“He could have used anyone” by C.S. Lewis

“To Lucy Matthews:

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
Oxford
Sept 14th 1957

Dear Lucy Matthews,

I am so glad you like the Narnian stories and it was nice of you to write and tell me. I love E. Nesbit too and I think I have learned a lot from her about how to write stories of this kind.

Do you know Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? I think you would like it. I am also bad at Maths and it is a continual nuisance to me– I get muddled over my change in shops. I hope you’ll have better luck and get over the difficulty! It makes life a lot easier.

It makes me, I think, more humble than proud to know that Aslan has allowed me to be the means of making Him more real to you. Because He could have used anyone–as He made a donkey preach a good sermon to Balaam.

Perhaps, in return, you will sometimes say a prayer for me? With all good wishes.

Yours sincerely,

C. S. Lewis”

–C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 – 1963, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 3: 882-883. Lewis was born on November 29, 1898.

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“Christ is the content of Christianity” by Herman Bavinck

“In Christianity, Christ occupies a very different place than Buddha, Zarathustra, and Muhammad do in their respective religions. Christ is not the teacher, not the founder, but the content of Christianity.”

–Herman Bavinck, Ed. John Bolt and trans. John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 3: 284.

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“The incarnation is the central fact of the entire history of the world” by Herman Bavinck

“The doctrine of Christ is not the starting point, but it certainly is the central point of the whole system of dogmatics. All other dogmas either prepare for it or are inferred from it.

In it, as the heart of dogmatics, pulses the whole of the religious-ethical life of Christianity. It is ‘the mystery of godliness’ (1 Tim. 3:16).

From this mystery all Christology has to proceed. If, however, Christ is the incarnate Word, then the incarnation is the central fact of the entire history of the world; then, too, it must have been prepared from before the ages and have its effects throughout eternity.”

–Herman Bavinck, Ed. John Bolt and trans. John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 3: 274.

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“Here at last is the thing I was made for” by C.S. Lewis

“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.

You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that.

Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all of your life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw– but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realise that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported.

Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of– something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side?

Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling of that which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?

You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear.

But if it should ever really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself- you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’

We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work.

While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940/1996), 149-151.

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“The breadth and length and height and depth” by John Calvin

“By these dimensions, Paul means nothing other than the love of Christ, of which he speaks afterwards. The meaning is, that he who knows it truly and perfectly is in every respect a wise man.

As if he had said, ‘In whatever direction men may look, they will find nothing in the doctrine of salvation that should not be related to this.’ The love of Christ contains within itself ever aspect of wisdom.

The meaning will be clearer if we paraphrase it like this: ‘That ye may be able to comprehend the love which is the length, breadth, depth, and height, that is, the complete perfection of our wisdom.’

The metaphor is taken from mathematics, denoting the whole from the parts. Almost all men are infected with the disease of desiring useless knowledge.

Therefore this admonition is very useful: what is necessary for us to know, and what the Lord desires us to contemplate, above and below, on the right hand and on the left, before and behind.

The love of Christ is held out to us to meditate on day and night and to be wholly immersed in. He who holds to this alone has enough.

Beyond it there is nothing solid, nothing useful, nothing, in short, that is right or sound. Go abroad in heaven and earth and sea, you will never go beyond this without overstepping the lawful bounds of wisdom.”

–John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Volume 11, Trans. T.H.L. Parker (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 168-169. Calvin is commenting on Ephesians 3:18.

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“Aslan likes to be asked” by C.S. Lewis

“Now they were over the top of the cliffs and in a few minutes the valley land of Narnia had sunk out of sight behind them. They were flying over a wild country of steep hills and dark forests, still following the course of the river.

The really big mountains loomed ahead. But the sun was now in the travelers’ eyes and they couldn’t see things very clearly in that direction.

For the sun sank lower and lower till the western sky was all like one great furnace full of melted gold; and it set at last behind a jagged peak which stood up against the brightness as sharp and flat as if it were cut out of cardboard.

“It’s none too warm up here,” said Polly.

“And my wings are beginning to ache,” said Fledge. “There’s no sign of the valley with a Lake in it, like what Aslan said. What about coming down and looking out for a decent spot to spend the night in? We shan’t reach that place tonight.”

“Yes, and surely it’s about time for supper?” said Digory.

So Fledge came lower and lower. As they came down nearer to the earth and among the hills, the air grew warmer and after traveling so many hours with nothing to listen to but the beat of Fledge’s wings, it was nice to hear the homely and earthy noises again—the chatter of the river on its stony bed and the creaking of trees in the light wind.

A warm, good smell of sun-baked earth and grass and flowers came up to them. At last Fledge alighted. Digory rolled off and helped Polly to dismount. Both were glad to stretch their stiff legs.

The valley in which they had come down was in the heart of the mountains; snowy heights, one of them looking rose-red in the reflections of the sunset, towered above them.

“I am hungry,” said Digory.

“Well, tuck in,” said Fledge, taking a big mouthful of grass.

Then he raised his head, still chewing and with bits of grass sticking out on each side of his mouth like whiskers, and said, “Come on, you two. Don’t be shy. There’s plenty for us all.”

“But we can’t eat grass,” said Digory.

“H’m, h’m,” said Fledge, speaking with his mouth full. “Well— h’m— don’t know quite what you’ll do then. Very good grass too.”

Polly and Digory stared at one another in dismay.

“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.

“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.

“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.

“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse. “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew: The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: HarperCollins, 1950), 86-87.

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“Longing for the endless feast to come” by Matthew McCullough

“Until we’re honest about the pervasive, painful presence of loss throughout our lives, we won’t be drawn in by Jesus and His promise of eternal life. We need to see with the eyes of the heart that we have nothing unless we have Jesus. Everything else is passing away.

Earlier in the chapter, I raised what seems to me a common objection to the Christian focus on eternal life. Sometimes talk of eternal life seems like a distraction from the challenges and opportunities and obligations of this life.

At best it sounds abstract and otherworldly. At worst it seems escapist, like some sort of excuse to ignore problems of the present. Or, perhaps, a consolation for those too old or sick to have anything left to live for.

I hope by this point it’s clear that this objection is dangerously shortsighted and ironically off the mark. If eternal life sounds otherworldly to you, then you’re the one not paying close enough attention to this world and its concerns.

Jesus focuses on eternal life because He is more attuned to what life is like in this world than those who settle for less. In this world everyone loses everything.

Eternal life only seems like a distraction from what you really want or need if you pretend you’re not dying. That’s why the objection is shortsighted.

But the objection is also ironic. Jesus’s promise of eternal life is actually the thing that enables true and resilient joy in our experience of good things that don’t last.

When talk of eternal life seems like a distraction, it’s because we’ve failed to appreciate the tremendous challenge of loss to any joy we might experience in the present. We’ve failed to honestly confront the questions raised earlier in this chapter.

How can we enjoy what we hay, when we know we’re eventually going to lose it?

When we’ve learned to feel the weight of this question, we’re prepared to see the true and wonderful relevance of Jesus’s promise for living now. Jesus’s language of eternal life, so far from an otherworldly or ascetic distraction from the goodness of this life turns out to be exactly what we need to make the most of our time under the sun.

Jesus’s death and resurrection, and His promise that He will give life to us too if we believe in Him, reframe how we experience the transient things of this life. The way to fully taste the sweetness of eternal life is not to pull back from enjoying the good things of this life, but to leverage these good and passing pleasures into longing for the endless feast to come.

Loving this life and all its goodness, knowing with truth and honesty that we’re going to lose everything, can actually deepen our love for the life to come.

Jesus’s promise of triumph over death, a resurrection to eternal life, is an invitation to fully enjoy the beauty of life in this world, no matter how fleeting. In other words, the way to deal with the painful problem of loss is not to pull back from loving the transient things, but to press further in.

To love them freely for what they are: precious gifts of a Father who loves you, foretastes of glory divine.”

–Matthew McCullough, Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 141-142.

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