Where Sin Is Not at Home

Where Sin Is Not at Home

Several months ago I talked to the Deacon of my Anglican church about the theology of Charlotte Mason. I told him that Charlotte Mason said that children “are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.” He instantly replied that Mason was wrong and that her statement was untrue. Children are born bad. St. Paul said as much: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.”

Over the years many people have searched Mason’s writings to find qualifications and explanations that might help us to reconcile her famous statement with the orthodox teaching of the Church. But few have extended their search to Mason’s massive six-volume meditation on the Gospels entitled The Saviour of the World. And so few have found where Mason directly deals with the truth that St. Paul revealed to the Romans.

In Volume 4 of The Saviour of the World, Charlotte Mason writes the following:

The Fall (The disciple)

Alas, sweet souls, ye fell! but not so low,
Ah, not so low as we! Abashed are ye
Where God was all a separate self to see;
And, naked, conscious souls, ingenuous go

To hide yourselves for shame! Your Fall’s worse woe-
Th’ inevitable “I”-inherit we:
Our child-souls quit their paradise to be
First in a fall’n state that day they know

Themselves for entities, with passions, parts:
Alack, the difference! Ye who did dwell
In th’ light of God see from what height ye fell,
And shun the recreant Self that filch’d your hearts:

No gracious shame’s in us; complacent thought,
Approving or contemning, ‘s Ego fraugtht!

She begins her poem by addressing our first parents. These innocent souls were once in the presence of God, but then they fell. So they hid themselves from God. But this Fall affected more than just themselves. There is something of this Fall that all of us “inherit.” Inevitably this inherited nature manifests itself and our souls leave paradise. We recapitulate the tragedy of our parents.  “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man … so death spread to all men because all men sinned.”

But there is something worse about our Fall. Our first parents felt an ingenuous – an “innocent” – impulse to hide. But the poison of original sin that dwells in us has drowned that impulse. No “gracious shame” seizes us. Instead, we are “complacent.” We are “dead through the trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)

Two pages earlier, Mason describes the poor man who must contend with this inherited poison. She writes,

But the poor man,
The hunted soul who has no innermost
Where sin is not at home, who strives t’escape,
Who hates and yet inclines, and, desparate,
Cleaveth to Grace to save him from the Thing –
Is it himself? – that daunts him…

This poor man realizes that there is no place in his heart where sin is not at home. Even in the innermost part of mansoul, sin is there. He strives to escape it, but how? Does he try to develop good habits based on good ideas derived from science and literature? No! He knows that habit and living ideas, as powerful as they may be, cannot save him from “the Thing”. Only Grace can save him. And so to Grace he cleaves.

But what is “the Thing”? Is it a demon? A devil? A disease? No … it is “himself.” “Th’ inevitable ‘I’-inherit we.” The sin that I exhibit in my thoughts, words, and deeds are not from some outside thing. They are from me – the horror of me.

And yet between these two somber passages of poetry, in the intervening page, we find three lines that make us gasp:

This poor man holds the Innocence that shines
In the face of a little child a mystery,
The deepest and most precious God doth keep.

I believe St. Paul. I believe the historic teachings of the church. I believe in original sin. And yet just the other night at bedtime my little one reached out his arms to me. He smiled and squeezed my neck in his arms. I looked at his face and it was filled with an expression of pure love. In the face of this little child, I did not see a snake. I did not see a monster. I saw heaven.

2 Replies to “Where Sin Is Not at Home”

  1. My friend asked me today… “How can the Holy Spirit be the Surpreme Educator of my children, if they are not yet saved?” I didn’t know how to answer that through a CM lens… any advice? Thank you!

    1. The question presupposes the notion that the Holy Spirit limits Himself to ministering only to those persons who are saved. It also raises the very interesting question of how those children could even become saved in the first place without the active ministry of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and lives. Finally, it raises the question of who should receive the glory for all the discoveries of wisdom and knowledge made by unbelievers. Should such glory go to men? Or to the devil?

      John Calvin rightly attributed all good in the world to the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

      “For if the skill and knowledge required for the construction of the Tabernacle behoved to be imparted to Bezaleel and Aholiab, by the Spirit of God, … it is not strange that the knowledge of those things which are of the highest excellence in human life is said to be communicated to us by the Spirit. Nor is there any ground for asking what concourse the Spirit can have with the ungodly, who are altogether alienated from God?… He fills, moves, and invigorates all things by the virtue of the Spirit… But if the Lord has been pleased to assist us by the work and ministry of the ungodly in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar sciences, let us avail ourselves of it, lest, by neglecting the gifts of God spontaneously offered to us, we be justly punished for our sloth… in every distinguished act there is a special inspiration.”

      Scripture (thankfully) teaches that the Holy Spirit ministers to all people, not only to those who have through faith in Christ been grafted into the family of God. Jesus said:

      “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

      The ministry of the Holy Spirit is as universal as that of Christ Himself; the Apostle John indicated that “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

      For more reflections on this topic, please see my article on the theology of the Great Recognition, and also this article.

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