Categories
Piety Quotations

A Pious Attitude Towards God’s Providence

I think the blog has been a little under-supplied with Calvin lately, so here is a little something to partially remedy that weakness.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion I.17.8,9

[On the attitude of the pious in light of God’s providence. –RZ]

If any thing adverse befalls him, he will forthwith raise his mind to God, whose hand is most effectual in impressing us with patience and placid moderation of mind. Had Joseph kept his thoughts fixed on the treachery of his brethren, he never could have resumed fraternal affection for them. But turning toward the Lord, he forgot the injury, and was so inclined to mildness and mercy, that he even voluntarily comforts his brethren, telling them, “Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life.” “As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good,” (Genesis 45:5; 50:20.) Had Job turned to the Chaldees, by whom he was plundered, he should instantly have been fired with revenge, but recognizing the work of the Lord, he solaces himself with this most beautiful sentiment: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” (Job 1:21.) So when David was assailed by Shimei with stones and curses, had he immediately fixed his eyes on the man, he would have urged his people to retaliate the injury; but perceiving that he acts not without an impulse from the Lord, he rather calms them. “So let him curse,” says he, “because the Lord has said unto him, Curse David.” With the same bridle he elsewhere curbs the excess of his grief, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it,” (Psalm 39:9.) If there is no more effectual remedy for anger and impatience, he assuredly has not made little progress who has learned so to meditate on Divine Providence, as to be able always to bring his mind to this, The Lord willed it, it must therefore be born; not only because it is unlawful to strive with him, but because he wills nothing that is not just and befitting. The whole comes to this. When unjustly assailed by men, overlooking their malice, (which could only aggravate our grief, and whet our minds for vengeance,) let us remember to ascend to God, and learn to hold it for certain, that whatever an enemy wickedly committed against us was permitted, and sent by his righteous dispensation. Paul, in order to suppress our desire to retaliate injuries, wisely reminds us that we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with our spiritual enemy the devil, that we may prepare for the contest, (Ephesians 6:12.) But to calm all the impulses of passion, the most useful consideration is, that God arms the devil, as well as all the wicked, for conflict, and sits as umpire, that he may exercise our patience. But if the disasters and miseries which press us happen without the agency of men, let us call to mind the doctrine of the Law, (Deuteronomy 28:1,) that all prosperity has its source in the blessing of God, that all adversity is his curse. And let us tremble at the dreadful denunciation, “And if ye will not be reformed by these things, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk contrary unto you,” (Leviticus 26:23, 24.) These words condemn our torpor, when, according to our carnal sense, deeming that whatever happens in any way is fortuitous, we are neither animated by the kindness of God to worship him, nor by his scourge stimulated to repentance. And it is for this reason that Jeremiah, (Lament. 3:38,) and Amos, (Amos 3:6,) expostulated bitterly with the Jews, for not believing that good as well as evil was produced by the command of God. To the same effect are the words in Isaiah, “I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things,” (Isaiah 45:7.)

At the same time, the Christian will not overlook inferior causes. For, while he regards those by whom he is benefited as ministers of the divine goodness, he will not, therefore, pass them by, as if their kindness deserved no gratitude, but feeling sincerely obliged to them, will willingly confess the obligation, and endeavor, according to his ability, to return it. In fine, in the blessings which he receives, he will revere and extol God as the principal author, but will also honor men as his ministers, and perceive, as is the truth, that by the will of God he is under obligation to those, by whose hand God has been pleased to show him kindness. If he sustains any loss through negligence or imprudence, he will, indeed, believe that it was the Lord’s will it should so be, but, at the same time, he will impute it to himself. If one for whom it was his duty to care, but whom he has treated with neglect, is carried off by disease, although aware that the person had reached a limit beyond which it was impossible to pass, he will not, therefore, extenuate his fault, but, as he had neglected to do his duty faithfully towards him, will feel as if he had perished by his guilty negligence. Far less where, in the case of theft or murder, fraud and preconceived malice have existed, will he palliate it under the pretext of Divine Providence, but in the same crime will distinctly recognize the justice of God, and the iniquity of man, as each is separately manifested. But in future events, especially, will he take account of such inferior causes. If he is not left destitute of human aid, which he can employ for his safety, he will set it down as a divine blessing; but he will not, therefore, be remiss in taking measures, or slow in employing the help of those whom he sees possessed of the means of assisting him. Regarding all the aids which the creatures can lend him, as hands offered him by the Lord, he will avail himself of them as the legitimate instruments of Divine Providence. And as he is uncertain what the result of any business in which he engages is to be, (save that he knows, that in all things the Lord will provide for his good,) he will zealously aim at what he deems for the best, so far as his abilities enable him. In adopting his measures, he will not be carried away by his own impressions, but will commit and resign himself to the wisdom of God, that under his guidance he may be led into the right path. However, his confidence in external aid will not be such that the presence of it will make him feel secure, the absence of it fill him with dismay, as if he were destitute. His mind will always be fixed on the Providence of God alone, and no consideration of present circumstances will be allowed to withdraw him from the steady contemplation of it. Thus Joab, while he acknowledges that the issue of the battle is entirely in the hand of God, does not therefore become inactive, but strenuously proceeds with what belongs to his proper calling, “Be of good courage,” says he, “and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God; and the Lord do that which seemeth him good,” (2 Samuel 10:12.) The same conviction keeping us free from rashness and false confidence, will stimulate us to constant prayer, while at the same time filling our minds with good hope, it will enable us to feel secure, and bid defiance to all the dangers by which we are surrounded.

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Piety Practical Notes Quotations

The Gospel is for the Whole Man

One of the marks of a diluted Christianity is that it leaves out some element of human nature: it fails to understand that as Jesus was true and complete and entire man, then all that He assumed is redeemed, if we may reverse the theological argument used in some relatively early doctrinal controversies. I believe this truth is well protected by understanding the whole man to be acting in different ways; but however you want to distinguish the differing faculties or operations or constituent elements of humanity, the fact is that the Gospel applies to all of them. Sometimes this dilution is unconscious: by exalting one aspect we, perhaps unconsciously, depreciate others. This is one reason why it is good to read from a wide range of writings, and to read simple as well as subtle writers. With that in mind, here are some words from the first Bishop of Liverpool that serve me as a reminder that in Paul’s great analogy of the body, no part is concluded to be unnecessary. It would seem that in any area whatsoever, atomistic approaches are at best of limited utility, always a temptation, and at worst virulently destructive.

J.C. Ryle on Matthew 13:51 in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew

The first thing which we ought to notice in these verses is the striking question with which our Lord winds up the seven wonderful parables of this chapter. He said, ‘Have ye understood all these things?’

Personal application has been called the soul of preaching. A sermon without application is like a letter posted without a direction: it may be well written, rightly dated, and duly signed; but it is useless, because it never reaches its destination. Our Lord’s inquiry is an admirable example of real heart-searching application: Have ye understood?

The mere form of hearing a sermon can profit no man, unless he comprehends what it means: he might just as well listen to the blowing of a trumpet, or the beating of a drum; he might just as well attend a Roman Catholic service in Latin. His intellect must be set in motion, and his heart impressed: ideas must be received into his mind; he must carry off the seeds of new thoughts. Without this he hears in vain.

It is of great importance to see this point clearly: there is a vast amount of ignorance about it. There are thousands who go regularly to places of worship, and think they have done their religious duty, but never carry away an idea or receive an impression. Ask them, when they return home on a Sunday evening, what they have learned, and they cannot tell you a word. Examine them at the end of a year, as to the religious knowledge they have attained, and you will find them as ignorant as the heathen.

Let us watch our souls in this matter. Let us take with us to church, not only our bodies, but our minds, our reason, our hearts, and our consciences…. –Intellect, no doubt, is not everything in religion; but it does not therefore follow that it is nothing at all.

Categories
Controversy History Piety Quotations

Reformation, Revival and Appearances

Here are two quotes from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (surely one of the most thrilling speakers to ever have been recorded: go to the ML-J recordings trust web site to see what I mean).

From: “Revival: An Historical and Theological Survey” in Puritan Papers, v.1 (this paper was read in 1959):

…We are told that must not talk about revival because we need reformation first. You cannot have revival, it is said, without prior reformation. You must be right with respect to your doctrine before you have a right to pray for revival. So we must concentrate on reformation alone. [Follows some discussion of the historical relationship between reformation and revival]

…There are people who say, “You have no right to talk about revival, you have no right to expect revival until people become Reformed in their doctrine.” The simple answer is that George Whitefield received his baptism of power in 1737, but did not become a Calvinist in his theology until 1739, when he was out in America. Revival had come to him, and through him to many others, before his doctrine became right. Exactly the same thing happened to Howell Harris in Wales. He had his great baptism of power in 1735, and it was only two or three years later that he came to see the truth doctrinally. Once more, therefore, I would use this argument. If you say that God cannot give revival until first of all we have had a reformation, you are speaking like an Arminian, you are saying that God cannot do this until we ourselves have first done something. That is to put a limit upon God. It is to lapse into Arminian terminology and thinking, and to deny the fundamental tenet of the Reformed position. If you truly believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that whatever the state of the church, God can send revival. As a sheer matter of fact, that is what God did in the eighteenth century. There was the church under the blight of deism and rationalism, and generally dissolute in her living. That was true of the clergy and the leaders; and among the Nonconformists there was a deadness resulting from the Arianism that had even infected a man like Isaac Watts. In the midst of such conditions God did this amazing and astonishing thing, even while some of the men He used were still confused in their doctrinal views. It is amazing that any man holding the Reformed position can be guilty of such a contradiction as to say that you cannot have revival unless you have reformation first. Such a man should never speak like that; he has no right to put in conditions. Revival is something that is wrought by God in sovereign freedom, often in spite of men.

And from: “Puritan Perplexities: Lessons from 1640-1662” in Puritan Papers, v.2. This paper was originally read in 1962

…concerned as we all are, or at any rate should be, with a true revival of religion, with a manifestation of the power of Almighty God amongst us, with a shaking and a bringing together of the “dry bones,” with a demonstration of the power of God and an authentication of His most holy word—concerned as we are about that, we must realize that there is nothing more urgently important than that we should examine ourselves. Some kind of reformation generally precedes revival. There are certain conditions in this matter of revival, and God has so ordained it, as history shows us clearly, that before He pours forth His Spirit upon a people, or upon an individual, He first prepares that people or that individual. It is inconceivable that great blessing should be given to a Laodicean, backsliding, or apostate Church without a preliminary work of repentance. It is vital, therefore, that we should address ourselves to this whole problem of the condition and state of the Crhuch in order that we may obey the leading and prompting of the Spirit of God and prepare ourselves for the much longed for and looked for outpouring of His Holy Spirit.

Iain Murray records in his two-volume biography of Lloyd-Jones (I don’t have it with me: I believe it’s the chapter in the second volume called “The Best of Men”) that Lloyd-Jones had a habit of speaking very positively. It is rather remarkable as you read his sermons the number of things than which nothing could be more important! (To be thoroughly fair, though, that concept is often limited with something along the lines of, “in this whole matter of our ______”.) Mr. Murray also remarks that on occasion Lloyd-Jones could argue quite strongly for the impossibility of anyone holding a position, which he might himself have held, and perhaps not even that long previously. From 1959 to 1962 is certainly not a tremendously long time: and yet consider these statements:

1959

If you say that God cannot give revival until first of all we have had a reformation, you are speaking like an Arminian, you are saying that God cannot do this until we ourselves have first done something.

1962

Some kind of reformation generally precedes revival. There are certain conditions in this matter of revival, and God has so ordained it, as history shows us clearly, that before He pours forth His Spirit upon a people, or upon an individual, He first prepares that people or that individual.

1959

If you truly believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that whatever the state of the church, God can send revival. As a sheer matter of fact, that is what God did in the eighteenth century. There was the church under the blight of deism and rationalism, and generally dissolute in her living. That was true of the clergy and the leaders; and among the Nonconformists there was a deadness resulting from the Arianism that had even infected a man like Isaac Watts.

1962

It is inconceivable that great blessing should be given to a Laodicean, backsliding, or apostate Church without a preliminary work of repentance.

1959

It is amazing that any man holding the Reformed position can be guilty of such a contradiction as to say that you cannot have revival unless you have reformation first. Such a man should never speak like that; he has no right to put in conditions. Revival is something that is wrought by God in sovereign freedom, often in spite of men.

(Do notice that the quotes are not sets: 1962 quotes contrasts with what is above and below.)

Now this sounds like a pretty frank contradiction. From 1959 to 1962 it would definitely seem that Lloyd-Jones has altered his opinion, or forgotten it, or been seized with a new leading idea. Can there be any doubt that he has drawn different conclusions from the teaching of history? Has he not fallen into what he at one point called Arminian terminology and thinking? But let us engage in a little game: let us do all we can to be medieval and “save the appearances”. Bonus points to anyone who guesses what other medieval practice is being followed here.

Notice a few facts before hooting that you knew that the Doctor’s anti-intellectualism (Carl Trueman’s word) would result in him becoming illogical. First, he states and argues very vigorously that you cannot say that reformation must precede revival. Second, note that reformation in 1959 is conceived of in primarily (not exclusively) doctrinal terms. Third, notice that in 1962 it is Laodiceanism, backsliding, apostasy that is conceived of as an hindrance to revival. When these points are taken into consideration, it is evident that while there is undoubtedly a verbal difference in Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ statements, conceptually the difference may not be so unbridgeably vast. Doctrinal Calvinism is not a necessary antecedent condition for revival, indeed, doctrinal Calvinism would regard that view as quite non-Calvinistic. But moral and spiritual earnestness is necessary to revival: God pours water on those who are thirsty. And if we go further afield in these papers, we discover that in 1959 he spoke of two parts of revival, a stirring up of those who are in the Church (including the conversion of some who merely formal professors), and then a welter of conversions among those who are not. And if we postulate further that in 1962 his usage of the word “revival” had narrowed to that latter part, we may quite easily see that the contradiction is entirely verbal. Thus in 1959, he spoke of revival as including what in 1962 he had come to more narrowly call reformation. Now obviously, one cannot claim that reformation is a necessary antecedent condition to reformation! But even in 1959 he had stated quite vigorously that revival affects the church first of all. So it is a question of definitions: if we think of revival as God awakening a comatose church, then certainly nothing precedes it; if we think of revival as God doing a remarkable work of conversion in the community surrounding the church, then according to Lloyd-Jones in 1959 and 1962, reformation in the church does come before that. We can then distinguish some stages in the Doctor’s vocabulary: in 1959 reformation would be defined as: a return to Calvinism in the doctrinal realm, and revival is a work of God in two stages, one primarily in the church, and the other primarily in expanding the church. In 1962, though, reformation is conceived along the lines of repentance and a return to earnestness, and is thus more closely parallel to the first stage of 1959-definition revival, whereas by 1962 that word has been appropriated to the second part of that remarkable work of God. So I think that we shall not be forced to hypothesize an intervening brain fever or mini-stroke: no, Dr. Lloyd-Jones has simply become more precise in his vocabulary.

Categories
Piety Quotations

Self-Ownership

C.S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture” in Christian Reflections

Finally, I agree with Brother Every that our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.

C.S. Lewis, Letter to “Mrs Ashton”, 17 July 1953

The writer you quote was very good at the stage at wh. you met him: Now, as is plain, you’ve got beyond him. Poor boob – he thought his mind was his own. Never his own until he makes it Christ’s: up till then merely a result of heredity, environment, and the state of his digestion. I became my own only when I gave myself to Another.

Some years ago, the place where I worked hired some new temporaries, including a friendly man with a blue jacket who had been in the Army. He and I got along well, and we had some interesting conversation. I told him at one point the verse in Scripture which most reminded me of him was 2 Peter 2:14 –having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin. This co-worker once asked me if a statement he had heard were true, namely, that what happens in the bedroom is none of God’s business. I’ll let C.S. Lewis answer that question:

He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls. Let us make up our minds to it; there will be nothing “of our own” left over to live on, no “ordinary” life. (…) What cannot be admitted—what must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy—is the idea of something that is “our own,” some area in which we are to be “out of school,” on which God has no claim.

(C.S. Lewis, “A Slip of the Tongue” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses)

…ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body… (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)

Categories
Piety Quotations

The Heavenly Doctor

This of course was the title applied to Richard Sibbes. As the author of his memoir and editor of his works, A.B. Grosart observes, it seems to have come naturally to people to apply this epithet to him. Here are two lines from a sermon on judgment (The Church’s Visitation) which in their brief compass do much to explain why the adjective of “heavenly” was so appropriate for this man.

In the first quote he is explaining that judgment begins at the house of God, even though that may seem to encourage the enemies of God. According to Sibbes, this is why:

God’s love to his people is such, that he regards their correction before the confusion of his enemies.

And a little later on he makes a statement which allows us to see one reason among many why it is sane and rational to commit ourselves unto our faithful Creator:

Every Christian may truly say, God loves me better than I do myself.

Categories
Controversy Piety Quotations

C.S. Lewis vs. Matthew Arnold (Tomorrow)

Since I will be either in the air or in the airport for most of tomorrow, here is a long something to make everyone glad that I periodically become incommunicado.

Below are a catena of statements where C.S. Lewis addresses issues that impinge on the question of the value of refinement and culture to a Christian, as well as addressing that point explicitly. The title arises since Lewis specifically distinguishes himself from Matthew Arnold –which perhaps those who have more restraint and diligence can tell me if he is always as mind-numbingly pompous and turgid as in his comments on Johnson’s Lives.

“Christianity and Culture”, Lewis’ side of an exchange originally carried on in the pages of Theology is quite a logical place to start (and can be found in the book called Christian Reflections, along with other essays that touch on the topic of the Christian attitude to culture). There we find several pertinent statements:

I felt that some readers might easily get the notion that ‘sensitivity’ or good taste were among the notes of the true Church, or that coarse, unimaginative people were less likely to be saved than refined and poetic people. In the heat of the moment I rushed to the opposite extreme. I felt, with some spiritual pride, that I had been saved in the nick of time from being ‘sensitive’. The ‘sentimentality and cheapness’ of much Christian hymnody had been a strong point in my own resistance to conversion. Now I felt almost thankful for the bad hymns. It was good that we should have to lay down our precious refinement at the very doorstep of the church; good that we should be cured at the outset of our inveterate confusion between psyche and pneuma, nature and supernature.

A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility. Brother Every will not suspect me of being still in the condition I describe, nor of attributing to him the preposterous beliefs I have just suggested. But there remains, none the less, a real problem which his article forced upon me in its most acute form. No one, presumably, is really maintaining that a fine taste in the arts is a condition of salvation.

(…)

If, as I now hope, cultural activities are innocent and even useful, then they also (like the sweeping of the room in Herbert’s poem) can be done to the Lord. The work of a charwoman and the work of a poet become spiritual in the same way and on the same condition. There must be no return to the Arnoldian or Ricardian view. Let us stop giving ourselves airs.

(…)

Being fallen creatures we tend to resent offences against our taste, at least as much as, or even more than, offences against our conscience or reason; and we would dearly like to be able—if only we can find any plausible argument for doing so—to inflict upon the man whose writing (perhaps for reasons utterly unconnected with good and evil) has afflicted us like a bad smell, the same kind of condemnation which we can inflict on him who has uttered the false and the evil. The tendency is easily observed among children; friendship wavers when you discover that a hitherto trusted playmate actually likes prunes. But even for adults it is ‘sweet, sweet, sweet poison’ to feel able to imply ‘thus saith the Lord’ at the end of every expression of our pet aversion. To avoid this horrible danger we must perpetually try to distinguish, however closely they get entwined both by the subtle nature of the facts and by the secret importunity of our passions, those attitudes in a writer which we can honestly and confidently condemn as real evils, and those qualities in his writing which simply annoy and offend us as men of taste. This is difficult, because the latter are often so much more obvious and provoke such a very violent response. The only safe course seems to me to be this: to reserve our condemnation of attitudes for attitudes universally acknowledged to be bad by the Christian conscience speaking in agreement with Scripture and ecumenical tradition. A bad book is to be deemed a real evil in so far as it can be shown to prompt to sensuality, or pride, or murder, or to conflict with the doctrine of Divine Providence, or the like. The other dyslogistic terms dear to critics (vulgar, derivative, cheap, precious, academic, affected, bourgeois, Victorian, Georgian, ‘literary’, etc.) had better be kept strictly on the taste side of the account. In discovering what attitudes are present you can be as subtle as you like. But in your theological and ethical condemnation (as distinct from your dislike of the taste) you had better be very un-subtle. You had better reserve it for plain mortal sins, and plain atheism and heresy. For our passions are always urging us in the opposite direction, and if we are not careful criticism may become a mere excuse for taking revenge on books whose smell we dislike by erecting our temperamental antipathies into pseudo-moral judgments.

(…)

If any real disagreement remains between us, I anticipate that it will be about my third point—about the distinction there drawn between the real spiritual evil carried or betrayed in a book and mere faults of taste. And on this subject I confess that my critics can present me with a very puzzling dilemma. They can ask me whether the statement, ‘This is tawdry writing’, is an objective statement describing something bad in a book and capable of being true or false, or whether it is merely a statement about the speaker’s own feelings—different in form, but fundamentally the same, as the proposition ‘I don’t like oysters.’ If I choose the latter, then most criticism becomes purely subjective—which I don’t want. If I choose the formed then they can ask me, ‘What are these qualities in a book which you admit to be in some sense good and bad but which, you keep on warning us, are not “really” or “spiritually” good and bad? Is there a kind of good which not good? Is there any good that is not pleasing to God or any bad which is not hateful to Him?’ And if you press me along these lines I end in doubts. But I will not get rid of those doubts by falsifying the little light I already have. That little light seems to compel me to say that there are two kinds of good and bad. The first, such as virtue and vice or love and hatred, besides being good or bad themselves make the possessor good or bad. The second do not. They include such things as physical beauty or ugliness, the possession or lack of a sense of humour, strength or weakness, pleasure or pain. But the two most relevant for us are the two I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, conjugal eros (as distinct from agape, which, of course, is a good of the first class) and physical cleanliness. Surely we have all met people who said, indeed, that the latter was next to godliness, but whose unconscious attitude made it a part of godliness, and no small part? And surely we agree that any good of this second class, however good on its own level, becomes an enemy when it thus assumes demonic pretensions and erects itself into a quasi-spiritual value. As M. de Rougemont has recently told us, the conjugal eros ‘ceases to be a devil only when it ceases to be a god’. My whole contention is that in literature, in addition to the spiritual good and evil which it carries, there is also a good and evil of this second class, a properly cultural or literary good and evil, which must not be allowed to masquerade as good and evil of the first class. And I shall feel really happy about all the minor differences between my critics and me when I find in them some recognition of this danger—some admission that they and I, and all of the like education, are daily tempted to a kind of idolatry.

I am not pretending to know how this baffling phenomenon—the two kinds or levels of good and evil—is to be fitted into a consistent philosophy of values. But it is one thing to be unable to explain a phenomenon, another to ignore it. And I admit that all of these lower goods ought to be encouraged, that, as pedagogues, it is our duty to try to make our pupils happy and beautiful, to give them cleanly habits and good taste; and the discharge of that duty is, of course, a good of the first class. I will admit, too, that evils of this second class are often the result and symptom of real spiritual evil; dirty finger-nails, a sluggish liver, boredom, and a bad English style, may often in a given case result from disobedience, laziness, arrogance, or intemperance. But they may also result from poverty or other misfortune. They may even result from virtue. The man’s ears may be unwashed behind or his English style borrowed from the jargon of the daily press, because he has given to good works the time and every which others use to acquire elegant habits or good language. Gregory the Great, I believe vaunted the barbarity of his style. Our Lord ate with unwashed hands.

I am stating, not solving, a problem,. If my critics want to continue the discussion I think they can do so most usefully by taking it right away from literature and the arts to some other of these mysterious ‘lower goods’—where, probably, all our minds will work more coolly. I should welcome an essay from Brother Every or Mr Bethell on conjugal eros or personal cleanliness. My dilemma about literature is that I admit bad taste to be, in some sense, ‘a bad thing’, but do not think it per se ‘evil’. My critics will probably say the same of physical dirt. If we could thrash the problem out on the neutral ground of clean and dirty fingers, we might return to the battlefield of literature with new lights.

I hope it is now unnecessary to point out that in denying ‘taste’ to be a spiritual value, I am not for a moment suggesting, as Mr Bethell thought (May, 1940, p.357), that it comes ‘under God’s arbitrary condemnation’. I enjoyed my breakfast this morning, and I think that was a good thing and do not think it condemned by God. But I do not think myself a good man for enjoying it. The distinction does not seem to me a very fine one.

Or we could take something like this:

“Christianity and Literature” also in Christian Reflections

The Christian will take literature a little less seriously than the cultured Pagan: he will feel less uneasy with a purely hedonistic standard for at least many kinds of work. The unbeliever is always apt to make a kind of religion of his aesthetic experiences; he feels ethically irresponsible, perhaps, but he braces his strength to receive responsibilities of another kind which seem to a Christian quite illusory. He has to be ‘creative’; he has to obey a mystical amoral law called his artistic conscience; and he commonly wishes to maintain his superiority to the great mass of mankind who turn to books for mere recreation. But the Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world: and as for superiority, he knows that the vulgar since they include most of the poor probably include most of his superiors. He has no objection to comedies that merely amuse and tales that merely refresh; for he thinks like Thomas Aquinas ipsa ratio hoc habet ut quandoque rationis usus intercipiatur. We can play, as we can eat, to the glory of God. It thus may come about that Christian views on literature will strike the world as shallow and flippant; but the world must not misunderstand. When Christian work is done on a serious subject there is no gravity and no sublimity it cannot attain. But they will belong to the theme. That is why they will be real and lasting—mighty nouns with which literature, an adjectival thing, is here united, far over-topping the fussy and ridiculous claims of literature that tries to be important simply as literature. And a posteriori it is not hard to argue that all the greatest poems have been made by men who valued something else much more than poetry—even if that something else were only cutting down enemies in a cattle-raid or tumbling a girl in a bed. The real frivolity, the solemn vacuity, is all with those who make a literature a self-existent thing to be valued for its own sake. Pater prepared for pleasure as if it were martyrdom.

There is quite a succinct statement to be found in one of his letters:

Letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., 16 April 1940

I do most thoroughly agree with what you say about Art and Literature. To my mind they are only healthy when they are either (a) Definitely the handmaids of religious, or at least moral, truth – or (b) Admittedly aiming at nothing but innocent recreation or entertainment. Dante’s alright, and Pickwick is alright. But the great serious irreligious art – art for art’s sake – is all balderdash; and, incidentally, never exists when art is really flourishing. In fact one can say of Art as an author I recently read says of Love (sensual love, I mean) “It ceases to be a devil when it ceases to be a god”. Isn’t that well put? So many things – nay every real thing – is good if only it will be humble and ordinate.

Returning to Christian Reflections here is an extract from the essay “On Church Music”:

The first and most solid conclusion which (for me) emerges is that both musical parties, the High Brows and the Low, assume far too easily the spiritual value of the music they want. Neither the greatest excellence of a trained performance from the choir, nor the heartiest and most enthusiastic bellowing from the pews, must be taken to signify that any specifically religious activity is going on. It may be so, or it may not. Yet the main sense of Christendom, reformed and unreformed, would be against us if we tried to banish music from the Church. It remains to suggest, very tentatively, the ways in which it can really be pleasing to God or help to save the souls of men.

There are two musical situations on which I think we can be confident that a blessing rests. One is where a priest or an organist, himself a man of trained and delicate taste, humbly and charitably sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish, in a belief (even, as it may be, the erroneous belief) that he can thus bring them to God. The other is where the stupid and unmusical layman humbly and patiently, and above all silently, listens to music which he cannot, or cannot fully, appreciate, in the belief that it somehow glorifies God, and that if it does not edify him this must be [p.97]his own defect. Neither such a High Brow nor such a Low Brow can be far out of the way. To both, Church Music will have been a means of grace; not the music they liked, but the music they have disliked. They have both offered, sacrificed, their taste in the fullest sense.

(…)

But I must insist that no degree of excellence in the music, simply as music, can assure us that this paradisal state has been achieved. The excellence proves ‘keenness’; but men can be ‘keen’ for natural, or even wicked motives. The absence of keenness would prove that they lacked the right spirit; its presence does not prove that they have it. We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, ‘Mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills’, and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.

Or we can take a concise statement that summarizes much of what appears above from “Learning in War-Time” from The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses:

We are now in a position to answer the view that human culture is an inexcusable frivolity on the part of creatures loaded with such awful responsibilities as we. I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual or meritorious—as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks. I think it was Matthew Arnold who first used the English word spiritual in the sense of the German geistlich, and so inaugurated this most dangerous and most anti-Christian error. Let us clear it forever from our minds. The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord.”

I think that is a wide enough selection to establish quite thoroughly that for C.S. Lewis, while culture can be innocent and useful, it does not intrinsically possess spiritual value. If we are to spoil the Egyptians, what we must not do is give to their possessions the same value that they did; and, as we see in the case of Achan, or of Demas, sometimes the lure of spoil is one that brings you to destruction.

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Piety Quotations

The Liberality of God

Douglas Wilson, A Fourth Decade of Psalms, Psalm 36

The true God is prodigal with His blessings. He wastes all kinds of stuff. He just throws it around. The true God does not stint. He invites us to come to heaven, which is an everlasting torrent of pleasures and delights. Why do we come into His presence cringing? Afraid that He is only interested in taking things away? What is it to believe this slander? I am afraid that it is the font of all wickedness.

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Essays Piety Quotations

Singing Requires Thought

It would appear that at least large parts of the church have forgotten this important truth. In hymnals that contain a great wealth of doctrinal treasure, reverent settings of the Psalms, the feelings of a truly spiritual devotion one can also come across meaningless excrescences of perhaps a fervent, but certainly an unintelligent piety. Sometimes we are asked to sing to God things which if they were intended must be lies: or we asked to parrot as our own the testimony of some particular individual. These are not trifles: they are things we cannot away with. When the bride of Christ comes to adore Him, shall she bring lies, trivialities and nonsense into His presence? Nothing we do comes up to the full measure of what God deserves; but this is no excuse for outright blasphemy, disrespect or blithering. On this point I can call additional witnesses:

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.20.33

The principle we must always hold is, that in all prayer, public and private, the tongue without the mind must be displeasing to God. [In context, this includes singing –RZ]

And again, this time with two inspired witnesses and one further uninspired witness incorporated:

Albert Barnes, Notes on Amos 5:23

Take thou away from Me. Literally, “from upon Me,” that is, from being a burden to Me, a weight on Me. So God says by Isaiah, “your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth; they are a burden upon Me; I am weary to bear them” (Isaiah 1:14). Their “songs” and hymns were but a confused, tumultuous, “noise,” since they had not the harmony of love.

For (And) the melody of thy viols I will not hear. Yet the “nebel,” probably a sort of harp, was almost exclusively consecrated to the service of God, and the Psalms were God’s own writing. Doubtless they sounded harmoniously in their own ears; but it reached no further. Their melody, like much Church-music, was for itself, and ended in itself. (Lap.):

Let Christian chanters learn hence, not to set the whole devotion of Psalmody in a good voice, subtlety of modulation and rapid intonation, etc., quavering like birds, to tickle the ears of the curious, take them off to themselves and away from prayer, lest they hear from God, ‘I will not hear the melody of thy viols.’ Let them learn that of the Apostle, ‘I will sing with the Spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also’ (1 Corinthians 14:15).

It seems an inevitable deduction to me, that if we are to love God with our minds, we are to worship Him with them as well: and that means we must worship Him with truth, with the great facts and connections and meanings that He has revealed: and with honesty, with things we really mean and can positively affirm. And that means that we can’t turn either our brains or our discernment off, just because we opened our denominationally approved hymnal.

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Piety Quotations

The Self Opposing God

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.12.8

For many sinners, intoxicated with the pleasures of vice, think not of the judgment of God. Lying stupefied, as it were, by a kind of lethargy, they aspire not to the offered mercy. It is not less necessary to shake off torpor of this description than every kind of confidence in ourselves, in order that we may haste to Christ unencumbered, and while hungry and empty be filled with his blessings. Never shall we have sufficient confidence in him unless utterly distrustful of ourselves; never shall we take courage in him until we first despond of ourselves; never shall we have full consolation in him until we cease to have any in ourselves. When we have entirely discarded all self-confidence, and trust solely in the certainty of his goodness, we are fit to apprehend and obtain the grace of God. …let us lay down this short but sure and general rule, That he is prepared to reap the fruits of the divine mercy who has thoroughly emptied himself, I say not of righteousness, (he has none,) but of a vain and blustering show of righteousness; for to whatever extent any man rests in himself, to the same extent he impedes the beneficence of God.

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Piety Quotations

Grant Humility and Confidence

John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Hosea, Prayer at the end of Lecture 37

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so miserable as soon as thou withdrawest thy favour from us, — O grant, that we may deeply feel this conviction, and thus learn to be humble before thee, and to hate our ownselves, and that we may not in the mean time deceive ourselves by such allurements as commonly prevail, to put our hope in creatures or in this world, but raise our minds upwards to thee, and fix on thee our hearts, and never doubt, but that when thou embracest us with thy paternal love, nothing shall be wanting to us. And in the meantime, may we suppliantly flee to thy mercy, and with true and genuine confession, acknowledge this to be our only protection — that thou deign to receive us into favour, and to abolish our sins, into which we not only daily fall, but by which we also deserve eternal death, so that we may daily rise through thy free pardon, till at length our Redeemer Christ thy Son shall appear to us from heaven. Amen.

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