Glaring Blind Spots

Did you know Jonathan Edwards owned slaves?

?It should be noted that Edwards was able to accomplish as much as he did in part because he bought into the viability of slavery. This is a massive stain on the reputation of a great Christian man. Though Edwards did treat his slaves well, and though he believed in and talked about the spiritual equality of all people before the Lord, he failed to adequately apply spiritual truths to his everyday life. Even so faithful a Christian and so biblically concerned believer as Edwards has his blind spots–some of them, like slavery, shameful in great measure.? ?– Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards, Lover of God

Reading this passage made me wonder what massive blind spots I have in my life that others see now or will be someday be glaringly obvious to others when I?ve died.?? How many ways have I failed to apply spiritual truth to my life?

I’m so grateful for both aspects of justification — forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ. ?Not only does God see believers as “not guilty” because of Christ?s sacrifice, but he sees us as positively “righteous” because he credits Christ’s lifetime of flawless obedience to us as a gift of his grace. We need both–atonement for sin, and a positive record of righteousness–in order to stand before God.

Even Jonathan Edwards, as zealous as he was for the Lord, could not enter heaven based on his performance. If he presented all his sermons, teaching and books, all the hospitality he and his wife practiced, and all the people he helped as worthy of heaven, God would say what about the massive blind spot of slavery? What about this gaping deficiency?

But Edwards, trusted in Christ, so God viewed him not only as if he?d never sinned, but as if he’d lived Christ’s perfect life of obedience.

“To [Christ?s] righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live; on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear before the judgment-seat; in that righteousness must he stand forever in the presence of a righteous God.” — Robert Haldane

Praise God for justification by faith!

photo by elmago_delmar

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I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I’ve written a lot of worship songs. I also like to paint.

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  1. says

    This is something I've been considering lately as well, as it pertains to my life. Slavery was definitely a blight on Edwards, as it was on others like George Whitefield (who refrained from speaking out against it, though he didn't own slaves). It makes you wonder if it simply never occurred to them or because it was socially acceptable, it was not a big concern.

    That brings it back to me… what is socially acceptable, though at odds with the Lord, that I embrace or do not reject?

    Some would point to prosperity/materialism as a blindspot in 21st century America. For the 1st time in history, more people are dying because of obesity than starvation. But I'm sure there are other, more personal issues as well.

    • MarkAltrogge says

      Hey Paul,

      Our prosperity probably has many blind spots…thank God for his justification – the blood of Jesus covers all our failures and God counts us as righteous in his sight in Christ!

  2. Petra Hefner says

    Perhaps God allows blind spots to remain for a reason. We already tend to worship people rather that God. May their blind spots wake us from our idolatrous sleep, and may our own shortcomings be a constant reminder of our dire need for God!

  3. says

    Massive blind spot?

    I'm still trying to overcome my massive bald spot.

    Seriously, thanks for the post Mark. The realization that I will be confronted in the future by that which I cannot see at present is a graciously humbling thought.


    • MarkAltrogge says

      Hey Dave,

      I'll pit my bald spot against yours any day.

      On the day we see Christ we'll be amazed at all he forgave that we had no inkling of…

  4. says

    I have heard that during the period of slavery of the 18th century that the mark of Cain was the colour of skin. Theology all being equal before God meant men of the colour white other colour just didn't rate, in the cultural context
    Looking at the church of Century 21 I wonder what our cultural blind-spots will be 100 years from now, assuming we are still going.

  5. jns says

    I guess we are assuming slavery is wrong? I know this may be offensive, but Paul didn't say owning slaves was wrong, he only said "enslaving" is wrong, i.e. – those who go and capture men to be slaves.

    If Edwards respected his slaves, loved them, and thought they were equal before the Lord, i am not sure he broke any direct commands of scripture. While society has progressed, oftentimes we assume that issues of social progression automatically become issues of morality…which i dont believe is always the case.

    I am very glad slavery is gone from this country, but to judge Edwards retroactively is, well, i dont know if we can do that.

    • MarkAltrogge says

      Thanks for your comments, jns.

      Paul encouraged people in whatever state they were in to glorify Christ. He never encouraged slaves to be lazy, rip off their masters, etc but to glorify Christ in their situation. If he believed "enslaving" was wrong, it's hard to believe he could think that owning slaves that someone else had enslaved would be ok.

      I would assume Edwards treated his slaves with kindness, but it is hard to see how he could have thought slavery was viable. You are right though, we shouldn't judge him…I hope people in the future don't judge me for my blind spots. But bottom line is, even though I should be judged for sins I'm unaware of, Christ's righteousness is credited to me.

      • says

        Mark, I was thinking along the same lines as jns.

        It would seem that even the reference to 2 Cor 11:20 is maybe misappropriated. Paul is talking about the abuses levied upon the brethren as they willingly were led astray or allowed themselves to boast in physical circumstances that they may have otherwise prevented.

        I have to, also, reconcile this passage with the clear teaching the Holy Spirit shares through Paul in his letter to Philemon. Paul begins by praising Philemon for his faithful living. He then – for faithful obedience – sends Onesimus back to Philemon. Paul commands Philemon to consider him as not just, or no longer only a slave because he is also a brother in Christ. If he were no longer a slave/bondservant at all, why would it be necessary to return to Philemon?

        I am in no way advocating that purposeful trafficking in humans be renewed in our culture today. But looking back on those who owned slaves in a godly way (consid Eph 6:5-9, God doesn't command freeing the slave, but proper treatment) we shouldn't condemn them for having a "blind spot" where God hasn't declared sin.

        Did Edwards have blind spots? I'm certain he did. I'm just not convinced that participating in responsible slave ownership was one of those blind spots.

        • MarkAltrogge says

          Hey Ben,

          You may be right – participating in responsible slave ownership may not have been a blind spot for Edwards, and may not have been a sin.

          You're right about 2 CO 11.20. I think of this passage where Paul mentions "enslavers" and includes them with the ungodly:

          Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
          (1 Timothy 1:8–11 ESV)

          The ESV footnote on the Greek for "enslavers" says "those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery"

          The ESV comment on the word "enslavers" in the above passage says: The Greek andrapodist?s (see esv footnote) shows that Paul considered all kinds of forcible enslavement to be sinful and a violation of Ex. 20:15.

          (though I don't quite see the connection with EX 20.15, unless they mean 17)

          Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

          • says

            That certainly makes sense, and for some reason, the search engines failed me (as well as my memory!) about 1 Timothy – I didn't see that when replying yesterday.

            I suppose the only comment I would have to offer regarding that verse is that an enslaver or kidnapper (NAS) isn't the only means by which one might enter the station of a slave. Certainly, that form of attack directed at one is sinful.

            It would seem that – regardless of how one entered slavery (willfully or otherwise) -God didn't condemn slavery. In fact, we are to consider – as one aspect of our relationship – ourselves to be bondservants to righteousness for God. With my recent steps starting a small, sustainable farm, I've learned many lessons that weren't readily apparent to me before since I didn't have a regular agricultural perspective as many of the original audience of the entire Bible. In a similar way, I wonder if we've also missed out on some of the deeper understanding about totally giving ourselves to God – being directed by and replacing our will for His – by wholly dismissing the concept of ANY slavery as sinful.

            Again, I'm not calling for the reinstitution of that practice, but when we unequivocally class slavery as sinful, I fear we miss important lessons about the respect and submission that we must offer our Lord and Savior.

            Regardless – I appreciate the good work that you and Stephen put in here – you've challenged me to develop in my relationship with God as well as to grow in my efforts of service and teaching with the church. I just wanted to present a view that isn't commonly expressed on this topic to, hopefully, challenge some others to carefully consider this aspect of God's revelation.

            • MarkAltrogge says

              Hey Ben,

              Sorry it took me a couple days to get back to you. I think that definitely we need to take the attitude of being bondservants. I think Paul, rather than encouraging people to fight societal evils head on, made the gospel primary and for the sake of the gospel and Christ's name, encouraged people to honor Christ in whatever situation they found themselves, be it a slave or living under an evil emperor.

              At any rate, you are right – what is important are the lessons about the respect and submission we must offer Jesus – good point!

              Thanks for your kind words and your thoughtful comments!



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