Selena Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, known for her support of Wesley, Whitefield, and the evangelical awakenings (22, 24). It is striking that when a different story is told with a different plot line (i.e., the story of slavery v. abolitionism versus the story of evangelicalism, or “revivals”) many of the same characters appear, but in entirely different roles. This book offers a vitally necessary retelling of history that is especially appropriate for evangelicals seeking to know more about their heritage.

From the very first chapter, however, another synthesis is evident, and that is the connection between black and white, male and female abolitionists. Immediately after highlighting the prominent white figures like Benezet, Sinha shifts focus to the “Origins of Black Antislavery” (24). Here, for example, she highlights figures like Phillis Wheatley and offers a correction. While Wheatley “is often portrayed as a lone genius,” she was “in fact representative of an emerging African American antislavery critique of revolutionary republicanism” (31). This opening chapter is typical of the entire work: “it centers African Americans in it” (1). Throughout the entire drama, there was deep interplay between slaves, slave-rebellions, escaped slaves, freed men and women, and their ongoing struggle for liberty in a land torn by that question. White abolitionists have figured prominently in previous tellings of this history, but Sinha gives us here a truly comprehensive account.

Subsequent chapters detail the revolutionary era (both American and Haitian) (Chapter 2: “Revolutionary Antislavery in Black and White”) the drawn out legal battles for emancipation in northern states (Chapter 3: “The Long Northern Emancipation”), the black and white transatlantic developments (Chapter 4: “The Anglo-American Abolition Movement”), and figures like Richard Allen and the African Episcopal Church (Chapter 5: “Black Abolitionists in the Slaveholding Republic”). The First Wave concludes with “The Neglected Period of Antislavery,” a crucial link between two acts in the drama that have often been considered separately, including the growing tension between colonizationists and abolitionists. Between The First Wave and the Second is a 24 page insert of pictures of abolitionists, literally granting visibility to figures, including black men and women who have been invisible to this point.

The Second Wave is much longer and more familiar. Overturning the caricature of abolitionists as “extremists,” Sinha highlights how “proslavery extremism predated radical abolitionism” (226). Abolitionism pressed for “immediatism” due to the influence of black protest against this aggressive “slave power” (Chapter 7: “Interracial Immediatism”) She explores in great detail the emergence of the abolition movement as we know it, including its inherent tensions (Chapter 8: “Abolition Emergent”). Especially fascinating was her take on “The Woman Question” (Chapter 9), documenting women as “abolition’s most effective foot soldiers,” the tension this caused for the movement, and the birth of the women’s suffrage movement out of abolitionism (226). Black abolitionism is studied as its own distinct phenomena in this era (Chapter 10: “The Black Man’s Burden”),  as well as the relationship between American abolitionism and the revolutionary movements in Europe in the mid 19th century (Chapter 11: “The Abolitionist International”). “Slave Resistance” (Chapter 12) was always the front lines of abolitionism, and the activity of fugitive slaves continued to fuel the growing movement through addresses and published narratives (Chapter 13: “Fugitive Slave Abolitionism”). The final chapters are a whirlwind leading up to war, on “The Politics of Abolition” (Chapter 14), “Revolutionary Abolition” (Chapter 15), and “Abolition War” (Chapter 16). The book ends at the start of the war, though Dr. Sinha is presently working on a book on the succeeding era, Reconstruction (

The body of the book runs to 591 pages, with over 130 additional pages of detailed endnotes documenting primary and secondary sources. As such, this book functions extremely well as a sourcebook for additional research. The index is very thorough, so when one wishes to know where a particular person or movement fits within the broader scope, and find additional sources for further information. For example, this reviewer wished to know more about the scholarship and source material on Harriet Tubman after seeing the recent film devoted to her. The index and the footnotes were easily navigable, which is to say nothing of Sinha’s own careful treatment of Tubman in the work itself.

Though not a Christian herself, this evangelical found Sinha to be very careful and fair in her treatment of Christianity and even evangelicalism. At no point did she resort to caricatures or unbalanced criticism. Throughout the work Dr. Sinha does the work of a careful historian walking us through the complex and messy history that a “century long drama” necessarily is. This book is quite possibly the book on abolitionism in America. Evangelicals who are interested in American history need to read this work to understand our movement in its greater context. Anyone interested in abolitionism, at any scholarly level, needs to read this new comprehensive account in order to get the full picture for the first time.

A Marvelous Ministry: How the All-Round Ministry of Charles Spurgeon Speaks to Us Today

A Marvelous Ministry (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993) is a multi-author volume with chapters by Geoff Thomas (Wales), David Kingdon (South Africa), Tim Curnow (England) and Erroll Hulse (England). The book includes a biographical overview of Spurgeon’s life and ministry (ch. 2), as well as focused treatments on his “Gospel Invitations” (ch. 2), his “Social Concern (ch. 4), the “Downgrade Controversy” (ch. 5), and his “Activity in Politics” (ch. 6). The thesis of the book is that even though Spurgeon lived and ministered 150 years ago, his life is still relevant for us today to learn many instructive lessons. In fact, one author suggests that, “Spurgeon’s sermons should be returned to throughout one’s life and picked up and read, one a day, for some period, before other things break that plan… A student fresh out of theological seminary could make a study of Spurgeon, read the biographies and as many of his 150 books as he can find” (47).

In reading this, I was encouraged again to emulate Spurgeon’s example of integrity. Thomas notes that “Spurgeon was an open, guileless man. He told a would-be biographer, ‘You may write my life across the sky; I have nothing to conceal’” (68). This is an honesty and integrity that I aspire to in every aspect of life and ministry. (see: Why I Admire Spurgeon’s Position on Cigars and Brandy)

A chapter particular interest was Chapter 4: “Spurgeon and his Social Concern.” Spurgeon said in one sermon, “I would that we who have a purer faith, could remember a little more the intimate connection between the body and the soul… It seems an idle tale to a poor man if you talk to him of spiritual things and cruelly refuse to help him as to temporals” (91–92). Spurgeon never allowed himself to become so narrowly focused on “just preaching the gospel” that he ignored the real social evils going on around him. In the same sermon, he said “We want to be educated into the knowledge of our national poverty; we want to be taught and trained, to know more of what our fellow men can and do suffer” (93). Becoming directly “educated” and acquainted with the real suffering of people around was important to Spurgeon and should be important to us.

Interestingly, Spurgeon gives us a fascinating example of someone with regard to his political convictions in our day when we are told not to get too entangled with politics.  Spurgeon “was an unashamed Liberal who was not prepared to hide his political creed under a pastoral bushel” (95). “Liberal” was one of the political parties of the time in contrast with the Tories:

“As a Dissenter and a Liberal, Spurgeon stood against the power and privilege of the political establishment which found its expression in the Tory party… He was emphatically on the side of those who were excluded from the corridors of power because they were Dissenters in religion and as emphatically against those who looked down upon the poor from basins of privilege acquired either by inheritance or wealth.”

All in all, Spurgeon is a model of someone who “did not read his Bible as a pietist who separated religion off into a private realm removed from social and political life.” His activism was widespread: he founded an orphanage and supported it his whole life; this orphanage had its own school; he started an evening school at his church for adults to learn ‘Science, English Language and Literature, Elementary Mathematics, and Bookkeeping” (106).

In all of this, I find myself inspired to put no limits on the kinds of ways to “do good to all” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The kinds of challenges that people face today: poverty, unemployment, homelessness, are all fair game for anyone in ministry to seek to address, and Spurgeon gives a model for doing so.

The chapter on the “Downgrade Controversy” demonstrates that such effort to address social concerns does not have to come at the expense of orthodox theology whatsoever. This controversy was due to other Baptist ministers beginning to compromise on the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. Spurgeon fought hard within the Baptist union to fight this theological drift, and in the end withdrew from their fellowship over this issue. However, Hulse points out that even when Spurgeon disagreed deeply with others’ theological convictions, he did so charitably:

He sought to maintain personal contact and sustain a personal relationship with evangelical ministers who compromised and were too weak to uphold the biblical position as outlined above. He reasoned with them. He was patient with them. He broke fellowship with them as far as cooperation was concerned, but he did no sever lines of personal communication with fellow ministers who compromised. He was sorrowful and reluctant in separating from brother ministers who refused to take a stand. (p. 9)

Spurgeon is a model for us of how to engage controversy. “We need to hold the truth and contend for it in a loving manner as he did” (10).

Spurgeon is thus indeed a model of an “all-round ministry.” I don’t have to choose between extensive engagement on social issues and evangelistic preaching of the Gospel: Spurgeon did both exceptionally well. I don’t have to choose to compromise on theology in order to pursue greater good in the community: Spurgeon fought against theological drift while being actively engaged in these other issues. I don’t have to stay out of politics when political realities affect so many aspects the life of my people: Spurgeon was unashamed to wade into political questions and took the side of the marginalized. And finally, I don’t have to do any of these things in fear of what other people will think: Spurgeon lived his life completely in the open, willing to be completely known by all for who he truly was. His life truly speaks to us today.

Adoniram Judson and “the more violent spirits of the North”

Adoniram Judson (1788–1850) was a famous missionary to Burma, one of the first American Baptist missionaries. He was supported by a nation-wide union of Baptists, north and south, who organized as the Triennial Convention. Judson came back on furlough in 1845, the year that the Baptists in the south separated from those in the north over the issue of slavery and formed the Southern Baptist Convention. After visiting Baptists in the north in Philadelphia and elsewhere, Judson made a trip south to Richmond, VA in February 1846. Here is what he thought of the split, and the circumstances that caused it:

“I congratulate the Southern and Southwestern churches,” he said, “on the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention for Foreign Missions. I congratulate the citizens of Richmond that the Board of that Convention is located here. Such an organization should have been formed several years ago. Besides other circumstances, the extent of the country called for a separate organization. I have read with much pleasure the proceedings of the Convention at Augusta, Ga., and commend the dignified and courteous tone of the address sent forth by that body. I am only an humble missionary of the heathen, and do not aspire to be a teacher of Christians in this enlightened country; but if I may be indulged a remark, I would say, that if hereafter the more violent spirits of the North should persist in the use of irritating language, I hope they will be met, on the part of the South, with dignified silence.”

Edward Judson, Adoniram Judson, D. D.: His Life and Labours (Hodder and Stoughton, 1883), 475–76. (available on Google Books)

2020 English and Greek Bible Reading Plans

I found a plan for reading through the Greek New Testament in one year over at Lee Iron’s site several years ago, but it was a pdf and needed to be updated each year. I loved this plan so much, I made my own for reading the English Bible through in one year as well. Two principles are at work: (1) chapters longer than 38 verses are broken into two readings; (2) an extra day(s) are added at the end of each month in order to build in “grace” days in case you fall a day or two behind. Since 2020 is a leap year, I’ve simply added February 29 as another “grace day,” since it’s quite a bit of work to cut/paste 300 readings only to change it back for 2021.

The English plan is arranged in Hebrew canonical order (Law, Prophets, Writings), and not the typical English (following the Septuagint) order. I made this switch several years ago and have loved the effect it has on my reading through the OT.

For the NT, I read the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine text which (rightly!) places the Catholic Epistles immediately after Acts, rather than the Pauline epistles. Again, I love reading James, Peter, John, and Jude up front, rather than towards the end of the year. I wonder how our theology might shift if we gave slightly more prominence to these books than we typically do.

So, for that tiny group out there who hopes to read through the the Bible following the Hebrew and old Greek canonical order in 2020, here are a couple of plans to print out and check off as you go:

Bible Reading Plan-(2020)

Greek NT Reading Plan-Byzantine (2020)

The Edwards of History: A Reply to Doug Wilson

“[Iain] Murray’s biography has been criticized for engaging in hagiography, painting an unrealistic portrait of Edwards as though the eighteenth-century pastor had no faults”

(Ian Clary, “Evangelical Historiography: The Debate over Christian History,” 240).

Last week, Doug Wilson published a blog-post in which he criticized Jason Meyer for lamenting Jonathan Edwards’s slave-owning. No, says Wilson, for all we know Edwards was a kind master, supported by the Bible, and surrendering this point will lead us down the slippery slope toward outright rejection of Biblical authority. He followed up with answers to letters, and then another post defending his defense of Edwards.

For those who have followed Wilson’s work for any time, this is the same argument he attempted to put forward in Black & Tan with regard to the Southern slaveholders 100 years later, men like R.L. Dabney and others.

The argument proceeds like this:

  • assume/assert hypotheses about historical figures based on partial evidence or historical revisionism
  • on the basis of that assumption draw a straight line to New (and Old) Testament texts
  • pivot to otherwise unrelated contemporary issues
  • attack/accuse other Christians of doctrinal squishiness if they don’t agree

What’s interesting, though, is that if you pull out the foundational premise (the historical revisionism) the whole house of cards falls to the ground, and it is at precisely this point that I think Wilson has the weakest case, both here with Edwards, and also with the Southern slaveholding Presbyterians. In this post, I intend to focus on Edwards, but I do hope at some point to return to the issues surrounding Wilson’s “paleo-Confederate” views as well.

Wilson goes to great lengths to find any possible way of excusing Edwards’s purchase and ownership slaves, even speculating utterly implausible motives for his purchase of a fourteen year old girl named Venus. Reading his posts reminded me of the broader debate amongst Edwards’s evangelical biographers, which can be summed up in the difference between Iain Murray’s biography and George Marsden’s. Wilson links to a brief article on Princeton’s website, but when I checked out Wilson’s longer reading list, it was no surprise to find that he has read Murray’s biography, but not Marsden’s.

“Not so much biography as hagiography”

Evangelical historians have debated the best way to approach history for decades, with historians falling broadly into “providentialist” and “naturalist” approaches to history. (For a superb outline of the landscape, see Ian Hugh Clary, “Evangelical Historiography: The Debate over Christian History,” EvQ (2015): 225–251).

Iain Murray is no stranger to these controversies, tangling in 1994 with Harry Stout (over George Whitefield), and in 2010 with Carl Trueman (over Martyn Lloyd-Jones). Murray knows how to be sharply critical when he wants to be (see, for example, the way he treats J.I. Packer and Billy Graham in Evangelicalism Divided). His biography of Edwards, however, seems keen to avoid any negative hint: “Murray’s biography has been criticized for engaging in hagiography, painting an unrealistic portrait of Edwards as though the eighteenth-century pastor had no faults” (Clary, 280). Allan Guelzo’s review was sharply critical: “Murray’s Edwards is not so much a biography as it is a hagiography” (Guelzo, 81). Guelzo points out “several jarring errors,” concluding that “what we end up with, then, is Murray’s Edwards but not Jonathan Edwards” (82). Stephen Stein, an editor of several volumes in the Yale Works of Jonathan Edwards series, thinks that “This biography will be most satisfying to those who wish to see Edwards as the champion of fundamentalist Christianity… He [Murray] continually allows his affection for his subject to color his language. In some instances he sidesteps difficult, uncomplimentary dimensions of the story” (Stein, 565). George Marsden notes that Murray “produced a full biography published in 1987 for an admiring Reformed audience.” However, he finds that it “is intended ultimately as hagiography, not as a critical academic work” (Marsden, “The Quest for the Historical Edwards,” 3).

Now, I want to be clear, I don’t necessarily have a problem with pastors writing edifying biographies of their heroes, and I think they can serve some purpose. However this ought never to take the form of whitewashing. As John Piper said “no one is helped by whitewashing our heroes.” And further, a partial, hagiographical account of a historical figure ought never to be used as the basis for an attempt at Biblical comparison or present day cultural analysis. The faulty historical foundation of hagiography is too sandy a beach upon which to build that house.

The Edwards of History

“We just don’t know” is the refrain that Wilson repeats throughout his posts. But is that true? Are those who lament Edwards’s slaveholding merely speculating about the nature and context of Edwards’s slaveholding?

The account of Edwards drawn from Marsden and other historians provides us with a far more complete picture of his life and times, including the social and cultural attitudes in which he took part. Marsden’s biography is over 600 pages long (including footnotes) and offers a thorough and historically accurate account of Edwards’s life. Here are a few relevant pieces of background information that help us situate Edwards in his time.

The “River Gods”

Jonathan Edwards “was an eighteenth-century British provincial aristocrat—a slaveholding Tory hierarchist—whose social views need to be understood according to the standards of his own day” (Marsden, “Quest,” 11). In his biography, Marsden notes that “Edwards belonged to an elite extended family that was part of the ruling class of clergy, magistrates, judges, military leaders, village squires, and merchants. The Stoddards and Williamses, along with a few other families with whom they intermarried, ruled the Connecticut River Valley” (Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 3). Again: “this clan dominated the commercial, political, and ecclesiastical affairs of western Massachusetts” (Marsden, Quest,” 11). This powerful clan was dubbed the “River Gods” by Kevin Michael Sweeney in his 1986 Yale dissertation, drawing the term from its use in the period (Marsden, Edwards, 531 n. 2).


Not surprisingly for someone who was part of the highest class of society, Edwards also held extremely hierarchical views. You don’t have to read much Edwards before finding talk about what is “fitting” for various stations in life. Here’s an example from True Virtue:

“There is a beauty of order, in society, besides what consists in benevolence, or can be referred to it, which is of the secondary kind. As, when the different members of society have all their appointed office, place and station, according to their several capacities and talents, and every one keeps his place, and continues in his proper business” (True Virtue, chapter 3).

Edwards’s hierarchical view of a “beautiful” society included slaves: “Men would hardly count it worthy of the name of humility, in a contemptible slave that formerly affected to be a prince, to have his spirit so far brought down as to take the place of a nobleman; when this is still so far above his proper station” (Religious Affections, 259).

In Edwards’s world, if you were born into the highest ruling classes of aristocracy, it was fitting and orderly that you should enjoy the privileges according to that station: “The Edwardses always had an African slave. Household slaves were particularly common among New England clergy, both because of a pastor’s social status and because the head of the house was not primarily engaged in physical labor” (Marsden, Edwards, 20). Ken Minkema adds this: “Owning a slave had become a prerequisite for the gentry, a symbol of rank as much as a source of profit” and Edwards was firmly a part of that gentry class (Minkema, “Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery,” 29–30)

Anti-slavery voices

Marsden draws attention to the fact that the issue of slavery was not a “blind spot” in the New England colonies: “by 1700 at least some whites recognized the unusual inequities of African slavery. Solomon Stoddard’s [Edward’s grandfather] Boston friend Judge Samuel Sewall raised the issue most forcefully in The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial (Boston, 1700).” Yet, “if some New England slave owners had uneasy consciences, their most common way of dealing with the subject was to avoid it”—which is exactly what Edwards did (Marsden, Edwards, 20).

A Family Affair

Marsden devotes a section of his biography to “Slavery” (Marsden, Edwards, 255–258, footnotes on 555–56). He reiterates that “many elite New Englanders owned African slaves, and Edwards and his close relatives seem usually to have had one or two slaves per household… Most British-Americans simply absorbed African slavery into their hierarchical views of society, where it was assumed that the higher orders of society would have servants to perform domestic and farm labor” (Marsden, Edwards, 255–56).

For the Edwardses, this was a family affair. Ken Minkema notes that, “Sarah, who as regulator of the domestic sphere was probably more directly concerned in the daily oversight of the family slaves than Jonathan, aggressively searched out potential slaves, which shows that women could take an active hand in the slave market.” (“Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery,” 43). Sarah inquired of multiple family members seeking to purchase their slaves from them (See “My wife desires to buy your Negro woman”).


Remember that the practice of owning another human being to do your manual labor for you was not something enjoyed by everyone in New England society–it’s not as if “everyone was doing it.” In fact, controversy over the luxuries enjoyed by the upper class reared its head specifically between congregants and their “elite” slaveholding pastors.

In 1741, “some parishioners of the church in Northfield had denounced their pastor, Benjamin Doolittle, for owning African slaves… The ‘disaffected brethren’ accused Doolittle, who had been their pastor since 1716, of making exorbitant salary demands—an issue Edwards and many other pastors were also encountering” (Marsden, Edwards, 256). Edwards was called upon to write a defense of Doolittle, which he did, and the surviving draft of that letter is the only piece of writing we have in which Edwards specifically speaks to the issue of slavery. Marsden notes: “Edwards and his slaveowning colleagues and ‘river gods’ friends and relatives must have been especially eager in 1741 that the status quo regarding slaveholding not be disturbed… If the word got around that, as was claimed, the minister ‘could say nothing that was worth saying’ in defense of slaveholding, such talk could inflame the slaves” (Marsden, Edwards 257). Ironically, there was a twist ending to this saga: Doolittle “freed Abijah Prince and gave him a legacy and land in Northfield,”–liberty and reparations!–something that Edwards never did (Minkema, “Slavery” 42).


This class tension between the elite pastor and his congregation also flared up for Edwards. “As in many New England towns, tensions had been building regarding the pastor’s salary, a tax matter decided at yearly town meetings” (Marsden, Edwards 301). Sarah complained that “many jealousies expressed of me and my family, as though we were lavish… much fault was found… with our manner of spending, with the clothes that we wore and the like (in Marsden, Edwards, 302). Was it true? Marsden notes this: “One clue that the family did occasionally display some aristocratic pretensions is a surviving bill for £11 (about a week’s salary) for ‘a gold locket and chain’ for Mrs. Edwards” (Marsden, Edwards, 302). Minkema also notes this tension: “In 1744, a number of his parishioners insisted upon an account of his own expenditures, an action suggesting the jealousy and resentment aroused by the family’s taste for jewelry, chocolate, Boston-made clothing, children’s toys—and slaves” (Minkema, “Slavery,” 36).


Edwards’s purchase of “a Negro Girle named Venus aged Fourteen years or thereabout” in 1731 is all the more striking when seen in this light. Minkema notes that “Edwards’s annual salary in 1731 was £200, out of which he paid £80 for Venus.” Edwards likely travelled over a week to get to the slave port city of Newport, Rhode Island where he spent nearly half a year’s salary on this girl.

Doug Wilson wonders: “Or was he doing it because he knew that she was already irrevocably torn from her people and enslaved, and that if he purchased her he would treat her decently, and that if he did not do so there was a high risk that another master would not treat her decently?” Was he “attempting to do a good thing in a bad situation”?

Here’s my question: does Wilson’s hypothetical question fit at all with the historical and cultural context of his time? It’s not as if Edwards lived in Newport, constantly seeing Africans dragged in off the ships and then sold off at auction, families ripped apart, children separated from their parents, and when he just couldn’t take it anymore he did the only thing he could think of: he bought a girl to save her from a worse fate. No, Edwards travelled over a week on horseback to spend over a third of his yearly salary on a luxury “item” (a person!), the possession of which would be “fitting” to his status as a member of the wealthy elite. He and Sarah pursued the purchase of additional slaves throughout their lives all the way until the end, and in Edwards’s last will and testament, a “boy named Titus” is listed alongside the other “quick stock” (see “A Negro Boy named Titus; Horse; Yoke of Oxen”). Rather than following the example of Doolittle in freeing his slaves, Edwards participated in one of the chief mechanisms used to break up the black family: selling off an estate at auction, in this case, selling a boy to whoever turned out to be the highest bidder. No amount of “kind treatment” can justify the breaking up of a family like this.

Hopkins, Edwards Jr., Haynes

One often hears the objection of “presentism,” of forgetting that “the past is a foreign country,” and of reading our own moral judgements onto the past. But what did Edwards’s own immediate followers think of slaveholding? Ken Minkema and Harry Stout answer this directly in “The Edwardsean Tradition and the Antislavery Debate, 1740–1865).” In it, they draw particular attention to Samuel Hopkins, Jonathan Edwards Jr., and Lemuel Haynes.

Hopkins was Edwards’s “most renowned intellectual heir.” Minkema and Stout note that he “studied divinity at Edwards’s parsonage in late 1741–curiously, the very time Edwards was grappling with the slavery issue–and again in the late spring and summer of 1742. Thereafter, he and Edwards were close friends and constant correspondents” (“Edwardsean Tradition,” 51). Hopkins had a first hand view of slavery as practiced in the Edwards household. If anyone was poised to be a sympathetic observer, and read American slavery in the best possible light, it was Hopkins. Yet, by 1770, Hopkins had become an ardent abolitionist, pressing for immediate emancipation. He published books (A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans) and treatises (“This whole country have their hands full of blood this day“). Hopkins had no hesitation to call slavery a “cruel” and “shocking” sin, and attributed it to American society at large:

“the Blood of Millions who have perished by means of the accursed Slave trade long practised by these States is crying to heaven for venjance on them and tho’ everyone has not had an equal share in this wickedness, not having been actually guilty of Enslaving his brother, yet by a general connivance it his become now the Sin of the Land” (“Hands full of Blood,” 67).

Jonathan Edwards Jr. also called slavery “wickedness” and “sin.” He was one of the founders of the Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom and the Relief of Persons Unlawfully Holden in Bondage, and in an address given at its first annual meeting, he said: “As to domestic slavery our fathers lived in a time of ignorance which God winked at; but now he commandeth all men to repent of this wickedness, and to break off this sin by righteousness” (Edwards Jr., The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade, and of Slavery, 31).

Lemuel Haynes was “A student of Bellamy’s and strongly influenced by Hopkins” (Minkema and Stout, “Edwardseans,” 60). He was the first black “Edwardsean,” and went further than even Hopkins and Edwards Jr. in pushing not just for abolition but for integration. In his powerful and moving address, “Liberty Further Extended,” Haynes repeatedly refers to slavery as a “sin” (95, 99, 100, 102, 103). Directly opposed to Edwards’s (and Wilson’s) attempt to separate the sinful trade from the (allegedly) Biblical practice, Haynes presses the sin of slaveholding all the way home (original spelling retained):

“And not only are they gilty of man-stealing that are the immediate actors in this trade, But those in these colonys that Buy them at their hands, ar far from Being guiltless: for when they saw the theif they consented with him. if men would forbear to Buy Slaves off the hands of the Slave-merchants, then the trade would of necessaty cease; if I buy a man, whether I am told he was stole, or not, yet I have no right to Enslave him, Because he is a human Being: and the immutable Laws of God, and indefeasible Laws of nature, pronounced him free.” (“Liberty Further Extended,” 99).

Does Wilson really intend to charge 21st century Edwardseans (like Jason Meyers) with biblical infidelity simply for echoing what Edwards immediate followers said in the 18th century? Was Samuel Hopkins part of “the zeitgeist”? Was Edwards Jr. under the sway of “Critical Theory”? Was Lemuel Haynes a “snowflake”? The absurdity of impugning such a courageous man as Haynes is evident on its face, and one almost feels ashamed to consider the question rhetorically.

New England Slavery v. Southern Plantations

Wilson makes the observation that New England slavery was a different thing than the Southern plantations. He’s right about that, and I also view the two differently. Under the general category of “grievous sin”—in which a human being made in the imago dei is stolen from her land, sold over an ocean, and held as a piece of property for life—I agree that there are degrees of brutality within that category, and the southern plantation was about as brutal as it could get.

I also weigh differently the sinner who does so with an uneasy conscience versus the one who does so with a seared conscience and a high hand. Marsden notes Edwards’s “deep ambivalence” expressed in the draft letter (Marsden, Edwards, 257). Edwards knew this was not ideal, and felt sharply the charge of hypocrisy. By contrast, a man like Robert Lewis Dabney defended the southern form of slavery in hundreds of pages, spoke repeatedly of his hatred for black people, pleaded passionately for his denomination not to integrate with black pastors, and did so unapologetically (see: “What’s so Bad About R.L Dabney?”). I hold Dabney to a greater judgment due to the accentuated nature of his sin. This is not to excuse Edwards at all. His hypocrisy is evident, but it is certainly to a different degree than Dabney’s.

The problem even in this is that Wilson loves Dabney and the Confederates, and applies the same flawed historical approach to their era as he does to Edwards’s. But again, that is worth its own treatment at another time.


History matters. Imagine you saw me out to coffee with my younger sister, assumed what was going on, and then jumped straight to Biblical texts about “adultery.” When I reply with “no, those texts don’t apply here,” it’s not because I’ve abandoned Biblical authority, but precisely because I hold to it and can’t bear to see it mis-applied. The same holds true with NT texts about δουλοι or OT texts about עבדים. Whether or not these texts apply depends first on the historical facts, and in the case of American race-based chattel slavery, they don’t, and I hold that because I hold to Biblical authority, not in spite of it.

Pursuing historical accuracy rather than hagiography, and feeling appropriately about what one finds (i.e., lament) is something that Christians should never flinch from. It is not because “we live in a toppling time”; it is not a sign of “drift”; it has nothing to do with “critical theory.” Faithful evangelical historians have been carefully working through these matters for decades. Especially the Reformed historian, who believes in “total depravity” is not shocked or surprised when he finds sin in the past. Rather, he expects it, and he has nothing to fear: “because of Christ’s death on our behalf, Christians need not run from guilt. Christ was condemned in our place, which means we can face wrongdoing head-on — both our own and that of our forebears” (Johnathon Bowers, “Bound Together for Good”)

When we lament Edwards’s slaveholding, and draw back from the rampant hero-worship he has received in some circles, it’s not because we are capitulating to a snowflake culture, but because we have been faithfully taught how to handle history: by Marsden, by Piper, by Meyer, but also by Hopkins, by Edwards Jr., and by Lemuel Haynes.

Sources Consulted:

(See here for a bibliography on Edwards and Slavery”)

1987 Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.

1989 Allan C. Guelzo, “Review: Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.” Fides et Historia: 81–83

1990 Stephen J. Stein. “Review: Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.” Church History: 564–65.

2003 George M.. Marsden. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press.

2003 Iain H. Murray. “Review: Jonathan Edwards: A Life.Banner of Truth: 14–15.

2003 George M. Marsden. “The Quest for the Historical Edwards: The Challenge of Biography,” in Jonathan Edwards at Home and Abroad. Edited by David W. Kling and Douglas A. Sweeney. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

2003 Allen C. Guelzo. “America’s Theologian: Piety and Intellect.” Christian Century 20: 30–33.

2006 R. Bryan Bademan, “The Edwards of History and the Edwards of Faith.” Reviews in American History 34: 131–49.

2014 Douglas A. Sweeney. “Jonathan Edwards and the Study of His Eighteenth Century World: George Marsden’s Contribution to Colonial American Religious Historiography,” in American Evangelicalism: George Marsden and the State of American Religious History. Edited by Darren Dochuk, Thomas S. Kidd, Kurt W. Peterson. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

2015 Ian Hugh Clary. “Evangelical Historiography: The Debate over Christian History.” Evangelical Quarterly (87.3): 225–51.


(image taken from the Wikimedia Commons)

John Piper, Desiring God, Jonathan Edwards, and Slavery

John Piper’s interest in Jonathan Edwards goes all the way back to his seminary days when Dan Fuller mentioned Edwards in class (see “Books That Have Influenced Me Most“). The resources on Edwards over at Desiring God start in the 1970s and include:

Few others, if any, have done as much as Pastor John to promote Jonathan Edwards to his generation.

Edwards and Slavery

It wasn’t until 1997 that Ken Minkema published “Jonathan Edwards on Slavery and the Slave Trade,” after discovering Edwards’s “Draft Letter on Slavery” in the archives of unpublished manuscripts. (You can find a link to Minkema’s article, and others, here: Jonathan Edwards and Slavery: A Bibliography). The letter was published in 1998 in volume 16 of Edwards’s works “Letters and Personal Writings.” Minkema followed up in 2002 with a lengthy article “Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery,” the result of five more years of study on the issue. Anyone wrestling with Edwards and slavery should start with this article.

2003 happened to be the 300th birthday of Edwards. George Marsden published his monumental Jonathan Edwards: A Life and made free use of this recent scholarship. Marsden was perhaps the first biographer to treat Edwards’s slaveholding in any detail.

After this rediscovery, the scholarship on Edwards began to adjust to wrestle with this new information. Ever since then, John Piper and Desiring God have similarly tried to grapple with this issue.

“Trusting the Theology of a Slave Owner”

In 2003 several commemorations were also held, including a national Desiring God conference held in October entirely devoted to Edwards. A book was published featuring the addresses from that conference (A God Entranced Vision of All Things), as well as some additional chapters, and Sherard Burns, an African American, was “assigned the difficult task of examining how Edwards could pursue a God-entranced vision of all things and yet own slaves” (God Entranced Vision, 16).

Burns begins his chapter lamenting that “Nothing has been more of a stain on our history than the institution and cruelty of slavery in America” and calls out “European ethnocentrism,” and “the belief that some has the authority to impose their rights on others in such a way that stealing men, women, and children from their native land, tearing families apart, and systematically dehumanizing them was condoned and rewarded” (145). Even worse, “one of the most troubling facts concerning slavery was its association with Christianity” and Edwards is a prime example of this (146).

Burns then works through the issue, drawing on the scholarship of Minkema, Marsden, and John Saillant, as well as wrestling with Edwards himself. He finds “theological compromise” (147), capitulation to culture (148), and the mindset of an “elite” member of society, for whom slaveholding was expected (150). Burns evaluates Edwards’s defense of slavery, including the inconsistency in condemning the slave trade (i.e. the trans-Atlantic aspect of it) while still owning slaves himself: “The dichotomy in all of this is that Edwards would ‘oppose the overseas trade, even though he had hitherto purchased his slaves through it.’ (Stout and Minkema, ‘The Edwardsean Tradition,’ 3) Thus, to condemn the trade and at the same time to participate in the selling and buying of slaves was a glaring contradiction” (153).

Burns wrestles with how Edwards could have compromised like this, and finds that “Edwards was a sinner saved by the grace of God, who still battled with the remaining effects of his fallen condition” (156). But Burns goes further and examines two excuses: the slaves were treated “humanely” and they were “Christianized.” Burns quotes Jonathan Edwards Jr. to dismantle the first excuse. “Should we be willing that the Africans or any other nation should purchase us, our wives and children, transport us into Africa and there sell us into perpetual and absolute slavery?” (Edwards Jr., Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and of the Slavery of Africans). Burns presses it further:

“let’s say someone came to your home and took away your child. For years you searched and after much agony found her location and her captor. You then say to him that you are going to press charges against him because he kidnapped your child, broke up your family, and caused much grief and despair. To your charge he responds ‘But I treated her well'” (158).

Burns then turns to answer the excuse that the slaves were “Christianized” by their masters, and the “inherent contradiction in offering Christ to men and women whom you hold in bondage, against their will, and on the basis of man-stealing” (159), before explicating clearly “the difference between sanctioned slavery in the Bible and the institution of slavery in America” (160).

Ironically, Edwards’s immediate followers–his protege Samuel Hopkins, his son Jonathan Edwards Jr., and Lemuel Haynes–became outspoken abolitionists. Whatever they saw in their mentor (and father!) it did not persuade them of American slavery’s legitimacy. In fact, Hopkins counted slave traders and slaveholders among “Satan’s followers” (162)!

Burns concludes by making the case for still reading Edwards, and wrestling with the tension of being “black and Reformed” (citing Tony Carter’s book On Being Black and Reformed.)

“Slavery was and still is a blemish upon America. Even after its abolition the residual effects are evident in the culture at large and regrettably within the church. As an African American who loves Reformed theology and Jonathan Edwards and who desires to see these truths embraced by all, especially those within the African-American context, I have to make sense of this hypocrisy. Edwards was only a small part of a much larger picture of Reformed thinkers and preachers. The theology I love so much is tainted with the stains of slavery, and my heroes–one of which is Jonathan Edwards–owned my ancestors and cared not to destroy the institution of slavery” (162).

“The agony and the ecstasy”

In 2009 John Piper made his first personal acknowledgement of Edwards’s slaveowning in an article pointing to Yale’s online archive (“Thank You, Yale, For This Gift“). Piper says: “The agony and the ecstasy of Jonathan Edwards is laid bare in this breathtaking availability of all that remains of him. From the bill of sale for a slave named Venus (the agony) to 68 titles on Heaven in the Miscellanies (the ecstasy), you can find it with the search engine built into the website.”


In 2011, John Piper published Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. In the book he makes observations like this: “Race relations in America were plunged into ruin and destruction the day the first slave arrived in America, kidnapped for white gain against God’s law (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7)” (96).

He also acknowledges his indebtedness to Edwards: “I will put my theological cards on the table. I am a lover of the Reformed faith—the legacy of the Protestant Reformation expressed broadly in the writings of John Calvin and John Owen and Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, and contemporaries such as R. C. Sproul and J. I. Packer and John Frame” (129).

He acknowledges the stain on his own tradition: “I know that those white, Reformed, Puritan roots are contaminated with the poison of racist slavery” (247).

Yet, interestingly, he never puts all the pieces together explicitly. In the book devoted to racism and slavery, he doesn’t mention the fact that Edwards himself owned slaves. Maybe he thought he didn’t need to, since he said as much generally. Maybe he thought that the publication of Burns’s chapter several years previously had done the job. Whatever the case, it does seem odd that Edwards’s slaveowning wasn’t specifically acknowledged in the book devoted to the topic.

“Slavery is a great evil”

In 2012, Desiring God published a piece by Trevin Wax: “What Do We Do With Our Slavery-Affirming Theological Heroes?” Wax is “amazed” at the depth of Edwards theology, yet “astounded that these theological giants could justify the owning of slaves, support slavery as a system, and conform to the racial prejudice common in their day.” Wax confronts the “man of his times” argument: “The one thing we cannot do is to explain away our theological forebears’ attitudes and actions by appealing to the historical context of their time… we must make sure that as we point out the general social ethics of the day we do not diminish the sinfulness of their practice.” He concludes: “Slavery is a great evil, but even slavery cannot stand in the way of the grace and glory of the gospel,” and thinks we can learn lessons from their blind spots.

“Edwards’ Failure”

In 2013, Pastor John devoted an entire podcast episode to the issue of “Slavery and Jonathan Edwards.” John was asked “How does his slaveholding factor into your evaluation Jonathan Edwards’ theological legacy?” and he finds 5 responses:

  1. It warns me not to idolize or idealize any man except Jesus.
  2. It cautions me that if he had blind spots on that issue, he may well have had blind spots on other issues, which means that I am going to now read with some more care.
  3. It makes me marvel that God uses any of us.
  4. Edwards’ failure in that regard teaches me that sanctification has blank spots like knowledge has blind spots.
  5. Edwards’ failure here makes me pray for light on my life and on my day.

“Call Them Out”

In 2017, Piper revisited the question again, “How Do I Process the Moral Failures of My Historical Heroes?” including Jonathan Edwards. After emphasizing the need to address present day sin, he asks, “Now, what about those who are dead, who’ve written books that we have found helpful?” He has a few suggestions.

First, “We need to acknowledge and be ready to admit the worst. It’s possible that a person was unregenerate that we have admired. And I think we should hope for the best, and we should be slow to pass final judgment on a Luther or an Edwards or a King.”

Second, “We should be consciously aware of their sins and call them out. Call them out. Name them; don’t white-wash it. Say the sin. And we should take that sin and watch out for its effects in their books. And that’s really important. In other words, if we say, “Here is a man who is a racist,” what could have possibly, in his theology or in his sermons, been affected by that, so we don’t get contaminated by that?”

Third, Piper reminds us that “the Bible itself encourages us that God uses flawed people, even to write Scripture.”

In conclusion, “we should probably be slow to judge and yet never white-wash the sins of any pastor or any writer. Call them out on it. Be alert to how those sins might have influenced their writings, and then profit from the writings to the degree that they are in sync with Scripture.”

“Limits of Godliness”

In April 2018, Piper published a biographical article on Edwards: “His Head and Heart Were God’s.” In it, he devotes an entire section to “The Limits of Godliness.” After quoting another author on the “mythic picture” of Edwards, Piper turns to “aspects of Edwards’s life that do not fit with his ‘mythic picture.'” He acknowledges that “Edwards’s freedom from conformity to the fallen world did not include freedom from slaveholding. The eradication of slavery in the body of Christ, to which God had pointed in the New Testament (Matthew 7:12; 23:8–12; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; 5:14; Philippians 2:3–4; Colossians 3:11; Philemon 16; Revelation 5:9–10), was long overdue.” He points out the abolitionism of the second generation of Edwardseans, and links to several other resources, including Thabiti Anyabwile’s article.

“No one is helped by whitewashing our heroes”

In October 2018, in an interview with Justin Taylor, Piper wrestled with the purpose of Christian biography (“Friends You Need Are Buried in the Past
Q&A on Reading Christian Biographies“). He compares Iain Murray’s biography of Edwards (which doesn’t mention slavery), and George Marsden’s (which does). Yet, there were other biographers, even atheists, who didn’t mention his slavery either, and Piper posits that “Murray didn’t mention slavery may not be owing to a whitewash, but something else.” Now, that is a question for another post, exploring both Iain Murray’s enthusiasm for R.L. Dabney, and Banner of Truth’s devotion to the Southern Presbyterians.

Taylor followed up with the question: “How do we think about our heroes who not only are sinners as we all are — nobody should be surprised that our heroes sin — but what do we do with significant ongoing blind spots and sinfulness that is unrepented of.” Taylor specifically notes how differently white evangelicals treat the sins of Edwards versus the sins of someone like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pastor John comes out strong: “The first thing I would say is that no one is helped by whitewashing our heroes, your heroes. No one has been helped by it.” He repeats this: “you don’t benefit by whitewashing your heroes. You won’t ever ask yourself the hardest questions about life if the people you love are whitewashed and you don’t ever come to terms with their sinfulness.”

He then gives us a method for wrestling with this: “And another thought comes to my mind, namely, that if you see in Edwards, Luther, Dabney, if you see sin, you should flag it, wave it, acknowledge it. That’s why the book, 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy has the subtitle Faithful, Flawed, and Fruitful. “Flawed” — put that right on the cover. If you see it, you should wave the flag and then be alert. Where might that have infected the theology I love, right? So I love Jonathan Edwards’s theology, but his theology didn’t keep him from having blind spots. So why not? Is there something about his theology I could discern where it needs to be tweaked so that if he would have had that right, then he would have had this right? That’s a huge benefit from acknowledging the sins. It makes us intensify our vigilance over our appropriation of their theology.”

Passing the Baton

In 2013, Pastor John retired from preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and Pastor Jason Meyer took his place (“Pastoral Transition After a 32-Year Ministry“). On issues of ethnic harmony, Pastor Jason picked up where John left off, preaching the yearly Ethnic Harmony Sunday sermons in January, and leading the congregations efforts to address issues of race.

Though he loves the theology of Jonathan Edwards, he too has not been afraid to confront the issue of his slavery, in:

In that article, for example, Pastor Jason talks about the two ditches of underreacting or overreacting. Underreacting happens when we:

  1. Ignore the Issue
  2. Minimize the Issue by Maximizing the Positive Impact Elsewhere
  3. Minimize the Issue by Making It Historically Understandable

He exhorts us to obey Romans 12:9: ““Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” He elaborates on this further: “It should be noted that abhorrence is something beyond awareness. We mustn’t stop short at the mere awareness that Edwards owned slaves. We should abhor it. This response requires a strong emotional reaction in keeping with the nature of the evil involved.” He then describes his own reaction as he confronted this issue in greater depth than ever before. The whole thing is really worth reading.


For over 15 years, John Piper and Desiring God have been wrestling with the flaws of one of their biggest heroes, Jonathan Edwards. They have not whitewashed him, but have tried to deal honestly with this legacy. Some will think they have gone too far (“why bring up the past?”); others think they haven’t gone far enough (“why read Edwards at all?”). I confess, I tend toward the latter category. But no one can accuse them of ignoring the issue, and no one can accuse them of “capitulating to culture” on this. Pastor John has been fighting for ethnic harmony (imperfectly, to be sure) for decades, and has inspired a new generation of evangelicals, of which I count myself, who are motivated to take that baton even further.

Spurgeon’s Final Letter to the Christian Watchman and Reflector (April 2, 1863)

In 1860, the Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Boston Baptist newspaper,  secured Charles Spurgeon as an exclusive correspondent. Over that year, Spurgeon wrote 15 letters to the paper. They are being available now for the first time in 150  years. An index of the letters and several background articles can be found here: Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index

Three years after his commitment was fulfilled, another letter arrived, and was published on April 2, 1863. The editors commented:

We are again favored, as will be seen, with another letter from our old correspondent, Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon, which is given on the outside of this week’s issue. The letter, from some cause unaccountable to us, has been considerably delayed in the mails, though the matter of the letter, as to its readable interest, is not thereby impaired, as is often the case with deferred correspondence.

This is the last letter (to my knowledge) that Spurgeon sent to the Christian Watchman and Reflector. In 1865 Spurgeon began a paper of his own, the Sword and Trowel, and thus had his own outlet for publishing sermons and other articles.

Here is the complete text of this final letter:

(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here)


For the Watchman and Reflector

MESSRS. EDITORS,—David said in his haste “All men are liars;” the old Scotch divine re­marked: “Ah, David, had ye lived in our day ye might have said it at your leisure, for it would surely be true.” Certainly the false rumors which are raised about all public men are enough to put one out of heart with mankind, and make us think them like the Cretians, “al­ways liars.” I have amused myself by noting some of the good advice which was wont to be given from the old puritanic pulpits about that unruly member, the tongue. As my letters are of the most miscellaneous character, I have just copied out some of the racy bits, and hope they may be as interesting to you as to myself:

“The strokes in music answer to the notes that are pricked in the rules (the score). The anatomists teach that the heart and tongue hang upon one string. And hence it is, that as in a clock or watch, when the wheel is moved the hammer striketh, so the words of the mouth answer to the motions of the heart; and when the heart is moved with any perturbation or passion, the hammer beats upon the bell and the mouth soundeth. Ps. 45:1; Rom. 10:10; Luke 6:45. The reason why so many are tongue-tied in their devotions to God, is because they are heart-bound; they cannot bring out because there is no stock within ; their words stick in their mouths because they have no form in their hearts.”— Old Sermon by Dan Featly.

While transcribing these sentences a Swiss clock down stairs, in the parlor, has been crying “cuckoo,” at a great rate, and there was no help for it but to let it run itself down, which it did, after tiring us all with its noise. Here is a picture of a talkative man whose tongue rat­tles on at such a pace that the only course is to let him go on until he is exhausted and has spun out all his raw material.

Upon looking at my clock, I find that the striking apparatus has become disunited from the works. Hence this irregular breach of our peace. Is it not often so with talkative people? Is not the connection between their heart and their tongue snapped entirely, or is their heart in their mouth, and is it so small an organ that it is never in the way of their jabbering member? There must be a hollow place somewhere, or there would not be so much sound. But to return to our old books :

“When the pump goes we shall soon know what water is in the fountain, whether clear or muddy. When the clapper strikes we may guess what metal is in the bell. The corruption of men’s minds, (not much unlike the inflammation of the fever) ordinarily breaks forth and blisters upon the tongue. He that is rotten in his heart is commonly rotten in his talk.”—Preface to E. Reyner on the Tongue.

I have a good friend whose common sense is of the richest kind, and I have frequently heard him observe that it is a great mercy that bad men are allowed to use ill language, “For then,” says he, “I know what they are and how to deal with them.” The rattle of the rattlesnake is a useful appendage, for it sounds a warning to the unwary. Every man, then, after his own order. It would be very shallow wisdom to make all men speak by one rule, or to induce them to adopt a language which is not in harmony with their hearts.

Pardon me, friendly readers, if I here digress a little. You will excuse me if you have ever been the subject of the same provocation. Con­tinually am I assailed with accusations from every quarter, bringing to my charge words I never uttered and deeds I have never dreamed of. From the first day until now I have never answered a slander. I have seen my best mo­tives impugned, my holiest aspirations ridi­culed, and my most disinterested actions calum­niated, and hitherto I have held my peace. The silence which at first was one of moral courage, now assumes a tinge of contempt. “I am cru­cified unto the world and the world is crucified” unto me. Its loudest censures are almost as powerless as thunders in a dead man’s ear, and its praises have even less effect upon me. There is no love lost between me and a world which despised Christ. Let it speak ill of me, for I have good cause to say far worse of it than it of me.

I have turned aside from copying from the dear companions of my study, to write out of my own heart, because, singularly enough, a pa­per has reached me since I have written the last extract, containing a most cowardly and unde­served attack upon me by Mr. Gough, the tem­perance orator. I will not be tempted, even by so urgent a case, to turn aside from ray fixed rule further than to say that this, also, is anoth­er illustration of the commentary of the old Scotch minister, and for my own sake I cannot regret it, because I have gained in knowledge of character thereby. I had always honored Mr. Gough as a great and good man, far re­moved from any suspicion of falsehood, and equally clear of the folly of attacking God’s ministers in order to defend his opinions. I imagined that he knew too well the cruelty of slander to spread a libel against another. I had supposed, also, that he was a gentleman, and, better still, a Christian, who esteemed the cause of religion even more highly than that of tetotalism. We live to learn, and there is some learn­ing which costs us bitter grief and the deepest sorrow. When my tongue knows how to speak evil of my fellow-laborer’s character, let it rot from my mouth. If I have a cause near to my heart which cannot be defended without slan­der, perish the cause, even though my heart break from the disappointment.

Friends, let us leave this personal matter, for I am half inclined to put this letter into the fire even now, and would do so but that the lesson may be useful to us. Let us believe nothing against God’s people unless the testimony be ample and decisive, for there are ever those about us to whom it is sport to do mischief. We have been harshly judged; let us not com­mit the same sin, but ever rest assured that there is real grace upon the earth, and far more of it than some would have us believe. I close with two other cuttings from my old friends, whom I love all the better because they teach but do not abuse. Ephraim Udall, in one of his sermons dated 1639,talks thus wittily:

“It is Œlian’s observation how that men being in danger to be stung by vipers, used to place their beds in water, yet the crafty serpents have a device to reach them; they get up to the top of the house, where one takes hold of the rafters, the next hangs at the end of him, a third upon the second, a fourth upon the third; and so mak­ing a kind of serpentine rope, they at the last wound the man. And thus it is, that, amongst scandalizers and slanderers, one begins to whis­per, another makes it a report, a third enlargeth it to a dangerous calumny, a fourth divulgeth it for a truth. So the innocent man’s good name, like a merchant’s wealth, got in many years and lost in an hour, is maimed, and so se­cretly traduced that it is somewhat hard to find out the villain that did it.”

The other clipping I cannot trace to its au­thor, but it is one which any man might be glad to father:

“It was a good saying of one that in those days was known to be an able speaker, when he was to make his reply to some that had unjustly maligned him: ‘I will rest,’ saith he, ‘hencefor­ward in peace, in the house of my own conscience ; and if I do any good deeds, it is no matter who knows them; if bad, knowing them myself, it is no matter from whom I hide them; they will be recorded before that Judge from whose presence I cannot flee. If all the world applaud me and He accuse me their praise is in vain.’”

And thus let every man, in all his intents, projects and ends, as a conscientious Christian, look to the Lord, as the searcher of his heart and regarded of his work, not caring for the howling of dogs, the slanderous reports of wick­ed men, so that the little bird within sings clear. Not discouraging himself at whatsoever men think or speak of him and his doings, so that God and his conscience do approve them ; nor contenting himself with men’s approbation when the testimony of God’s Word and his own conscience gainsays it.

I am, dear Mr. Editor, your well-abused but well-contented correspondent,


Clapham, Eng.

(Photo by Bundo Kim on Unsplash)

Spurgeon’s Civil War Letter (January 9, 1862)

In 1860, the Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Boston Baptist newspaper,  secured Charles Spurgeon as an exclusive correspondent. Over that year, Spurgeon wrote 15 letters to the paper. They are being available now for the first time in 150  years. An index of the letters and several background articles can be found here: Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index

One year later, after the U.S. Civil War had started, and in the aftermath of “The Trent Affair,” with rising hostilities between the Union and Britain, Charles Spurgeon wrote another letter to the paper.

(original pdf here) | (Civil War Letter)


Metropolitan Tabernacle, London

Dec. 14, 1861.

MY DEAR WATCHMAN AND REFLECTOR,—I ven­ture to write you, although I fear my letter will not be at all acceptable, and possibly you may see fit not to print it. You are quite welcome to put it into the waste-basket, if you think best to do so, and all I ask is that you will kindly publish every word, or leave it alone. We know not, as yet, what answer your government will return by the messen­ger dispatched from our shores, but our Christian ministers are laboring with diligence and earnest­ness to cool the war spirit, and all good men are hopeful that the peace will not be broken. May the Lord our God avert the terrible calamities which must attend a conflict between two nations so near­ly allied, so kindred in religion, in liberal institu­tions, and in blood. Be assured that all our church­es will pray for peace, and should it be broken politically, we shall feel that spiritually we must have fellowship with all our brethren, be their na­tionality what it may, for there can be no war in the one body of Christ.

Constantly reading your very excellent paper, I have looked upon it as a fair exponent of the feelings of the godly in the North, and I assume that I am not far wrong in the supposition. Well, then, I am sorry that you feel as you do towards England, and yet more troubled am I at the general feeling in this country with regard to your government. When your present conflict began, our whole na­tion, with a few worthless exceptions, felt an in­tense sympathy with the North. I met with none who did not wish you well, although there were some who feared that the struggle would be far more severe than you expected, and a few who sus­pected your soundness on the main question. We prayed for you, and hoped that the day of eman­cipation for every slave was fully come. I move among all classes, and I can hear witness that there were premonitions of a coming excitement and en­thusiasm, such as that produced by Garibaldi’s Italian campaign, so long as the idea had currency that you would contend for freedom, and our interest only flagged when that notion was negatived by the acts of your leaders. Right or wrong, we have now ceased to view the conflict from the slave­ry point of view. Whose fault is this? What have your statesmen done? Or, rather, what have they left undone? They have shown no interest in emancipating the slave. Principle has been thrust into darkness, and policy has ruled the day, and the consequence has been a long and disastrous war, instead of a dashing and brilliant victory. With “Emancipation” as your watchword, your empire would, ere this, have been safe and glorious. The Union safe, or at least, the North more than para­mount. You would not have needed any of our sympathy, but you would have had it to the utmost degree of enthusiasm. Our young men, and our old men too, talked like soldiers, and wished they were with you to fight in freedom’s hallowed strife. Your avowal of abolition would have made us deliri­ous with joy, for the freedom of the slave is a religion in England from which there are very few dissent­ers. But the universal conviction in England is, that the leaders of your government care nothing about slavery, and that they make you fight for empire and not for freedom.

You say in your issue of Nov. 28th, “The higher classes in England are friends of the South, while the people stand by our government.” Neither of these sentences has any truth in it. I speak what I do know, when I say that our public sympathy with your government is clean gone, not only with the higher classes, but more thoroughly and com­pletely with our people. Our populace, to a man, have ceased to respect the truckling policy which controls you, and I believe they would speak far more harshly of you than the richer classes care to do. It is no one’s business here which of you con­quers, so long as slavery is not at issue. That was the key to the British heart, it has been discarded, and we remain unmoved, if not indignant specta­tors, of a pointless, purposeless war. My whole heart and soul wished you God speed, until, like all the rest who looked on at your awful game, with an ocean between us to cool the passions, I saw clearly that only extreme peril would compel your leaders to proclaim liberty to the captives. That trial you have had, do the right, and your trouble will be over.

We cannot love the South. They are not and cannot be our natural allies. We have few bonds of relationship there, and no commercial ties which we would not rejoice to sever. Even if a spasmodic interest should be excited by your violation of our flag, yet we never can have any hearty union between our people and the slaveholding South. Cotton, I confess, is a great bond, and the stoppage of its supply is a serious calamity, hut as far as I have seen, our people had made up their minds to bear hard times patiently, in the hope that slavery might cease. I believe that our people would sooner pay a tax for emancipation, or bear the stoppage of their trade for the sake of the slave, than for any other motive under heaven. But we are disappointed. A noble opportunity has been frittered away. Halting between two opinions has ruined the cause. The friends of Africa are sick at heart. Your government has fooled you. It dared not do the right for fear of consequences. It courted useless friendships and tried to buy them with hesitations and compromises. Had it but dashed at once into the “irrepressible conflict” all civilized nations would have honored the courage and decision which would run any risk sooner than allow the barbarous and diabolical crime of slavery to fester in your constitution. But your rulers must be driven to virtue, for even when upon the verge of it, they start back alarmed. Why was Fremont silenced? What power is that which leads your Cabinet to be so fearful to commit it­self upon the point of slaveholding? Why leave your most powerful weapon to rust upon the shelf? Have you no means of pressure by which you can compel your rulers to find their senses and give up their vacillation. To hesitate is to court disaster, to decide is to overcome.

No one can fail to admire your loyalty, but surely some of you must have had stern difficul­ty in enduring such protracted temporizing. Be loyal still, but constrain the President and his council to be loyal to your public feeling, which I hope is sound at heart. Will not the slave ques­tion soon be made the point in issue? For your own sake will you not let loose the black tempest from its chains of darkness? I earnestly pray that in all thoroughness, the cause of freedom may be taken up boldly and at once; and I am sure that with our usual unanimity we shall return to our natural position towards you, viz., that of unfeigned sympathy and hearty good-will. You may reply that this is of no value. I reply, that you are a little angry, and therefore I will plead that it may be of service to your kinsmen and brethren in Eng­land, and to the world at large, therefore win our love for our sakes if not your own. It may tend to produce a healthier feeling between the two nations, if it be fully understood that the people of England deprecate the idea of a quarrel with you, and sincerely desire unbroken and profound peace, but the blood of the Old Saxons is as fully in our veins as in yours, and no Englishman feels any sort of fear of you, your fleets, your armies, your expeditions to Canada, or any other enter­prise you may set on foot. We neither despise your weakness nor dread your strength.

But why should there be a fight at all? What good can come of it ? Could not every end be answered by arbitration better than by blood ? In the presence of heathen and popish nations wherefore should two protestant powers disagree? It will be a crime, a treason against Heaven, a despite to the cross of Christ. We are co-operators in every good work, and in some we willingly yield you the palm, but wherefore should we differ? Why, above all things, should we be made to kill each other against our wills? We have both had our sins to­wards the sons of Ham, let us bear the brunt to­gether, you the war, and we the evils of blockade. Do you hasten to proclaim “liberty,” and we on our part, if we be not permitted to interfere with effec­tual aid, will endure patiently the necessary stop­page of trade, will rejoice in your successes, and never even dream of your being repulsed.

We both seem to be drifting most ridiculously, but most lamentably from our proper positions. Our place is at your side in a great moral conflict, yours is it to make that conflict moral. We have all a thousand dear friends in either hemisphere; some of us have brothers on each side, and even children in both nations. We must get out of this quarrel somehow, without a rupture, and in my heart, I believe that your proclamation of emanci­pation will do it. How can we be your enemies if you are the friends of the slave ? If our govern­ment should attempt to aid the South for the mere sake of cotton, (which they would not do, for at present ours is the most popular of all governments, and feels the most readily the motion of public sentiment,) thousands, yea millions of us, would abhor the selfish and unhallowed combat, and it could not last.

The scales are trembling in the balance. May your voices cry aloud for peace and liberty. Some few words of reconciliation, a little mutual forbear­ance, deaf ears to irritating newspapers, and a no­ble publication of freedom to the captives, and the two nations will be sworn friends. O Lord, grant it may be so. Never did prayer rise more heartily or earnestly to heaven’s throne. I pray you join in it with your fervent “Amen.”

Now, Messrs. Editors, I do not write this as though my individual opinions were of any value in America, but because I know that the truth in these matters may ultimately be for the best. My letter on slavery excited so much ill-feeling, even in the North, that I did not see the use of my further correspondence, but this is duty, therefore I do it.

With heartiest affection to believers in the North,

Yours, most peacefully and honestly,


(Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash)

Spurgeon’s 15th Letter (November 22, 1860)

In 1860, the Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Boston Baptist newspaper,  secured Charles Spurgeon as an exclusive correspondent. Over that year, Spurgeon wrote 15 letters to the paper. They are being available now for the first time in 150  years. An index of the letters and several background articles can be found here: Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index

Here is the complete text of his fifteenth letter:

(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here)



In an early letter to you, I happened to notice the singular deliverance of a servant of Christ, Mr. Vanderkiste, who was preserved from famine, and finally restored to his family, though lost for days in the wilds of Australia. That letter has been read by him, and has elicited another, which will interest and edify your readers. Here it is:

Dungay, Maitland, New South Wales, July 18, 1860.

DEAR BROTHER IN THE LORD,—A newspaper was recently handed to me by a friend, in which I observe a notice by you of the marvellous deliverance experienced by me, from imminently impending starvation. The notice altogether I value much, and especially the prayer for my welfare, with which you so kindly conclude it.

I will, if you please, furnish you with a notice for one of your discourses, and as I am not very likely to have the opportunity of addressing London audiences with your prestige, if at all, I should much like to convey through you, to some of those immense and precious auditories which you are privileged from time to time to address, the glorification of God, my Saviour, which His grace enabled me to render, even amid the desolation of starvation.

Then tell the dear people, from me—may Christ bless them—that starvation itself, the sinking in of the human eye by want, the howling of tempestuous winds, and the pattering of incessant rains in the great wilderness of the far South, the death-dirges of wild birds, and the prospect of bones picked by wild dogs, that the whole of these form but a scene amid which, when the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, shineth, the soul can raise a song of triumph, and cheerfully echo back the soundings of Jehovah’s word, “Let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains.”

Tell the dear people, for their instruction, that if I die in my nest, it will be well indeed, if I die comforted with the comforts which Jesus gave me when death came steal­ing along the lone mountains, robed with the chill cere­cloths, and featured with the grim visage of gaunt starvation.

Tell them, and let them glory in it. that it is just as easy to Immanuel to make a man’s soul rejoice amid the paraphernalia of starvation, as amid the paraphernalia of patrician wealth, or palatial or princely glory.

What an all sufficient Saviour then have we, who can assuredly do both.

Believe me, yours in our one Redeemer,


It is worth while to have written the course of letters which with great difficulty and much irregularity I have sent to you, if my only reward had been this brotherly voice from afar. How sweet is it to feel that you have true brethren, the chords of whose heart can be touched, although we have nev­er grasped their hand.

You know how proud many men are of their pedigree, and you will smile when I confess to the same weakness. I can claim no descent from the aristocracy of earth, but I have a direct, undeviating lineage from the aristocracy of heaven. I was not, however, aware that I could run back quite so far as the records now enable me to do. In the list of those persons who in Essex suffered in year 1677, for holding an unlawful conventicle and attending a meeting held at Dedham, stands the name of Job Spurgeon, who with two others was fined £2 11s. This parish of Dedham I believe to be the original seat of our family, which has never removed far from the spot, nearly all its members residing to this day within a few miles of the village.

On the 22nd July, 1683, John Matthews, of Harwich, Job Spurgeon, of Dedham, Stephen Moore and Stephen Arnold, of Lawford, taken at a meeting, were committed to Chelmsford gaol, by warrant from Justice Smith. They were, after a few weeks, bailed out till Sessions, but on their appearance there, on the 3rd of October, they were required to give sureties for their good behavior, which refusing to do, they were re-committed to prison, where three of them lay upon straw about fifteen weeks, in the midst of a winter remarkable for extremity of cold; but the fourth, Job Spurgeon,  being so weak that he was unable to lie down, sat up in a chair the most part of the time. The curious in such matters may see this record in “Besse’s Sufferings,” Vol. I., 205, 207. This good man was a Quaker, and is none the less worthy of honor for his sufferings for conscience sake.

We must not deny the early Quakers the title of confessors, because their representatives may have degenerated or outlived their vocation, or because they would run their heads against a great many unnecessary stone-walls, or because the share of vital truth which they possessed was sometimes incoherently set forth. Their baptism of blood still cries for a just vindicator, and if any should ques­tion their value as confessors for truth, they must on all hands be honored as confessors against error.

I imagine that I am frequently affected by this old Quaker blood, for I believe in the Holy Spirit’s monitions to a larger extent than it were wise to speak of to a mingled audience. I know that I have had repeated warnings and suggestions, and often when I have essayed to preach in a certain town the Spirit has not suffered me to do so, while on the other hand I have done many things for no other reason, and with no other apparent justification than the inward moving of the Holy Ghost. This may be strange to others, to me It is a habit of life, and if once I feel the motion which I account to be Divine, no human argument can prevent my attempting to obey the message. Nevertheless, although I have the other Quaker peculiar­ity of abhorring an oath even before the magistrate, I am a Baptist to the core, and your humble servant,


(Photo by Joey Csunyo on Unsplash)

Spurgeon’s 14th Letter (November 1, 1860)

In 1860, the Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Boston Baptist newspaper,  secured Charles Spurgeon as an exclusive correspondent. Over that year, Spurgeon wrote 15 letters to the paper. They are being available now for the first time in 150  years. An index of the letters and several background articles can be found here: Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index

Here is the complete text of his fourteenth letter:

(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here)



God save Garibaldi! A thousand benedictions upon his noble head! One such man redeems the age from the shame of littleness! There is greatness enough in that one man to ennoble the century which begat him. We do not live, after all, in the age of diluted virtue and departing manhood. Never Roman toga hung about a hero more glorious than he who wears the red frock. In him the poverty of Cincinnatus is combined with the integrity of Fabricius, the truthfulness of Regulus with the self-forgetfulness of Curtius, the valor of Scipio with the pain-defy­ing heroism of Scœvola. If all the marvels of pa­triotism were forgotten, they might be re-written from the life of this one Italian. His portrait dif­fers from that of any other living mortal, and seems to be the exact ideal of a patriot warrior’s face, yet is there a gentleness gleaming from it which must mean more than swords and guns can ever help him to reveal. O that the God who raised up Cy­rus and surnamed him, though he knew it not, may also give the enemies of freedom as driven stubble to the sword of Garibaldi, and give to the warrior himself a name and a place among the soldiers of the cross.

News of a great victory has just arrived. The battle was well fought, that is to say, the troops of Francis II. did more than Neapolitans were ever expected to perform, and Garibaldi, with half their number of men, beat them most thoroughly. It is hoped that this will well-nigh end the contest with the Bomb-loving Bourbon, and bring the patriot chief face to face with the remaining despot. Many grave questions now await their answer, and no politician can guess what will come to pass, al­though every man has his own pet scheme of what should be done. What will Garibaldi do with Cavour, Victor Emmanuel and Napoleon? How will he conduct himself in the midst of their diplomatic stratagems? I believe that if he be, what I think he is, he will go right on, careless of all cautious, and prudent cowardice, and cut the knot with his sword which crafty politicians cannot untie with their dexterous fingers. There is an old English picture of Turpin’s ride to York. The toll-gate keeper has shut his spiked gate across the road, and an old man has turned his donkey cart right into the way, but the highwayman is not to be stopped in his career, and at a flyings leap clears every impediment, and leaves his enemies to won­der at his daring. The Pope may supply the asinine part of the picture, and the constituted author­ities of France and Sardinia may keep the gate between them, but they may yet find the glorious fury of Garibaldi too high and strong a thing to be checked by their policy and state craft.

I see that Gavazzi is preaching constantly in Na­ples, and I should imagine that there is power in his ministry, for some of our newspapers call him a mad, unfrocked priest. Greater commendation, than the condemnation of some of our newspapers, no man need desire. With Roman Catholic re­porters, and infidel editors, the statements of sev­eral of our daily papers upon any matter which has to do with religion, need always to he reversed be­fore you arrive at the real truth. The Times, with all its political twistings with the times, has nevertheless of late years usually dealt with fairness with religious questions, and if not always right, it is not intentionally or spitefully wrong. While upon this subject, I must beg that neither you nor your readers will regard any newspaper as the organ of the English Baptists. We have no organ, we have no paper which represents the Calvinistic Baptist churches of England. The Free­man, with its perverse tendency towards the mod­ern negative theology, has deceived the hopes of very many of us, and we look upon it rather with loathing than with love. Truly Baptists are not and cannot be negative theologians; the men who sway our literature may be never so unsafe, but they are exceptions to the rule. We are not a lit­erary denomination in England, and it seems to be our fate that what little literature is attached to us should be a mere appendix, and not an index of our sentiments.

There is an evil leaven in the literature of both the Baptist and Independent denominations which if not purged out will speedily leaven the whole lump. The Socinian notion of the Universal Fatherhood of God as opposed to his rectoral and ju­dicial character is upheld and maintained in several of the Independent pulpits, and the Freeman dares to quote extracts of a sermon as proof of the or­thodoxy of its favored preacher,—extracts brimful of heresy, and averring the heterodox dogma in the clearest terms. A controversy commenced two or three years ago, and caused much noise; it has been for a while suspended in the hope of better things, but must be renewed with greater vigor, for other­ wise the stagnant air may nurture this doctrinal pestilence, and we may see Universalism becoming by slow degrees rampant among us. Let the ranks of battle close, and let victory be with the right, be it where it may. Abuse, misrepresentation, slander await any man who shall thrust his arm into this hornet’s nest, but it must be done, and happy shall he be who shall be called to do it. Brethren, abide in the faith, and pray that we may do the same.

Yours truly,


Oct. 12, 1860