Saturday, December 26, 2015

The right focus

Do you see what 2 Samuel 6 is saying to God's people in the wake of 2 Samuel 5? It is not saying that whipping Jebusites and Philistines doesn't matter; but it does imply that God's people are not sustained merely by crises. They do not thrive by knocking off Philistines but by seeking God's face. The evangelical church easily loses sight of this. We can always dredge up more adrenaline because of the latest moral or ethical or social or cultural or political emergency. Crises may stimulate us to action but they do not sustain life. The church must never look to the latest cause for her life. We cannot ignore the enemies outside the city of God, but we must not be absorbed by them. War must not efface worship. The real question is not, 'Who is against us?' but 'Who is among us?'

In relation the David's moving the ark after it had sat, sidelined (as Davis has it) at Kiriath-jearim. 

From Dale Ralph Davis' commentary on 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, page 63

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Little Christs

And now we begin to see what it is that the New Testament is always talking about. It talks about Christians ‘being born again’; it talks about them ‘putting on Christ’; about Christ ‘being formed in us’; about our coming to ‘have the mind of Christ’.

Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out—as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you. It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods.

Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Thursday, December 03, 2015


He demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about “His glory’s diminution”? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell.

But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God—though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain.

From The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Father Zossima's final speech

“Love one another, Fathers,” said Father Zossima, as far as Alyosha could remember afterwards. “Love God’s people. Because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, we are no holier than those that are outside, but on the contrary, from the very fact of coming here, each of us has confessed to himself that he is worse than others, than all men on earth…. And the longer the monk lives in his seclusion, the more keenly he must recognise that. Else he would have had no reason to come here. When he realises that he is not only worse than others, but that he is responsible to all men for all and everything, for all human sins, national and individual, only then the aim of our seclusion is attained.

For know, dear ones, that every one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all men - and everything on earth, not merely through the general sinfulness of creation, but each one personally for all mankind and every individual man. This knowledge is the crown of life for the monk and for every man. For monks are not a special sort of men, but only what all men ought to be. Only through that knowledge, our heart grows soft with infinite, universal, inexhaustible love. Then every one of you will have the power to win over the whole world by love and to wash away the sins of the world with your tears….

Each of you keep watch over your heart and confess your sins to yourself unceasingly. Be not afraid of your sins, even when perceiving them, if only there be penitence, but make no conditions with God. Again, I say, be not proud. Be proud neither to the little nor to the great. Hate not those who reject you, who insult you, who abuse and slander you. Hate not the atheists, the teachers of evil, the materialists - and I mean not only the good ones - for there are many good ones among them, especially in our day - hate not even the wicked ones. Remember them in your prayers thus: Save, O Lord, all those who have none to pray for them, save too all those who will not pray. And add: it is not in pride that I make this prayer, O Lord, for I am lower than all men….

Love God’s people, let not strangers draw away the flock, for if you slumber in your slothfulness and disdainful pride, or worse still, in covetousness, they will come from all sides and draw away your flock. Expound the Gospel to the people unceasingly… be not extortionate…. Do not love gold and silver, do not hoard them…. Have faith. Cling to the banner and raise it on high.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Brothers Karamazov (p. 123) Father Zossima's final speech to his fellow monks.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Miracles my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling-block to the realist. It is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognised by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith. If the realist once believes, then he is bound by his very realism to admit the miraculous also. The Apostle Thomas said that he would not believe till he saw, but when he did see he said, “My Lord and my God!” Was it the miracle forced him to believe? Most likely not, but he believed solely because he desired to believe and possibly he fully believed in his secret heart even when he said, “I do not believe till I see.”

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, chapter 5

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Value of writing

‎I have lost no opportunity of advising students and young ministers to write as much as possible. Lacking the incentives that were offered me, the work may be laborious and even tedious. I recognize frankly that it is one thing to write with the knowledge that the sentences that flow from your pen will soon appear in the bravery of print and quite another to write for the sheer sake of writing. But I know what it is to write until late into the night with no thought of publication. And I unhesitatingly aver that it is well worth while.

Dr. F.W. Boreham, My Pilgrimage, page 152

Friday, November 13, 2015


Creation itself has something to teach us about rest. If we are attentive to the world, we will quickly see that Sabbaths are going on all around us. Various species of life demonstrate that rest is not an option for otherwise cutthroat biological processes but is in fact an inextricable part of the ways of life. We see this in plants and animals in states of dormancy and sleep and also in the witness of birds singing and wolves lounging or playing with cubs. Rest and celebration, even among wild organisms, promote healing, restoration, and reproduction. Sabbath rhythms are vital to the maintenance of all life. Humans are the unique species in that we have presumed to step outside of these created rhythms by working or shopping around the clock so that we can exalt ourselves. For the sake of our own health and the health of creation, we need to implement creative ways to recover these rhythms.
Norman Wirzba

Friday, November 06, 2015

He walks everywhere incognito

From page 293 of The Narnian, by Alan Jacobs: talking about Lewis' reaction to Alec Vidler's radical theology and John Robinson's Honest to God:

But after all he had been through in Joy's illness and death, he better understood their discomfort with traditional doctrine. They were trying to get beyond "religion," and in his misery Lewis had come to understand that impulse - even if he thought they were going about it in absolutely the wrong way. "Religion" is either a set of cultural practices or a set of doctrines, and in either case - though for Lewis the doctrines were always absolutely necessary as maps toward one's true destination - they should never be the goal of the Christian life. (To make such a mistake would be "as if navigation were substituted for arrival, or battle for victory, or wooing for marriage.") 

Beyond all religion lies Something, or rather Someone, that religion can never capture, Who is more real than any practices or doctrines. "We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake." Such attention is difficult; we often fail to achieve it, and when we think we are most awake we are often sound asleep. One wonders how much of Lewis' own writing he believed, there near the end, to have been attentive in this true and full sense. It is perhaps telling that at one point in Letters to Malcolm he recalls what happened to Thomas Aquinas, who, after receiving an overwhelming and indeed disabling vision of God, thought back on his life's work of theological reflection and said, "It reminds me of straw." 

Trust the images

"Everything began with images," [C S Lewis] wrote: "a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion.  At first there wasn't even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord."  There was not, he says over and over again, an evangelistic plan in the making of Narnia, no apologetic scheme: "Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I'd write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out "allegories" to embody them. This is pure moonshine. I couldn't write in that way at all."

Or perhaps he could have, but knows that it would have been a dreadful mistake, a giving over of his imaginative life to the "expository demon." What he has to do instead is trust the images that come into his mind - or, more accurately, trust that he is being formed as a Christian in such a way that the images that come to his mind are authentic ones, ones that lie at, or at least near, the centre of his soul. He can do this only if he rejects not only the market-driven questions of modern authors and publishers ("What do children want?") but even the more morally sound question of the Christian apologist ("What do children need?"): "It is better not to ask the questions at all.  Let the pictures tell you their own moral.  For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life."

This is a terrifying, or liberating, word: liberating in that one need not expose oneself to the sanctimonious drudgery of drawing up lists of Christian truths and hammering out allegories that will meet the desires or needs of children. But terrifying because as those images rise from your mind you discover what you are really made of: you discover whether you are one whose moral and aesthetic responses have been shaped by the Christian narrative or whether you remain a person "without a chest," lacking in true spiritual formation.  Trusting the images, you find out who you are.

From The Narnian, by Alan Jacobs, pages 243-4

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Your life

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
Frederick Buechner
Now and Then

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mixed marriage

I agree with everything you say (except that I should publish anything on the subject: a bachelor is not the man to do it—there is such an obvious answer to anything he says!).

Our regeneration is a slow process. As Charles Williams says there are three stages: (1.) The Old Self on the Old Way. (2.) The Old Self on the New Way. (3.) The New Self on the New Way.

After conversion the Old Self can of course be just as arrogant, importunate, and imperialistic about the Faith as it previously was about any other interest. I had almost said ‘Any other Fad’—for just as the loveliest complexion turns green in a green light, so the Faith itself may have at first all the characteristics of a Fad and we may be as ill to live with as if we had taken up Nudism or Psychoanalysis or Pure Wool Clothing. You and I, clearly, both know all about that: one makes blunders.

About obedience, the principle is clear. Obedience to man is limited by obedience to God and, when they really conflict, must go. But of course that gives one very little guidance about particulars. The converted party must pray: I suppose it is not often necessary to pray in the presence of the other! Especially if the converted party is the woman, who usually has the house to herself all day.

Of course there must be no concealment, in the sense that if the question comes up one must say frankly that one does pray. But there is a difference between not concealing and flaunting. For the rest (did I quote this before?) MacDonald says ‘the time for speaking seldom arrives, the time forbeing never departs.’ Let you and me pray for each other.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

We need His help

I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, ‘because it must have been so easy for Him’. Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays.

In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. If it rejected him because ‘it’s easy for grown-ups’ and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself (and so had no ‘unfair’ advantage), it would not get on very quickly.

If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) ‘No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank’? That advantage—call it ‘unfair’ if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me.

To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Private religion

No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as “what a man does with his solitude.” It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of our- selves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.

In our own age the idea that religion belongs to our private life— that it is, in fact, an occupation for the individual’s hour of leisure—is at once paradoxical, dangerous, and natural. It is paradoxical because this exaltation of the individual in the religious field springs up in an age when collectivism is ruthlessly defeating the individual in every other field. . . . . There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude still exists. They call it “taking the young people out of themselves,” or “waking them up,” or “overcoming their apathy.”

If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne, or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him. If a really good home, such as the home of Alcinous and Arete in the Odyssey or the Rostovs in War and Peace or any of Charlotte M. Yonge’s families, existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of destruction would be levelled against it. And even where the planners fail and someone is left physically by himself, the wireless has seen to it that he will be—in a sense not intended by Scipio— never less alone than when alone.

We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.

From The Weight of Glory by C S Lewis

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Radical from the inside

Radicals don’t take responsibility for this society because it is a capitalist society, an enemy society. They never learn what it is to practice politics and be responsible, even for their own neighbourhoods. So the way they behave in neighbourhoods is scandalous. They don’t realize how this really estranges them from people in the community…. [My husband] Jimmy would go out every morning and clean the corner. He would pick up all the litter on the corner. When the gutters backed up because of heavy rain, he would be the first one out there to clean the gutters. He felt that he was a citizen of his block, of his city, of his country. And I had never thought that way because radicals don’t think that way. We’re outsiders. We cherish our “outsiderness.” I’ve come to believe that you cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it. I didn’t know that until I met Jimmy.

Grace Lee Boggs
"Revolution as the New Beginning" in Upping the Anti (Number One)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


As far as you (and I) are concerned I have no doubt that the fear you mention is simply a temptation of the devil, an effort to keep us away from God by despair. It is often the devil working through some defect in our health, and in extreme cases it needs a medical as well as a spiritual cure. So don’t listen to these fears and doubts any more than you would to any obviously impure or uncharitable thoughts. . . . Of course, like other evil temptations, they will not be silenced at once. You will think you have got rid of them and then they will come back again—and again. But, with all our temptations of all sorts, we must just endure this. Keep on, do your duty, say your prayers, make your communions, and take no notice of the tempter. He goes away in the end. Remember I John iii, 20 “If (=though) our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.”

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them “in their place.” The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived.

Introduction to the Letter to the Galatians, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language translated by Eugene Peterson. NavPress.

Monday, September 28, 2015

No time for loneliness

When my wife was seriously ill some time ago, people from our church contacted me to ask if we needed anything. When I replied that it was nice of people to offer meals but that Teri’s chief problem was simple loneliness — no one to talk to, as she lay in her sickbed, except a very busy husband — people were, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked. I had said something unexpectedly shameful. One person even commiserated with Teri: how difficult it must have been for her to have a husband who so openly admitted that she had personal needs in her illness. (To be sure, there were also deeply sympathetic friends, though not as many as we had expected to find.)

Of course, this whole situation speaks of more than Stoicism: it speaks perhaps most eloquently of a way of middle-class American life so consistently hectic that the one thing you simply cannot ask from other people is their time. But it was nevertheless clear that what we were supposed to do was to say that we were doing just fine and didn’t need a thing, though under considerable pressure we might consent to receiving a meal or two. To admit that illness is worsened by loneliness was several steps beyond the socially acceptable. So says the Stoic Creed, and most of the time what I say in return is: To hell with it.
Alan Jacobs in My Beef with Stoicism

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.

For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

From The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis

Friday, September 18, 2015

Heaven and earth

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’. In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven everywhere. But we, at this end of the road, must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.

C S Lewis, in The Great Divorce

Saturday, September 12, 2015

On facing death

Cicero wrote a book called the Tusculan Disputations,  five books on death, pain, depression and related passions, and happiness as a state of mind. In the third book of Robert Harris' trilogy on Cicero, the narrator, 'Dictator', Tiro (Cicero's secretary and right hand man) sums up the last book: 

In the fifth book, Cicero offered his practical prescriptions. A human being can only train for death by leading a life that is morally good; that is - to desire nothing too much; to be content with what one has; to be entirely self-sufficient within oneself, so that whatever one loses, one will still be able to carry on regardless; to do none harm; to realise that it is better to suffer an injury than to inflict one; to accept that life is a loan given by Nature without a due date and that repayment may be demanded at any time; that the most tragic character in the world is a tyrant who has broken all these precepts.

page 249, paperback edition. 

Cicero was declared a righteous pagan by the Early Church, and therefore many of his works were deemed worthy of preservation.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Faithful in the little things

With quiet sobriety and sober quietness, we shall do our work in this way. We must use our knowledge as it has been given to us to-day. No more can be required of us than is given to us. And like a servant who is faithful in little, we must not be sorrowful about such little. More than this faithfulness is not required of us.

Karl Barth

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Keeping us sane

More people are exploited and abused in the cause of religion than in any other way. Sex, money, and
power all take a backseat to religion as a source of evil. Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind.
The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering. The biblical prophets are in the front line of those doing something about it.
The biblical prophets continue to be the most powerful and effective voices ever heard on this earth for keeping religion honest, humble, and compassionate. Prophets sniff out injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up in religious garb. They sniff it out a mile away. Prophets see through hypocrisy, especially hypocrisy that assumes a religious pose. Prophets are not impressed by position or power or authority. They aren’t taken in by numbers, size, or appearances of success.
They pay little attention to what men and women say about God or do for God. They listen to God and rigorously test all human language and action against what they hear. Among these prophets, Amos towers as defender of the downtrodden poor and accuser of the powerful rich who use God’s name to legitimize their sin.
None of us can be trusted in this business. If we pray and worship God and associate with others who likewise pray and worship God, we absolutely must keep company with these biblical prophets. We are required to submit all our words and acts to their passionate scrutiny to prevent the perversion of our religion into something self-serving. A spiritual life that doesn’t give a large place to the prophet-articulated justice will end up making us worse instead of better, separating us from God’s ways instead of drawing us into them.

From The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language: introduction to the Book of Amos, by Eugene Peterson. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Mercy and grace

When Dr. [William] Carey was suffering from a dangerous illness, the enquiry was made, "If this sickness should prove fatal, what passage would you select as the text for your funeral sermon?" He replied, "Oh, I feel that such a poor sinful creature is unworthy to have anything said about him; but if a funeral sermon must be preached, let it be from the words, Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.'"

In the same spirit of humility he directed in his will that the following inscription and nothing more should be cut on his gravestone:--
William Carey, Born August 17th, 1761: Died - -
"A wretched, poor, and helpless worm
On thy kind arms I fall."

Only on the footing of free grace can the most experienced and most honoured of the saints approach their God. The best of men are conscious above all others that they are men at the best. Empty boats float high, but heavily laden vessels are low in the water; mere professors can boast, but true children of God cry for mercy upon their unprofitableness.

We have need that the Lord should have mercy upon our good works, our prayers, our preachings, our alms-givings, and our holiest things. The blood was not only sprinkled upon the doorposts of Israel's dwelling houses, but upon the sanctuary, the mercy-seat, and the altar, because as sin intrudes into our holiest things, the blood of Jesus is needed to purify them from defilement.

If mercy be needed to be exercised towards our duties, what shall be said of our sins? How sweet the remembrance that inexhaustible mercy is waiting to be gracious to us, to restore our backslidings, and make our broken bones rejoice!

Charles Spurgeon in Morning and Evening Devotions for August 29th. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Inexhaustible place

My own experience has shown me that it is possible to live in and attentively study the same small place decade after decade, and find that it ceaselessly evades and exceeds comprehension. There is nothing that it can be reduced to, because "it" is always, and not predictably, changing. It is never the same two days running, and the better one pays attention the more aware one becomes of these differences. Living and working in the place day by day, one is continuously revising one's knowledge of it, continuously being surprised by it and in error about it. And even if the place stayed the same, one would be getting older and growing in memory and experience, and would need for that reason alone to work from revision to revision. One knows one's place, that is to say, only within limits, and the limits are in one's mind, not in the place. This is a description of life in time in the world. A place, apart form our now always possible destruction of it, is inexhaustible. It cannot be altogether known, seen, understood, or appreciated.

Wendell Berry

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Learning by doing

"He that watereth shall be watered also himself." Proverbs 11:25
We are here taught the great lesson, that to get, we must give; that to accumulate, we must scatter; that to make ourselves happy, we must make others happy; and that in order to become spiritually vigorous, we must seek the spiritual good of others.

In watering others, we are ourselves watered. How? Our efforts to be useful, bring out our powers for usefulness. We have latent talents and dormant faculties, which are brought to light by exercise. Our strength for labour is hidden even from ourselves, until we venture forth to fight the Lord's battles, or to climb the mountains of difficulty. We do not know what tender sympathies we possess until we try to dry the widow's tears, and soothe the orphan's grief. We often find in attempting to teach others, that we gain instruction for ourselves. Oh, what gracious lessons some of us have learned at sick beds! We went to teach the Scriptures, we came away blushing that we knew so little of them. In our converse with poor saints, we are taught the way of God more perfectly for ourselves and get a deeper insight into divine truth.

So that watering others makes us humble. We discover how much grace there is where we had not looked for it; and how much the poor saint may outstrip us in knowledge. Our own comfort is also increased by our working for others. We endeavour to cheer them, and the consolation gladdens our own heart. Like the two men in the snow; one chafed the other's limbs to keep him from dying, and in so doing kept his own blood in circulation, and saved his own life. The poor widow of Sarepta gave from her scanty store a supply for the prophet's wants, and from that day she never again knew what want was.

Give then, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and running over.

From Charles Spurgeon's Devotional book, Morning and Evening...21st August. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The real Jesus

Letter to EDWARD LOFSTROM from C S Lewis...

16 January 1959

1. I am afraid I don’t know the answer to your question about books of Christian instruction for children. Most of those I have seen—but I haven’t seen many—seem to me namby-pamby and ‘sissie’ and calculated to nauseate any child worth his salt. Of course I have tried to do what I can for children—in a mythical and fantastic form by my seven ‘Narnian’ fairy tales. They work well with some children but not with others. Sorry this looks like salesmanship: but honestly if I knew anything else I’d mention it.

2. Of course. ‘Gentle Jesus’, my elbow! The most striking thing about Our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. (Remember Pascal? ‘I do not admire the extreme of one virtue unless you show me at the same time the extreme of the opposite virtue. One shows one’s greatness not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities and filling all the space between.’)

Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist. So go on! You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him. This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the Tiger and the Lamb, the avalanche and the rose. He’ll frighten and puzzle you: but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can’t.

3. ‘For him who is haunted by the smell of invisible roses the cure is work’ (MacDonald). If we feel we have talents that don’t find expression in our ordinary duties and recreations, I think we must just go on doing the ordinary things as well as we can. If God wants to use these suspected talents, He will: in His own time and way. At all costs one must keep clear of all the witchdoctors and their patent cures—as you say yourself.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Friday, July 31, 2015

Caught off guard

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.

Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding.

In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Overcoming violence

We have to acknowledge that the help that comes after the violence has been done, though it undeniably helps, is not a solution to violence. The solution, many times more complex and difficult, would be to go beyond our ideas, obviously insane, of war as the way to peace and of permanent damage to the ecosphere as the way to wealth. Actually to help our suffering of one man-made horror after another, we would have to revise radically our understanding of economic life, of community life, of work, and of pleasure. We employ thousands of scientists and spend billions of dollars to reduce matter to its smallest particles and to search for farther stars. How many scientists and how many dollars are devoted to harmony between economy and ecology, or to amity and lenity in the face of hatred and killing? To learn to meet our needs without continuous violence against one another and our only world would require an immense intellectual and practical effort, requiring the help of every human being perhaps to the end of human time. This would be work worthy of the name "human." It would be fascinating and lovely.

Wendell Berry
"The Commerce of Violence" in Our Only World

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Belief in Hell

Does Anyone Really Believe in Traditional Hell? 

Again, there comes this very serious obstacle to accepting the popular creed. I shall state it thus, either this creed is true or false If false—the question is ended. If true, can this strange fact be explained—that nobody acts as if he believed it? I say this, for any man who so believed, and who possessed but a spark of common humanity—to say nothing of charity—could not rest, day or night, so long as one sinner remained who might be saved. To this all would give place—pleasure, learning, business, art, literature; nay, life itself would be too short for the terrible warnings, the burning entreaties, the earnest pleadings, that would be needed to rouse sinners from their apathy, and to pluck them from endless tortures. 
Ask me what you will, but do not ask me to believe that any human being, who is convinced that perhaps his own child, his wife, his friend, his neighbor, even his enemy, is in danger of endless torment, could, if really persuaded of this, live as men now live, even the best men: who can avoid the inevitable conclusion that its warmest adherents really, though unconsciously, find their dogmas absolutely incredible? In fact these men (and it is the best thing to be said for them) teach their creed without real conviction. Their best eulogy is that they are self-deceivers. 
These remarks also explain an obvious difficulty, viz., it has been shown how the popular creed cuts at the root of all religion, poisoning the very fountains whence we draw our conceptions of love, of righteousness, of truth. But if so, it may be fairly asked, how is it that society subsists, that morality is not extinct? Because, I reply unhesitatingly, because no society, no individual, can possibly act, or has in fact acted, on such a creed, in the real business of life. It is simply impossible: who would dare so much as to smile, if he really believed endless torments were certain to be the portion of some member of his household—it may be of himself? Marriage would be a crime; each birth the occasion of an awful dread. The shadow of a possible hell would darken every home, sadden every family hearth. 
All this becomes evident when we reflect that to perpetuate the race would be to help on the perpetuation of moral evil. For if this creed be true, out of all the yearly births a steady current is flowing on to help to fill the abyss of hell, to make larger and vaster the total of moral evil which is to endure for ever. “The world would be one vast madhouse,” says the American scholar Hallsted, “if a realizing and continued pressure of such a doctrine was present.” 
Remark again how this doctrine breaks down the moment it is really put to the test. Take a common case: a man dies—active, benevolent, useful in life, but not a religious man, not devout. By the popular creed, such a man has gone to hell for ever. But who really believes that? nay, instinctively our words grow softer when we speak of the dead in all cases. Do even the clergy really believe what they profess? I cannot refrain from most serious doubt on this point. If they believe, why are they so often silent? Habitual silence would be impossible to any one believing the traditional creed in earnest. The awful future would dwarf all other topics, would compel incessant appeals. But what do we find? Everything, I reply, that marks a declining faith in endless evil—silence; excuses; modifications; evasions of the true issue.

Thomas Allin: Christ Triumphant: Universalism Asserted as the Hope of the Gospel on the Authority of Reason, the Fathers, and Holy Scripture. Annotated Edition, 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Moment by moment

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

C S Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nature and grace

In short, grace cannot answer to natural need as naturally known; for if it did it would not be grace.

Nor will it do to say that while grace does not answer to natural need, it does answer to the needs of a fallen human nature, as if it were that because of sin, and because we are creatures fallen, grace is demanded because our natures demand to be restored to their innocent condition. At any rate, Thomas does not believe this: in fact, the objection is obvious, grace being, in name and nature, “gratuitous,” it cannot be demanded by anything, except in a purely hypothetical sense: if we are to be saved then only grace can save us...for Thomas the fall is a human predicament which imposes absolutely no obligation on God to do anything about. Fallen as we are, without grace we have no right to anything but to stew in our own juice— in fact, fallen as we are, we hardly even know how far we are fallen; at best we can know that ours is a predicament, our ignorance of its nature being itself an aspect of that self-same fallen condition. For ours is like the condition of the person who is self-deceived : not only is he self-ignorant, he has somehow managed to hide from himself how it is that he is himself the cause of that ignorance and that he has a reason for remaining in it undisturbed. Therefore, for Thomas it takes grace to know that we are in need of grace; and it takes grace for us to know that there is a possible condition to which nature is restored, a condition far beyond the powers of nature even as they were before the Fall. It is in that sense that, for Thomas, nature is “perfected” by grace— not as if, knowing what we want, human beings are by grace given the gift of it, but rather, not knowing what we want, the gift of grace reveals to us the depth and nature of our need, a need that, as heretofore we were, was unknown to us.

Grace, therefore, does not exactly answer to our desire, as if we knew what our desire is. Grace answers to desires that only it can arouse in us, showing us what it is that we really want: grace is pure gift, the gift we could not have known that we wanted until we were given it. For grace does not merely solve the problem of the gap opened up by the Fall, restoring us to where we were before Adam's sin. It goes far beyond and above that, calling us into a friendship which is surplus by an infinite degree to the solution required. We need to come to know this, and to live by the knowledge that everything transacted between ourselves and God— that is, everything to do with the friendship that Jesus offered his followers— is the work of grace, a work that is of its nature supererogatory, being a solution that far exceeds what is needed by the problem it solves.

Thomas Aquinas by Denys Turner

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Taking part

Scripture - the Old and New Testaments - is the story of creation and new creation. Within that, it is the story of covenant and new covenant. When we read scripture as Christians, we read it precisely as people of the new covenant and of the new creation. We do not read it, in other words, as a flat, uniform list of regulations or doctrines. We read it as the narrative in which we ourselves are now called to take part. We read it to discover "the story so far" and also "how it's supposed to end." To put it another way, we live somewhere between the end of Acts and closing scene of Revelation. If we want to understand scripture and to find it doing its proper work in and through us, we must learn to read and understand it in the light of that overall story.

N.T. Wright

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Things forbidden, things permitted

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Commandments is an evidence…of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted, precisely because most things are permitted and only a few things are forbidden.

An optimist who insisted on a purely positive morality would have to begin (supposing he knew where to begin) by telling a man that he might pick dandelions on a common, and go on for months before he came to the fact that he might throw pebbles into the sea; and then resume his untiring efforts by issuing a general permission to sneeze, to make snowballs, to blow bubbles, to play marbles, to make toy aeroplanes … and everything else he could think of, without ever coming to an end. 

In comparison with this positive morality, the Ten Commandments rather shine in that brevity which is the soul of wit. It is better to tell a man not to steal than to try to tell him the thousand things that he can enjoy without stealing; especially as he can generally be pretty well trusted to enjoy them. 

(The Complete Works of G K Chesterton [Ignatius Press, 1989], 32:18)

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Dealing with sadness

Given the prevailing caricature of the man whose physiognomy consisted of nothing but an oversize cerebellum, the chances are exceedingly low of anyone guessing Thomas to have been the author of the following sensitively practical reflections on how to cope with sadness. 
First, he says, you should cry, both tears and groans, though you might also try talk therapy. Above all, no stiff upper lip: First of all, because anything that is causing you inner hurt afflicts you all the more for being contained, as the mind becomes fixated upon it. But when it is let out it is in a certain degree dissipated and the inner sadness to that extent diminished. For this reason when people are afflicted by sadness and vent it with tears and groans, or even tell of it in words, the sadness decreases. 
A second reason is that human beings always get some pleasure out of acting appropriately, and weeping and groaning is just what the person who is sad and doleful should be doing. Being in this sort of way appropriate behavior it gives a certain kind of mitigating pleasure that reduces the sadness. 
Next, if sad, count on your friends. That is the natural thing to do. One reason, the weaker of two, he says, is that if a friend shares your sadness it will seem as if the burden of it is lightened by virtue of her carrying part of it for you. But the better reason is that being prepared to share a friend's sadness and console him is a way of showing love for him, and the perception of the love thus shown to him by a friend gives the sort of pleasure that alleviates the sadness. 
You could also, of course, try contemplative prayer, if, like Thomas, you find contemplation to be the most intense of all pleasures, the point being that it is always some kind of pleasure that drives sadness away. If, however, weeping, groaning, therapeutic talk, prayer, and friends all fail to cheer you up, take a hot bath and get a good night's sleep. Thus all-brain Thomas.

From Thomas Aquinas: a portrait, by Denys Turner

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Who decides?

We have to consider that hate propaganda, and the consistent heckling of one government by another, has always inevitably led to violent conflict. We have to recognize the implications of voting for extremist politicians who promote policies of hate. We must consider the dire effect of fanaticism and witch-hunting within our own nation. We must never forget that our most ordinary decisions may have terrible consequences. It is no longer reasonable or right to leave all decisions to a largely anonymous power elite that is driving us all, in our passivity, towards ruin. We have to make ourselves heard.

Thomas Merton

Monday, June 22, 2015

Being happy

The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created’ [Revelation 4:11]. We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’.

To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled, by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable.

We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities—no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack.

What we would here and now call our ‘happiness’ is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.

From The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis

Sunday, June 21, 2015


...we are reminded by how far today we are afflicted by a certain kind of provinciality of mind, a reductivist mentality that can conceive of a question's being worth asking only if we know in advance some routine procedures guaranteed to provide intelligible answers to it. It is indeed an exceedingly curious reversal of commonsense intellectual priorities that a pre-formed procedure for answering questions should be allowed to dictate the legitimacy of the questions that may be asked. Thomas is intellectually braver, even perhaps more irresponsible: there are for him questions that have to be asked, but cannot be answered. He is prepared to ask the question: Could everything's being like the daffodil—“contingent” is his word for the fragility of existence—be just a fact, a sort of brute fact, requiring no further explanation? Or must everything's being like that demand an explanation, a cause, whose hold on existence does not need to be accounted for?—his word for such a mode of existence being “necessary.” Thomas's answer to that last question is in the affirmative: it has to be the case that some necessary being exists, otherwise the existence of all the contingent beings that there are is impossible to account for.

From Thomas Aquinas: a Portrait, by Denys Turner

Friday, June 19, 2015


What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realisation, fulfillment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

E.F. Schumacher

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Exercising yourself

"Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting."
Daniel 5:27

It is well frequently to weigh ourselves in the scale of God's Word. You will find it a holy exercise to read some psalm of David, and, as you meditate upon each verse, to ask yourself, "Can I say this? Have I felt as David felt? Has my heart ever been broken on account of sin, as his was when he penned his penitential psalms? Has my soul been full of true confidence in the hour of difficulty as his was when he sang of God's mercies in the cave of Adullam, or in the holds of Engedi? Do I take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord?"

Then turn to the life of Christ, and as you read, ask yourselves how far you are conformed to his likeness. Endeavour to discover whether you have the meekness, the humility, the lovely spirit which he constantly inculcated and displayed. Take, then, the epistles, and see whether you can go with the apostle in what he said of his experience. Have you ever cried out as he did--"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Have you ever felt his self-abasement? Have you seemed to yourself the chief of sinners, and less than the least of all saints? Have you known anything of his devotion? Could you join with him and say, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain"?

If we thus read God's Word as a test of our spiritual condition, we shall have good reason to stop many a time and say, "Lord, I feel I have never yet been here, O bring me here! give me true penitence, such as this I read of. Give me real faith; give me warmer zeal; inflame me with more fervent love; grant me the grace of meekness; make me more like Jesus. Let me no longer be found wanting,' when weighed in the balances of the sanctuary, lest I be found wanting in the scales of judgment." "Judge yourselves that ye be not judged."

Charles Spurgeon' Morning and Evening Devotionals (June 12)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It's not all about guns...

A police officer will have an admirable career if he or she never uses a gun -- except if that officer is a character on a television drama or movie. Given the popularity of violence, we might ask, "Doesn't the police officer's work depend upon the threat of force?" The answer is plainly no. If the officer's authority depends upon the use of a gun, then we are truly an uncivilized people who are in a constant state of civil war. In a world of strife and violence, additional use of force actually undermines police work (although television and movies claim the contrary). Undoubtedly, the peaceable officer will be dependent, not self-sufficient and invulnerable. He or she will not be a hero in Hollywood, but this peaceful officer will be an integral part of community life.... Communities are sustained not by the imposition of force but by cooperative, nonviolent means of confrontation and hope. Violence is a response to hopelessness. Christians are called to live with hope.

David Matzko McCarthy

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you (It has) and be “all glowy.” Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean, it is not the sensations that are the real thing. The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be—perhaps not ever—experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

PC imploding? Finally?

Conservatives have long argued to leftists who were indifferent to the plight of campus conservatives and Christians that PC would prove hard to contain, that the PC police would one day turn on their own. Well, now it’s happening, and many on the left are suddenly realizing once again that free speech has some value, especially when their speech is under attack. The bottom line is that the current wave of intolerance is too self-righteous, too joyless, and too malicious to survive in an otherwise open society. But as the wave breaks, it’s exacting a dreadful cultural and professional toll — stifling debate, ending careers, and eroding the intellectual foundations of liberty. 

Political correctness will fail, but it will fail in the way that leftist revolutions always do — at great cost, with high casualties, and with the revolutionaries themselves largely unrepentant and unbowed, ready to try again the instant the culture forgets their last failure.
David French, in Laura Kipnis' incredible ordeal and the beginning of the end of PC

Cast all your cares upon Him...

Cast all your care upon the Lord, and He will sustain you. Psalm 55:22

Care, even though exercised upon legitimate objects, if carried to excess, has in it the nature of sin. The precept to avoid anxious care is earnestly inculcated by our Saviour, again and again; it is reiterated by the apostles; and it is one which cannot be neglected without involving transgression: for the very essence of anxious care is the imagining that we are wiser than God, and the thrusting ourselves into his place to do for him that which he has undertaken to do for us. We attempt to think of that which we fancy he will forget; we labour to take upon ourselves our weary burden, as if he were unable or unwilling to take it for us.

Now this disobedience to his plain precept, this unbelief in his Word, this presumption in intruding upon his province, is all sinful. Yet more than this, anxious care often leads to acts of sin. He who cannot calmly leave his affairs in God's hand, but will carry his own burden, is very likely to be tempted to use wrong means to help himself. This sin leads to a forsaking of God as our counsellor, and resorting instead to human wisdom. This is going to the "broken cistern" instead of to the "fountain;" a sin which was laid against Israel of old.

Anxiety makes us doubt God's lovingkindness, and thus our love to him grows cold; we feel mistrust, and thus grieve the Spirit of God, so that our prayers become hindered, our consistent example marred, and our life one of self-seeking. Thus want of confidence in God leads us to wander far from him; but if through simple faith in his promise, we cast each burden as it comes upon him, and are "careful for nothing" because he undertakes to care for us, it will keep us close to him, and strengthen us against much temptation. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee."

Charles Spurgeon in his Morning and Evening Devotional, for May 26. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015


A gospel that doesn't take into account the rights of human beings, a Christianity that doesn't make a positive contribution to the history of the world, is not the authentic doctrine of Christ, but rather simply an instrument of power. We regret that at some moments our church has also fallen into this sin; but we want to change this attitude and, according to this spirituality that is authentically of the gospel, we don't want to be a plaything of the worldly powers, rather we want to be the church that carries the authentic, courageous gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when it might become necessary to die like he did, on a cross.

Oscar Romero
"November 27, 1977" in Through the Year with Oscar Romero

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dressing up as Christ

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going on there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping your wife to wash- up. Well, go and do it.

From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis