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)

LETTER FROM REV. C.H. SPURGEON

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,

C. H. SPURGEON.

(Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash)

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Did Spurgeon Really Say That?!

“Better every white man, woman and child be murdered in the South and a thousand Unions be dissolved, than human slavery be allowed to exist in peace and quietness in the Southern States of the American Union.”

On July 6, 1860, the Richmond Enquirer, of Virginia, cited a lecture by Charles Spurgeon which allegedly included the above quote. Did Spurgeon really say that?! To try to answer that question, we need to understand Spurgeon’s history of misrepresentation in various newspapers, specifically the contested second-hand accounts of his views of slavery, as well as the South’s intense bias against him.

“False Rumors”

Over the years, Spurgeon was constantly subjected to public speculation and outright falsehood about his life, beliefs, and even quotes that he had supposedly made.

On December 9, 1858, the Watchman and Reflector included this report: “It has been stated, we hear, that this gentleman lives in extravagant style, in a magnificent mansion, with troops of servants, and a coach and I do not know how many richly caparisoned steeds, and is driven about London, and to church, by a liveried coachman whose hat is ornamented with a cockade. This story bears on its face the very marks of untruth, but I am happy to be able to state that it is altogether false…Mr. S was in no way given to extravagance in his household arrangements… he has no coach, generally going afoot or in public conveyances.”

In 1859, the New York Waverly claimed that Spurgeon was readying his sermons “Corrected and Revised by himself expressly and exclusively for the New York Waverley.”

Spurgeon wrote several letters, to the Waverly, and to his legitimate publishers at Sheldon and Co., correcting this false claim: “I am sorry to add that I have to complain that you have gone beyond all the rules of honesty in the deliber­ate falsehood which heads several of your advertise­ments, vis., that these sermons are reported “exclusively” for the Waverly, whereas they were never reported for you at all. This glaring falsehood has compelled me to speak out, and I am now about to take some more decisive action.” 

On January 14, 1860, the Penny Press claimed that “It is stated on good authority that Mr. C.H. Spurgeon made, about three weeks ago, a formal recantation of the extreme Calvinist tenets which he had been hitherto preaching. He said that he and others who had taught as he had done, and had been doubtless grievous stumbling blocks in the way of many pious an earnest persons, and that the only amends which lay in his power was to state publicly that he had been in error, and to guarantee that he would never propagate similar false doctrines again.”

Spurgeon responded on February 9, in the Christian Watchman and Reflector: “I have just seen a paragraph in which it is stated that I have recanted my Calvinistic sentiments, and am very penitent on account of the mischief I have formerly done by my doctrines. This is but a specimen of the villainous lying to which I am daily subject. I am now quite used to these things, and do not think that those who know me believe any such infamous libels.”

In his last letter to the Christian Watchman and Reflector (April 2, 1863) Spurgeon lamented: “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.'” He himself had been the target of countless public falsehoods: “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.”

A “Queer Anecdote”

In 1857, an English paper, the Gateshead Observer, published a story about Spurgeon and an American from the South. In reprinting it, the National Era in Washington D.C. called it “a queer anecdote.” The Christian Era in their introduction said this: “It may be true; it seems something like the man. And then again like many other stories narrated about noted persons, it may be entirely false.” Of course, they reprinted the article anyway:

An American minister called upon Mr. Spurgeon, and said, in the conversation, that he had a congregation in the States of 3,000 people. Spurgeon. And have you blacks in your congregation? Jonathan. O, yes. “And do you all worship together, or have you partitions and curtains?” “ O , the blacks are behind a curtain?” “And do you take the Lord’s Supper with the blacks behind a cur­tain?” “ O, yes.” “ Now, sir, do you know what a monomaniac is?’’ “O, yes.” “ Well, sir, I’m a monomaniac—a mono­maniac on the subject of slavery. (And Spurgeon dashed his hand into his pocket, and, bringing out his penknife, opened it.) Yes, sir, I’m a perfect monomaniac. I’ve no control over myself, sir; and if you stay here ten minutes longer, I may put this knife into your hypocritical bo­som. So I warn you. Be off, sir! be off! I feel it rising in me. Be off, I say! (And he hustled Jonathan to the door, nervously handling his knife all the while.) “And did you really mean to stick the fellow?” said the friend to whom he re­lated the story. “Why no,” said he, “perhaps not quite that; but I’m going to America before long, and I wanted them to know, before I go, that they won’t humbug me about slavery.”

Of course, other papers took this as a true account. The Daily Globe of San Francisco republished the story in their paper with some commentary: “Mr. Spurgeon, if this story is correct, lied grossly and outrageously, and showed himself to be a paltry, mendacious boor.” This kind of insulting treatment of Spurgeon was commonplace among Southern newspapers, especially once Spurgeon’s anti-slavery positions were verified and became more well known. Did Spurgeon actually pull his penknife on Jonathan? I’m not sure. The story sure is “queer,” and demonstrates the blurry line between fact and anecdotal fiction that was growing up around Spurgeon’s views of slavery. Apart from first-hand evidence, I suppose we’ll never know whether the story is genuine or not. We should acknowledge the difference between words expressly from the mouth and pen of Spurgeon, and the unreliability of “reported” words and stories, even when printed in public newspapers.

The edited sermons

But even the expressly reported words of Spurgeon were subject to editing and revision, unknown to him. Godfrey Pike carefully relates several instances of this in his biographyThe Life & Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1892):

American slavery had now become one of the burning questions of the day; and from the fact that Spurgeon’s Sermons were being issued in the United States with certain passages omitted which the publishers knew would be distasteful to their constituency, many inferred that the English preacher had changed his views on that question, or at least had greatly modified them. Mr. Henry Ward Beecher called attention to this fact; and it appeared like a challenge for the real truth to be known… Later on this work of suppression was shown to be the work of the publishers alone (330).

When Spurgeon was made aware of this, he immediately made plans to address it:

I do not see how the Americans can have expurgated the anti-slavery sentiments, for I do not think it was a subject which thrust itself in my way in the ordinary duties of my ministry. I have written a letter to an influential paper in America [the Christian Watchman and Reflector], and will see to it that my sentiments are really known. I believe slavery to be a crime of crimes, a soul-destroying sin, and an iniquity which cries aloud for vengeance. The charge against my publishers of altering my sermons I believe to be utterly untrue, and they are ready , as their best contradiction, to print a work on the subject if I can find time to write it, which I fear I cannot, but must be content with some red-hot letters.

He then sent his red-hot letter, addressing the charge of selective editing, and making his anti-slavery views clearly known:

Nevertheless, as I have preached in London and not in New York, I have very seldom made any allusion to American slavery in my sermons. This accounts for the rumor that I have left out the anti-slavery from my American edition of sermons.This is not true in any measure, for, as far as my memory serves me, I cannot remember that the subject was handled at all in any of my printed sermons beyond a passing allusion, and I have never altered a single sentence in a sermon which has been sent out to my American publishers beyond the mere correction which involved words and not sense.

If there was any question about it before, there was none anymore.

Besides the issue of slavery, Pike notes that “passages relating to open communion were also taken out of the American edition of the Sermons” (330–31). Spurgeon was such a popular and influential figure, that his views on certain matters had to be carefully handled and manipulated so as to produce the intended affect on the broader reading public.

“Better every white man, woman and child be murdered in the South”

This brings us back to our original question. Did Spurgeon really say the words attributed to him in that Richmond Enquirer article? Let me start by quoting more context from the original article:

A certain Captain Kuber, “is a very wealthy gentleman, resident on Gwin’s Island, and is the only local preacher belonging to the regular Baptist denomination in Mathews county. Having been an ardent admirer of the Rev. Mr. Spurgeon, and preaching from him on Calvinism at Mathews Church, some one sent, enclosed in an envelope, Mr. Spurgeon’s Lecture at Exeter Hall, England, on Slavery, shortly after the John Brown raid, at Harper’s Ferry, where old Brown was martyrized as a saint, and in which Mr. Spurgeon said, ‘better every white man, woman, and child be murdered in the South and a thousand Unions be dissolved, than human slavery be allowed to exist in peace and quietness in the Southern States of the American Union.”

The original article was published in the Richmond Enquirer on July 6, 1860. After Spurgeon’s “red hot letter” on slavery had been published in January of that year, many in the South had reacted violently, threatening his life and burning his books and sermons. This particular article was published in Richmond, in the South, and the whole article was written to justify these Southern slaveholders burning his books. Given the intense bias against Spurgeon in the South, I’m already skeptical. Add to this the third (or fourth) hand nature of the quote (a newspaper article about a man who received a letter containing a lecture all the way from England) and there are just too many links in this game of “telephone.” I would love to know if there exists anywhere the original lecture notes of this lecture.

To be clear, though, Spurgeon was an ardent abolitionist. In 1859, one visitor heard him utter “the strongest expression of abhorrence to slavery that we ever heard from human lips, not excepting Garrison himself.” After Harper’s Ferry, Spurgeon expressed admiration for John Brown, and this fact alone would be enough to unhinge slaveholders in the South. He closed his letter about slavery with this: “Finally, let me add, John Brown is immortal in the memories of the good in England, and in my heart he lives.” For some, including paleo-confederates today, any positive mention of John Brown is considered outrageous. But we must remember that in Spurgeon’s own day, Brown’s legacy was contested. In June 1860, a letter was published in the Watchman and Reflector defending Spurgeon:

“Our brother, too, ought to know that we at the North, and Mr. Spurgeon and the Englishmen in general, look on the character of John Brown in quite another light from his. If we accepted Romish testimony against Luther, we must regard him as a lying, profane, and licentious reprobate… And, if we accepted the testimony of one or two southern men (who reported conversations in his cell,) against John Brown, we should be compelled to believe him an infidel. But we have learned to distrust the testimony of inimical parties, and have no more faith in the assertions of these men than in the assertions of the Romish traducers of Luther… If Mr. Spurgeon believed that John brown ever used such language as our brother quotes, (taken, we believe from the report of a Methodist clergyman,) he would have no kind words to say of his Christian character. But he believes them as little as he credits Mary’s account of her interviews with John Knox.”

What did Spurgeon say?

Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey record a version of this incident in their excellent book, Steal Away Home. However, in relating the scene, they include part of this quote, but not another:

“Precisely,” replied Kuber. “I read the sermon in its entirety and I was appalled by its utter audacity. Spurgeon claimed that it would be better for a thousand unions to be dissolved than for us to own a few slaves in the peace and quiet of the southern states of the American Union” (137).

It is entirely plausible to me that after John Brown’s death, Spurgeon gave a memorial lecture celebrating Brown’s anti-slavery activism. But because John Brown was equated in the minds of Southerners with “the murder of white men, women, and children,” it is also plausible to me that this inference of theirs was made explicit and turned into a quote. To the Southern mind, after all, to say the one is all the same as if you had said the other. By the time these “anonymous lecture notes” found their way to Captain Kuber, and then into the pages of the Richmond Enquirer, it had become a quote on the lips of Spurgeon.

Frankly, I have a hard time believing that Spurgeon actually said these words. Perhaps part of the quote is genuine (“better a thousand unions be dissolved…”) and part of it was embellished (“better every white man, woman, and child be murdered in the South…”). Honestly, even the use of a the descriptor “white” in “white men, women and children” sounds more like a phrase used in America than something Spurgeon would say. In reading his comments about slavery and the United States, I just haven’t heard him talk that way elsewhere.

Further, as others have noted, Spurgeon was opposed to war, and lamented its horrors. Even given his ardent abolitionism, it’s hard for me to imagine a statement like this coming from his mouth.

So, did Spurgeon really say this? Ultimately, I really don’t know, and I could be proven wrong, were the original lecture notes ever to come to light and we could see for ourselves. Until that happens, this quote will always have a big asterisk hanging over it for me. The work of careful historical investigation is fraught with difficulty and complexity. Ours is not the first “sound bite” age. Whenever you see a snappy quote or story, it would be good to pause and ask yourself:

Where are the receipts?

(Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash)

Spurgeon’s 4th Letter (March 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 fourth letter:

(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here) | (also reprinted in the The Evangelical Repository in April 1860)

LETTER FROM REV. C.H. SPURGEON

The Crisis now in Europe and America viewed Religiously—Demand upon Earnest Christians.

DEAR BRETHREN,—Upon the minds of many in this land who have the spirit of discernment in an eminent degree, there is just now a gloomy fore­boding of some catastrophe at hand. I must con­fess that I share in their conviction, if not in their fear. In the order of nature the harvest is followed by the vintage, and hitherto there has been an al­most uniform analogy between nature and grace. The harvest we have had, and you have enjoyed it even to a greater degree than ourselves. And what if these days of revivals are to be succeeded by great tribulation and sore distress? Does not the ingathering of the elect always precede the visitation of sinful nations with woe and wrath? If the ap­prehension be unfounded, it is certainly not absurd, and is worthy of some little regard. Every man in England must have perceived the universal expectation of some great war which is stirring up many to the preparation of carnal weapons, and others to the use of nobler arms. It were useless to indicate the various forms which our apprehensions assume, but I write what can be right well proven, when I assure you that in many of our hearts there is the silence of suspense until some fresh vial be poured out, or the glorious kingdom be hastened. We wait in anxious prayer, crying with David, “O Lord, how long.”

Let not our hearts be troubled even should the worst of our fears he realized, for the falling of nations is but the establishment of the church. These things are shaken, that the things which can­ not be shaken may remain. The crash of empires and the devastation of nations have been the whirl­wind in which “the Lord hath his way,” and the fearful desolations of cities have been the thick clouds which are the dust of His feet. We are anxious concerning the events of the future, for we are human ; we are not in doubt with regard to the final result, for our faith is Divine. Perhaps the worst in the judgment of reason, will prove in the end to be the best. “Things are not what they seem.” Should our glorious nations, of whose lib­erty and civilization we are mutually proud, should these be subjugated by tyrannic power, would not the principles which they embody be scattered all the more widely by the banishment of our citizens throughout the world ? Might not the wind which rent up the old plant, bear on its wings the seeds of a thousand others which should fall where never that good grain had grown before ? If it should ever come to pass in some black day that our happy Christian fellowships in England and America should feel the fire of persecution, or know the ter­rors of invasion, in what respect would our Redeem­er’s kingdom suffer? Might not this be the sharp physic for our ecclesiastical diseases? A purge for our heresies? A stimulant for our sloth? If we will not go into all the world and preach the Gos­pel to every creature of our own voluntary will, we need not marvel if one day we are scourged into it. If we will not ride forth among the nations in the chariot of peace to carry the glad tidings, it may be that the King of kings will sling us forth with the sling of war or persecution, that we may be as a bur­densome stone among all nations.

You will probably imagine that I am in a very nervous condition, and you will remind me that such fears are idle in your new world. Now against this kind suggestion I beg to enter my protest, for my temperament is rather sanguine than desponding; indeed, the inward peace which I enjoy at this mo­ments is a fully sufficient contradiction to your sup­position of any trembling in my nerves. Moreover, I am not sure that you have any cause for boasting that your mountain stands firm and can never be moved, for if you may not dread calamity from with­out, you have a certain black and abominable cancer within, which may well cause you serious alarm. The dangers of nations lie in their sins, and both the old country and the new have a full measure of in­iquity to answer for. Other nations may go unpun­ished because they have not our light and knowl­edge, and therefore God winketh at their sins of ig­norance, but of us the Lord may well say, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; there­fore I will punish you for your iniquities.” Surely you are not so blind a lover of your republic as to hold her guiltless, while before the entire world she scourges her helpless captives, and makes merchan­dize of the flesh of men. No, my friends, we may alike expect the chastening of the Lord upon our fellow-citizens; for the lands are defiled by our in­iquity against God and the oppression of men. May WE have the seal in our foreheads, and thus escape the trial which shall come upon all the earth.

If there be no solid ground for the previous re­marks, you will at least agree with the practical conclusion towards which I am hastening. Let the reapers arise and thrust in the sickle with renewed vigor, for the sky is lowering, and a storm may soon compel them to cease from their joyous labors. Good husbandmen are anxious to house their corn before the rain comes on ; let us be instant in sea­son and out of season for the ingathering of the Lord’s precious wheat. Here I call to remembrance the earnest “words to the winners of souls,” which have lately been printed for private circulation among our ministers, and which deserve to be pub­lished over the wide world. I quote a passage meriting your solemn attention:

“The infusion of new life into the ministry ought to be the object of more direct and special effort, as well as of more united and fervent prayer. To the students, the preachers, the ministers of our churches, the prayers of Christians ought to be more large­ly directed. It is a LIVING ministry that we need, and without such a ministry we cannot long escape the judgments of God. We need men that will eom SPEND AND BE SPENT—THAT WILL LABOR AND PRAY—THAT WILL WATCH AND WEEP FOR SOULS.”

Melchior Adam tells a notable story of Myconius, the friend of Zwingle and Luther. On the night of his entrance into the monastery, in order to assume the condition of a monk, he had a dream which changed his whole history, and led him to devote his energies to the cause of Christ. He was led in his dream to the fountain of living water which flows from the wounds of the crucified Saviour, and being washed and refreshed, a guide conducted him to a boundless plain covered with waving corn. Here he was bidden to reap. “I cannot,” he cried, “for I am unskilled in the use of the sickle.” “What thou knowest not thou shalt learn,” was the swift reply. The guide conducted him nearer to the scene of labor, and there he saw a solitary reaper tolling with such prodigious effort, that he seemed determined to reap the whole field himself. He is commanded to join this laborer and share his toils. Anon, he is led to a hill from which he sees the vast extent of the field, and wondering, asks how long it will take to reap such a field with so few laborers. His guide answered, “Before winter the last sickle must be thrust in. Proceed with all your might, the Lord of the harvest will send forth more labor­ers soon.” Myconius toiled until, weary and faint, he attempted to rest a little, but the Crucified One, all wan, weary and wasted, appeared to him, and spake in his ear, saying, “As I am you must be.” Then he awoke, but the dream remained with him, he took his place by Luther’s side, and worked until reapers arose on every hand, and the harvest was all reaped before the winter. Such dreams may we all have, for verily this is but a picture of our own day. There are a few men laboring like giants, perform­ing feats of ministry, but why should they stand alone. Let us join them, let us be diligent in this all-important business. The fields are vast, the harvest waves, the end approaches, and through grace let us go forth with our sickles, never to rest till God himself shall bid us lie down and die. O, to die preaching! To leap into heaven from our pulpits! To fall with our shield upon our arm! If this be an object of desire, let us live in daily exer­cise of our calling, and we shall never die out of it. Our age should be a time of strenuous, ceaseless, persevering effort. We must not walk but run, nay, we must press forward towards the mark. Let us crowd all our canvas on, stretch every nerve, strain every muscle, and haste to do our Master’s will. Time is always short, but revival times are the shortest of all. After every flood-tide there comes an ebb; the tide will soon turn; O let us be active, and above measure laborious, while the flood of grace is flowing in. Now OR NEVER, is the cry of these times to the earnest sons of the church. ’Tis ours to bring upon the churches a long and fearful drought by provoking God with our apathy and in­difference, or rather it is ours to bring down a glo­rious blessing which shall make the desert rejoice and the wilderness blossom as the rose. Looking for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,

I am, my dear friends,

Yours in Jesus,

C. H. SPURGEON

(Photo by Kirsty TG on Unsplash)

“Not excepting Garrison himself”: Charles Spurgeon’s Abolitionism

I found out about Charles Spurgeon’s outspoken and anti-slavery stance in recent years, due particularly the work of Dr. Christian George:

George does a great job describing Spurgeon’s overall anti-slavery stance, in particular, the violent reaction (including threats and book-burning) that ensued throughout the South. I wanted to find the context for the original quote, so I went digging.

In one article, George cites “Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 331,” and Pike devotes a whole chapter to “Mr. Spurgeon and the Americans,” including the saga over slavery. Pike was the one who pointed me to the original source in the Christian Watchman and Reflector:

The “thunderbolt,” or, as the author himself regarded it, the “red-hot letter,” duly appeared in The Watchman and Reflector, and had the slave-holders been actually attacked with heated shots the excitement could hardly have been greater (331).

I highly recommend reading George’s articles for a broad exploration of this incident, including articles and sources from several newspapers at the time. This article explores a more focused view: Spurgeon and slavery as reported in the Christian Watchman and Reflector.

1859 – “plainness and pungency”

On March 10, 1859, the Watchman and Reflector published a short article, “The Courier and Mr. Spurgeon” (original pdf here). A paper in London had hinted at “Mr. Spurgeon’s probable treatment of slavery in his visit to this country [America]” and an American paper called the Courier threatened potential violence: “We do not pretend to say what might occur to brother Spurgeon, if he should count too much upon the liberties of fraternal relations in his efforts to stir us up on slavery. But we doubt very much whether our people would hear him as indifferently as they do the railings of our own anti-slavery volunteer orators.” The editors of the Watchman and Reflector condemned the Courier for “inviting mob-law against the preacher,” and replied: “we presume the London preacher will speak with plainness and pungency of any sin the Bible condemns, even if, like Paul at Ephesus, it may excite commotion among the silversmiths or cotton-merchants.”

On June 23, 1859, the Watchman and Reflector published some “Familiar Letters from Europe” (original pdf here). A correspondent from Europe, one “W.C.C.,” visited London and heard Spurgeon preach. Afterward, they “sat awhile with him in his vestry, and enjoyed a very pleasant conversation with him. Socially, he is exceedingly agreeable. He told us how negotiations failed, which contemplated his visiting America, and uttered the strongest expression of abhorrence to slavery that we ever heard from human lips, not excepting Garrison himself.

1860 – “I do from my inmost soul detest slavery anywhere and everywhere”

As news of Spurgeon’s views on slavery began to leak, the reaction and speculation grew steadily stronger, until Spurgeon finally penned his “red-hot letter” to be published in the Watchman and Reflector. This letter is the source of one of his most well-known quotes on slavery:

I do from my inmost soul detest slavery anywhere and everywhere, and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slaveholder I have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever one has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church, or into any sort of friendship, as a manstealer.

The full text of the letter can be found here: Spurgeon’s “Red-Hot Letter” on American Slavery.

The letter was subsequently reprinted in full in a number of other newspapers, including The Liberator (see pdf here).

Spurgeon’s 4th Letter: “The dangers of nations lie in their sins”

Spurgeon followed up on this in his fourth official letter to the Christian Watchman and Reflector, on “The Crisis now in Europe and America”: 

“The dangers of nations lie in their sins, and both the old country and the new have a full measure of in­iquity to answer for. Other nations may go unpun­ished because they have not our light and knowl­edge, and therefore God winketh at their sins of ig­norance, but of us the Lord may well say, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; there­fore I will punish you for your iniquities.” Surely you are not so blind a lover of your republic as to hold her guiltless, while before the entire world she scourges her helpless captives, and makes merchan­dize of the flesh of men. No, my friends, we may alike expect the chastening of the Lord upon our fellow-citizens; for the lands are defiled by our in­iquity against God and the oppression of men.”

“Mr. Spurgeon will do no good by the agitation of this question”

Predictably, Spurgeon’s “red-hot letter” set off a flurry of reactions, including in the Watchman and Reflector itself. The first came on March 22, from a reader in Alabama (original pdf here). “I had fondly hoped for much enjoyment from the perusal of Mr. Spurgeon’s letters, which are to be contributed to your columns; but judging from the sentiments and feelings of his second letter, which reached me last week, I fear I shall be doomed to disappointment.” “We are on the verge of a revolution” the writer goes on, “Volunteer companies are being organized and armed throughout the entire South.” Further, he had heard that there were some in England planning to fan the flames “in the hope thereby of producing a dissolution in the Union.” He hopes “Mr. S will have the good sense and Christian modesty to let alone the agitation of a subject upon which too much has already been said… With all due respect for Mr. Spurgeon as a theologian and successful preacher, I am free to say, he will do no good, but much evil by the agitation of the slavery question.”

Scotch Ministers

Apparently two Scottish ministers, “Drs. Candish and Guthrie” expressed similar sentiments as Spurgeon (original pdf here). It was reported that they made the toast: “The next negro insurrection, may it be successful.” The Watchman and Reflector reprinted an article from the Christian Intelligencer complaining that “the effects of immediate emancipation would be worse to the slave even than to the master.” The editors of the Watchman and Reflector find it a sorry situation that one can be more condemned for speaking out against slavery than for it.

“A Vindictiveness Approaching to Malignity”

On June 7, the editors published a letter from James B. Taylor in Richmond Virginia on “The Irrepressible Conflict: A Southern View” (original pdf here). They introduce his letter by saying, “His views diverge from ours almost as widely as the Poles, but it is only by temperate discussion in a Christian spirit that differences of opinion can be reconciled.” The letter is filled with positive portrayals of Southern slavery. Taylor portrays slaves in the south as better treated than freedmen in the north: “I am greatly mistaken, if the black man in the South is not, physically, intellectually, socially and religiously, elevated many degrees above his brother at the North.” He goes on: “the truest friends of the blacks are found in the southern countries, and a more fearful evil could not befall them, than the immediate abolition of slavery, scattering the emancipated ones among the whites of the North.” He laments the split between Northern and Southern Baptists over slavery, then turns to Spurgeon. “This leads me to refer to the position taken by Mr. Spurgeon on this subject, induced manifestly by some appeal from this side of the water. There is, it seems to me, a vindictiveness approaching to malignity in his allusion to slaveholders, so little in keeping with the genius of the Gospel.” He laments that Spurgeon would praise John brown, “an infidel!” Taylor hopes that God will “still the tumult of the people, and preserve this American people, one and indivisible.”

Given that many in the south burned Spurgeon’s sermons after his letter was published, it is not surprising to read such vehement rejection from a Southern reader.

“It Has Not Convinced Us”

In an article published on June 21, 1860 (original pdf here), the editors of the Watchman and Reflector call James Taylor on his false representation of southern slavery. They indicate that they have read James Taylor’s letter two or three times, “but it has not convinced us. What seems to our brother too clear to be called in question, seems to us accordant neither with reason, nor scripture, nor fact. He may reasonably doubt our ability to discuss matters with which we have little practical acquaintance. We must doubt, in turn, the clearsighted impartiality of a southern mind in discerning moral issues which involve so many pecuniary and social interests. If the northern conscience tends to fanaticism, from want of a through knowledge of slavery as it is, the southern conscience must tend to blindness and insensibility, from the bias of personal interests. The vender of opium, or of intoxicating drinks, who is accumulating a fortune, does not readily discern the unlawful nature of the traffic.” The editors then dismantle his letter point by point with reasoned arguments. They particularly address the issue of John Brown: “Our brother, too, ought to know that we at the North, and Mr. Spurgeon and the Englishmen in general, look on the character of John Brown in quite another light from his. If we accepted Romish testimony against Luther, we must regard him as a lying, profane, and licentious reprobate… And, if we accepted the testimony of one or two southern men (who reported conversations in his cell,) against John Brown, we should be compelled to believe him an infidel. But we have learned to distrust the testimony of inimical parties, and have no more faith in the assertions of these men than in the assertions of the Romish traducers of Luther… If Mr. Spurgeon believed that John brown ever used such language as our brother quotes, (taken, we believe from eh report of a Methodist clergyman,) he would have no kind words to say of his Christian character. But he believes them as little as he credits Mary’s account of her interviews with John Knox.”

1861 – “the most beautiful and eloquent prayer”

The American Civil War officially began in April 1861. On June 27, an account appeared in the Watchman and Reflector from a correspondent who visited a prayer meeting and heard Spurgeon pray regarding the war: “A gentleman informs me… that he heard a prayer by Rev. Mr. Spurgeon… in favor of President Lincoln and the cause of the North, which he characterizes as the most beautiful and powerful prayer he ever heard in his life. The whole audience was moved to tears, and even sobbed aloud at the eloquent preacher’s appeals to God and to civilized mankind in aid of so holy and so righteous a cause as that in which the North is engaged.” Spurgeon’s anti-slavery stance was not limited to his letters or private conversations–it infused even the public life and corporate prayer time of at the London tabernacle.

1862 – When principled non-violence meets abolition

After the Civil war had progressed for several months, but the slaves had not been emancipated, Spurgeon undertook to write again to the Watchman and Reflector. This letter was perhaps an even bigger bombshell than his “red-hot” letter, in that it enflamed the north as much as the south.

Many in Britain thought that the war would result in emancipation, but the North had not done so. Spurgeon: “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… It is no one’s business here which of you conquers, as long as slavery is not at issue.”  This came at a time when there were growing tensions between the north and England. The “Trent Affair” had occurred in November 1861, and many in England had begun to view the North as adversaries, and not allies. Spurgeon’s is a fascinating window into how a preacher and the people he represented viewed the American Civil War from across the pond. “Halting between two opinions has ruined the cause. The friends of Africa are sick at heart. Your government has fooled you.” “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 it is to make that conflict moral.” Spurgeon’s purpose in the whole letter is twofold: to encourage the North toward emancipation, and to assuage the growing hostilities between the North and England. The whole letter is incredible, and the full text will be made available soon.

The reaction to this letter was enormous, with no less than thirteen letters received and printed, including an immediate response from the editors of the Watchman and Reflector themselves. This whole saga is worthy of its own focused treatment, as a study in the motivations and strategies of the North and the relationship between the war and slavery.

Conclusion

It is fascinating to read the reactions provoked by Spurgeon’s letter. It is amazing to read in real time the debates between Northern anti-slavery Southern pro-slavery Baptists. It is encouraging to know that there were Christians in that time who stood firmly against slavery, and expressed their opposition clearly and courageously. Spurgeon is hero of mine for that reason, and even though the editors of the Watchman and Reflector sometimes seem to try to toe a moderate line, they should also be commended for giving voice to sentiments like Spurgeon’s.

(Photo by Shaojie on Unsplash)

Spurgeon’s “Red-Hot Letter” on American Slavery

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

In the midst of this series of letters, Spurgeon paused to write out his thoughts on American Slavery. He had been accused of altering his sermons for publication in America to remove any reference to slavery. In response to one inquiry, he said “I have written a letter to an influential paper in America, and will see to it that my sentiments are really  known. I believe slavery to be a crime of crimes, a soul-destroying sin, and an iniquity which cries aloud for vengeance. The charge against my publishers of altering my sermons I believe to be utterly untrue, and they are ready, as their best contradiction, to print a work on the subject if I can find time to write it, which  I fear I cannot, but must be content with some red-hot letters.” Here is the text of that original “red-hot letter,” sent to the Christian Watchman and Reflector:

(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here)

SPURGEON ON SLAVERY (January 26, 1860)

Mr. Spurgeon, as will appear from the following letter, cannot be silent under the imputation of suppressing his views on slavery to gain favor with Southern readers. No one, who knew him, could suspect him of such moral cowardice. He does not believe the policy of the Tract Society to be either manly or Christian, and gives utterance to his opinions in language not to be mistaken. Like Englishmen, in general, he loathes the system of slavery, and seems to make no allowance even for those masters who would emancipate their slaves, if Providence opened the way for such  movement. Dr. Guthrie has recently expressed similar opinions in a speech at Edinburgh. American Christians, with a broader comprehension of the subject, have more charity, and while loathing the system, regard differently from Mr. Spurgeon some of the masters who are its born victims. Mr. Spurgeon will probably receive from his publishers a volume of sermons from an eminent southern divine, and as he reads its pages, he will confess instinctively that the preacher has felt the power of the cross. We may abhor the sin, and yet exercise due charity for those who are involved in it—especially when the circumstances of the relation are not of their own creating, nor subject to their control. It is well known that such cases are numerous.

TO THE EDITORS OF THE CHRISTIAN WATCHMAN AND REFLECTOR:

I have always considered it to be my duty to deal with those sins which I perceived to be most rampant among my hearers. We miss the mark when we preach of absent individuals. It is very easy to talk about the brutality fo the uneducated when addressing my lord and my lady, but I prefer to tell these gentry their own sins, and not to flatter them by comparing them with others. This rule has brought me at divers times into no little trouble, which I have very cheerfully endured, and have rejoiced therein. But now a new outcry is raised in your land, and I am charged, not with being too severe with Brother Jonathan, but with letting him off too easily. Having no slaveholders in England, I should have been beating the air if I had preached against slavery to my people, for this is the very last crime they are likely to commit. It is far more probable that any slaveholder who should show himself in our neighborhood would get a mark which he would carry to his grave, if it did not carry him there.

I do from my inmost soul detest slavery anywhere and everywhere, and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slaveholder I have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever one has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church, or into any sort of friendship, as a manstealer. Nevertheless, as I have preached in London and not in New York, I have very seldom made any allusion to American slavery in my sermons. This accounts for the rumor that I have left out the anti-slavery from my American edition of sermons.This is not true in any measure, for, as far as my memory serves me, I cannot remember that the subject was handled at all in any of my printed sermons beyond a passing allusion, and I have never altered a single sentence in a sermon which has been sent out to my American publishers beyond the mere correction which involved words and not sense. However, if any think me capable of such double dealing, I doubt not that they judge of me by themselves, and from such persons esteem is not desirable. I do not therefore regret the loss of it. I have this much to say to all who respect me in America: I did not want to be blaming you constantly, while there are sins enough in my own country, but I shall not spare your nation in future. I shall remember that my voice echoes beyond the Atlantic, and the crying sin of man stealing people shall not go unrebuked. I did not know that I had been so fully adopted a citizen of your republic, but finding that you allow me to be one of yourselves, I will speak out quite severely enough, and perhaps more sharply than will meet with approbation.

I have not been altogether silent upon the subject, for I have spoken with burning words when the matter has been on hand, but as this has usually been upon the platform, and not from the pulpit, those utterances have not reached the press. I must see that there are some such things in the sermons, if not in England at least in America. Messrs. Sheldon & Co. are ready to publish anything I may have to say on the matter, and I shall also avail myself of the Watchman and Reflector.

Finally, let me add, John Brown is immortal in the memories of the good in England, and in my heart he lives.

I am yours most truly,

C.H. Spurgeon

Clapham, London, Jan., 1860

(Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash)

Jonathan Edwards and Slavery: A Bibliography

  • Anyabwile, Thabiti. “Jonathan Edwards, Slavery, and the Theology of African Americans” (2012): 1–10. (pdf available here)
  • Burns, Sherard. “Trusting the Theology of a Slave Owner.” Pages 145–71 in A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004. (pdf available here)
  • Byrd, James P. “We Can If We Will: Regeneration and Benevolence.” Pages 63–77 in After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of New England Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Edwards, Jonathan. “Draft Letter on Slavery,” 1738. (available on the Yale site)
  • ———. “Jonathan Edwards’s Last Will and the Inventory of His Estate,” Bibliotheca Sacra 33 (1876): 438–47.  (pdf available here)
  • ———. “Letter to Esther Edwards Burr, Letter 231, Stockbridge, November 20, 1757 (available on the Yale site)
  • ———. “Letter to Joseph Bellamy,” Letter 186, Stockbridge, February 28, 1754 (available on the Yale site)
  • ———. “One Great End In God’s Appointing The Gospel Ministry,” (1750) (available on the Yale site)
  • ———. “Receipt for Slave Named Venus,” (available on the Yale site)
  • Hambrick-Stowe, Charles E. “All Things Were New and Astonishing: Edwardsian Piety, the New Divinity, and Race.” Pages 121–36 in Jonathan Edwards at Home and Abroad: Historical Memories, Cultural Movements, Global Horizons. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2003.
  • Lucas, Sean Michael. “‘He Cuts up Edwardsism by the Roots’ : Robert Lewis Dabney and Edwardsian Legacy in Nineteenth Century South.” Pages 200–14 in The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards: American Religion and Evangelical Tradition. Edited by D.G. Hart, Sean Michael Lucas, and Stephen J. Nichols. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003.
  • Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
  • McClymond, Michael J. “Edwards and Slavery.” in The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012: 526–27.
  • Minkema, Kenneth P. “Jonathan Edwards on Slavery and the Slave Trade.” William and Mary Quarterly 54 (1997): 823–33. (available on JSTOR)
  • ———. “Jonathan Edwards’s Defense of Slavery.” The Massachusetts Historical Review 4 (2002): 23–59. (available on JSTOR)
  • Minkema, Kenneth P., and Harry S. Stout. “The Edwardsean Tradition and the Antislavery Debate, 1740–1865.” The Journal of American History (2005): 47–74. (available on JSTOR)
  • Saillant, John. “African American Engagements with Edwards in the Era of the Slave Trade,” in Jonathan Edwards at 300: Essays on the Tercentenary of His Birth. Edited by Harry S. Stout, Kenneth P. Minkema, and Caleb J.D. Maskell. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005: 141–151.
  • ———. “Lemuel Haynes and the Revolutionary Origins of Black Theology, 1776-1801.” Religion and American Culture 2.1 (1992): 79–102. (available on JSTOR)
  • ———. “Slavery and Divine Providence in New England Calvinism: The New Divinity and a Black Protest, 1775-1805.” The New England Quarterly 68.4 (1995): 584–608. (available on JSTOR)

NOTE: If you know of other published sources (journals, chapters, books) please let me know!

(Photo by João Silas on Unsplash)

The Edwardseans and Immediatism

From Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 622:

“New England Congregationalism showed a moral intensity that could be traced back to Edwardseanism. ‘It is only when we have in hand the puzzle piece of the ethics of disinterested benevolence,’ write Sweeney and Guelzo, that we can grasp ‘the fiery urgency of William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown. Indeed, it was on the topic of slavery that the Edwardseans became known for their radicalism. By 1771, [Samuel] Hopkins was preaching against the slave trade. By 1773, he was attacking slavery itself. Hopkins’s moral radicalism and theological intransigence prepared him to be the preacher of abolition in Newport, Rhode Island—the epicenter of the American slave trade. He won a following in among African Americans in Newport, as well as enduring hostility from slave ship owners. For Hopkins, slavery was a flagrant offense against benevolence and the result of a ‘most criminal, contracted selfishness.’ The only remedy was immediate emancipation, as Hopkins argued in A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans (1776). Similarly, Jonathan Edwards Jr. wrote in The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and of Slavery (1791) that ‘I conceive it [the slave trade] to be unjust in itself’ and ‘contrary to every principle of justice and humanity.’ Nathanael Emmons also denounced slavery from the pulpit. ‘Immediatism’—the demand for immediate, unconditional emancipation of all slaves, rather than gradual or partial solutions—was the socio-political correlate of Hopkins’s view of conversion and his call for ‘immediate repentance.’”

(Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash)