More on memory…

I wrote post a while back about my memory, wondering why I remember useless things and not important things.

It turns out Spurgeon had something to say about memory:

I believe that the fall crushed man entirely, albeit, when it rolled like an avalanche upon the mighty temple of human nature, some shafts were still left undestroyed, and amidst the ruins you find here and there, a flute, a pedestal, a cornice, a column, not quite broken, yet the entire structure fell, and its most glorious relics are fallen ones, levelled in the dust. The whole of man is defaced. Look at our memory; is it not true that the memory is fallen? I can recollect evil things far better than those which savor of piety. I hear a ribald song; that music of hell shall jar in my ear when gray hairs shall be upon my head. I hear a note of holy praise; alas! it is forgotten! For memory graspeth with an iron hand ill things, but the good she holdeth with feeble fingers. She suffereth the glorious timbers from the forest of Lebanon to swim down the stream of oblivion, but she stoppeth all the draff that floateth from the foul city of Sodom. She will retain evil, she will lose good. Memory is fallen.

From The Carnal Mind Enmity Against God.

It’s obviously not an excuse – but it does help explain things!



  1. Hm, I disagree with that. Different people have different strengths. I find that my memory works, in most cases, exactly as I want it to. And I don’t think human beings, even apart from the fall, were designed to be perfect in the sense of “without shortcomings” either.

    To say that “the whole of man is defaced”, though in part true, falls more to the side of gloom and doom “matter is evil” gnosticism … always a danger for these Puritan folks …

  2. Of course there is variation in terms of the strengths of various people in various areas – basic cognitive ability, memory, creativity, etc. (and if we bring in savants, way out there on the bell curve in some specific areas, the tapestry becomes quite complex). But tell me, Ben, in what ways did you not need to be redeemed by the blood of Christ?

  3. Oh – and the charge of gnosticism? Very interesting. I’ve seen that before – but in what sense do you mean it? I don’t believe that the Puritans ever defended the gnostic heresies combated in 1 John, etc.

  4. 1st comment: I don’t think Christ died to give me a perfect memory. I think that just as a Tiger is not designed to breathe underwater, human beings were not designed to be perfect. I don’t think you have to be redeemed to display many interesting and wonderful things about being human (made in the image of God) either, because I can bet you that P.G. Wodehouse was not redeemed, but we can still enjoy the great sense of humor that he had. Christ died to undo the damage of the fall, which I believe was moral (we were slaves to sin). Though the world is “subjected to futility”, this doesn’t mean that fallen people are that much different in ability from their non-fallen potential counterparts. In short, I don’t think that a non-fallen Lee would be able to remember names either.

    2nd comment: Uh, just the whole thing about matter being evil. That philosophy crept into neoplatonism, which in turn influenced the Puritans (though about three steps removed). I don’t think any Puritan would admit to being influenced by gnosticism, but just because Linkin Park doesn’t know they’ve been influenced by Minor Threat doesn’t make it not true. Mostly it just makes them seem really depressing. I for one think there are many great things that God has put in this world for us to enjoy, and you agree with me whether you like it or not, Alpine Joe.

  5. 1. But Tiger loves to spearfish, or so I’m told…

    There might be some room for debate on the “designed to be perfect” issue, but I’ll drop that for the sake of argument. I also agree that the human mind is a wonderful thing – as well as the human hand, the diversity of life in the Amazon rain forest, and the creative output (secondary creation, if that’s the right term, a la Tolkien) of Plum, Rachmaninoff, and Monet. But all creation groans. Weeds grow. Mosquitoes bite and onions exist. Lions do not lay down with lambs. Even if we are not that different in ability, we are very much different in focus and productivity, not to mention the effect of the distractions of sin and its consequences. But to get back to my earlier comment, what aspect of Ben is not tainted and affected by sin? Great last line, btw – but I’m afraid that the more neutral shortcomings of memory are clouding the point that the CHS quote is making – our memories don’t just fail in neutral ways. Our memories cling to evil things and easily lose their grip on holy things. At least mine does. And he goes on to outline the way affections, imagination, judgment, etc. are fallen.

    2. I can see why you think the Puritans seem depressing – but if that’s the extent of their debt to gnosticism, I think that it is a) not true, b) not much of an influence, even if it were. You would think that I would come away depressed reading Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, of all the Puritan works I could read – but the exact opposite is true. Having read it, I’ve come away deeply convicted, more in awe of the love and mercy of a God who cares so much about my daily holiness – but not depressed. I need to be shaken out of my western, materialistic mindset!

    Finally – absolutely! Even in this fallen world, there are marvelous works, both from God’s hand and secondary creations from the hands of men and women, which we can and should enjoy — and reflect back praise to God as a result.


  6. More on 2. – hope is fallen, too – see Danny’s excellent post here.

  7. Yeah, maybe memory could be tainted in the sense that because we are evil, we jump to evil things … but that would be (to my mind) a moral corruption, rather than a corruption of abilities. The ability is the same, but it ultimately serves the heart and mind, which are affected by moral corruption.

    I’m not saying that I’m less evil than you, but I find that my memory remembers the stuff that my heart is focused on. If I focus on the good, my mind brings back memories of the good and great things, and the same for neutral, petty, or evil thoughts.

    I don’t know though … the Puritans hated sports, literature, all kinds of stuff. I think that, admit it or not, they ultimately believed that life was evil, that creation was evil, which is not a place you want to be, as a Christian.

  8. Somehow I have to think that abilities have fallen as well. Just look at the antediluvian ages recorded in Genesis 5 – don’t you think there was something different about their bodies (and probably minds) closer to Eden?

    Well, I have trouble with focus, then. Because I find my memory to be capricious in what it brings back, even as I try to focus godly things. They don’t have to be purely evil things – they might be neutral, or just a little negative – but they aren’t what I desire to focus on.

    The Puritans hated the culture of gambling surrounding all sports, and blood sports in particular. There were sports they approved of. I can appreciate their position. They frowned upon secular theater; I can appreciate that as well. Are you sure they didn’t think that actions they saw around them were evil, that people were going to hell and needed a Redeemer, and that they needed to live lives above reproach?

  9. Eh, I don’t think there’s anything to support that antediluvian idea … you could be right, you could be wrong. Interesting, but not conclusive.

    The Puritans hated Shakespeare. I’m pretty sure that they hated most sports because they found them to be frivolous, and not for a moral reason. The characterization that often is made of Puritans (gloomy killjoys who disapprove of everything) is a caricature, but one at least partly based in fact. I would guess this is because they subscribed to a view of the world that said life is evil. That’s not really what God is calling us to.

  10. Well, the whole discussion about abilities relative to the fall is so much speculation, anyway. There just isn’t much to go on, and, ultimately, you’re right – the main thing is the moral corruption. And that’s how I was using using Spurgeon’s quote relative to my previous post.

    Yes, that trusty, always-accurate Hollywood characterization 😉 God is calling us to love Him with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves – I, at least, could use a little Puritan rigor in how I approach both callings. Were they right about everything? Of course not. But let’s not dismiss them because they mostly wore black.

  11. interesting…

  12. Is that “good” interesting or “you guys are way off” interesting? 🙂

  13. I forgot about this. Yeah, I don’t want to dismiss the Puritans — roundheads or not, there are lot of things that evangelicalism is indebted to them for that are positive. That doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with their general outlook though.

    Compare how you feel about Puritans to how you feel about pious Catholics. It’s a little different, no? You don’t say, “well, they’re flawed but I can learn a lot from them.” You say, “these guys are the true church,” just as assuredly (if implicitly) as the Orthodox do about their own history. Well, maybe not you. You see what I mean, though, right?

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