Christian Biography Must Not Pass Over Blemishes
Biography, as one observes, is the best history; or, in other words, writing or reading the lives of great and good men is one of the most profitable and delightful kinds of history we can entertain ourselves with. For hereby we are convinced, that Wisdom’s ways are indeed ways of pleasantness, and being proved to be practicable by men of like passions with ourselves, we are insensibly allured to follow them as they followed Christ, and encouraged to run with patience the race set before us.
This, one would hope, is the grand end proposed by all such who undertake to draw the characters, or hand down to posterity the remarkable transactions of persons who have shined as lights in the church of God. Many have done worthily in this respect, and for this their labour of love, thousands as yet unborn shall rise and call them blessed.
But without detracting anything from their due praise, I cannot help observing, that in most of the lives that I have had an opportunity of perusing, there seems to be one deficiency, I could almost lay, common to them all. It is this: the writers of them seldom or never mention the blemishes or falls of those whose characters they exhibit. They emblazon their good, without so much as hinting at any of their bad qualities. In short, they paint them blameless, and by not mentioning any of their foibles, or the sins that did most easily beset them, they make them, as it were, equal to the angels of God, or rather to the Son of God himself, of whom alone it can truly be said that ‘he was without sin.’
Such a method, (however well meant, because we are more prone to imitate others’ vices than their virtues) to speak in the softest terms, is not according to the pattern shown us in the Mount. The scriptures set us a different copy. In those lively oracles, as in a well-drawn picture, we have both shade and light and at the same time as they paint out to us, in the most striking manner, the graces for which the holy men of old were most eminent, they also with an equally impartial had, expose to public view, not only the common infirmities, but even some to the most dreadful falls, with all their aggravating circumstances, of some of the greatest men of God that ever did, or will live, till time itself shall be no more. (The Sermons of George Whitefield, 387-388 [emphasis added])