Category Archives: Wisdom

“Sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job” by C.S. Lewis

“To Sheldon Vanauken

Magdalen College,
Oxford
January 5, 1951

Dear Mr. Van Auken,

We must ask three questions about the probable effect of changing your research subject to something more theological.

(1.) Would it be better for your immediate enjoyment? Answer, probably but not certainly, Yes.

(2.) Would it be better for your academic career? Answer, probably No. You would have to make up in haste a lot of knowledge which could not be very easily digested in the time.

(3.) Would it be better for your soul? I don’t know.

I think there is a great deal to be said for having one’s deepest spiritual interest distinct from one’s ordinary duty as a student or professional man.

St Paul’s job was tent-making. When the two coincide I should have thought there was a danger lest the natural interest in one’s job and the pleasures of gratified ambition might be mistaken for spiritual progress and spiritual consolation: and I think clergymen sometimes fall into this trap.

Contrariwise, there is the danger that what is boring or repellent in the job may alienate one from the spiritual life. And finally someone has said ‘None are so unholy as those whose hands are cauterized with holy things: sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job.

You now want truth for her own sake: how will it be when the same truth is also needed for an effective footnote in your thesis?

In fact, the change might do good or harm. I’ve always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by.

On the whole, I’d advise you to get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you quite as much about God as academic Theology would do.

Mind, I’m not certain: but that is the view I incline to.

Yours,

C. S. Lewis”

–C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 – 1963, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 3: 82-83. Vanauken had asked Lewis his opinion as to whether he should continue with his postgraduate work in history or study theology.

  1. Francis Bacon, Essays (1625), ‘Of Atheism’: ‘The great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling; so as they must needs be cauterized in the end.’

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“Our best havings are wantings” by C.S. Lewis

“All joy (as distinct from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasizes our pilgrim status: always reminds, beckons, awakes desire.

Our best havings are wantings.”

–C.S. Lewis, Letters of C.S. Lewis, eds. W.H. Lewis and Walter Hooper (New York: Harper, 1966), 565.

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“Put first things first” by C.S. Lewis

“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.

From which it would follow that the question, ‘What things are first?’ is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.

It is impossible, in this context, not to inquire what our own civilization has been putting first for the last thirty years. And the answer is plain.

It has been putting itself first.”

–C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” God in the Dock: Essays on God and Ethics, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harper, 1970), 280-281.

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“As an expositor of Scripture, I regard Manton with unmingled admiration” by J.C. Ryle

“As an expositor of Scripture, I regard Manton with unmingled admiration. Here, at any rate, he is ‘facile princeps’ (‘easily the first or best’) among the divines of the Puritan school.

The value of expository preaching is continually pressed on ministers in the present day, and not without reason.

The end of all preaching is to bring men under the influence of God’s Word; and nothing seems so likely to make men understand and value the Word as lectures in which the Word is explained.

It was so in Chrysostom’s days; it ought to be so again. The idea, no doubt, like every good theory, may be easily ridden to death; and I believe that with ignorant, semi-heathen congregations, a short pithy text often does more good than a long passage expounded.

But I have no doubt of the immense value of expository preaching, when people will bring their Bibles to the service, and accompany the preacher as he travels on, or go home to their Bibles after the service, and compare what they have heard with the written Word.

I hold it to be a prime excellence of Manton’s expository sermons that, while they are very full, they are never too long.

For my own part, I am painfully struck with the general neglect with which these expository works of Manton’s have been treated of late. Modern commentators who are very familiar with German commentaries seem hardly to know of the existence of Manton’s expositions.

Yet I venture boldly to say, that no student of the chapters I have named will ever fail to find new light thrown on their meaning by Manton. I rejoice to think that now at length these valuable works are about to become accessible to the general public.

They have been too long buried, and it is high time they should be brought to light. I value their author most highly as a man, a writer, and a theologian; but if I must speak out all I think, there is no part in which I value him more than as a homiletical expositor of Scripture.

It only remains for me to express my earnest hope that this new edition of Manton’s works may prove acceptable to the public, and meet with many purchasers and readers.

If any one wants to buy a good specimen of a Puritan divine, my advice unhesitatingly is, ‘Let him buy Manton.’

We have fallen upon evil days both for thinking and reading. Sermons which contain thought and matter are increasingly rare.

The inexpressible shallownesss, thinness, and superficiality of many popular sermons in this day is something lamentable and appalling.

Readers of real books appear to become fewer and fewer every year. Newspapers, and magazines, and periodicals seem to absorb the whole reading powers of the rising generation. What it will all end in God only knows.

The prospect before us is sorrowful and humiliating.

In days like these, I am thankful that the publishers of Manton’s Works have boldly come forward to offer some real literary gold to the reading public. I earnestly trust that they will meet with the success which they deserve.

If any recommendation of mine can help them in bringing out the writings of this admirable Puritan in a new form, I give it cheerfully and with all my heart.

J.C. RYLE,
Vicar of Stradbroke, Suffolk.
29th October 1870.”

–J.C. Ryle, “An Estimate of Thomas Manton,” in Thomas Manton, The Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1871/2020), 2: xvii–xix.

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“Union with Christ is the greatest and most glorious grace that we can be made partakers of in this world” by John Owen

“Union with Christ is the greatest, most honourable, and glorious of all graces that we are made partakers of. It is called ‘glory,’ (2 Cor. 3:18).

The greatest humiliation of the Son of God consisted in His taking upon Him of our nature, (Heb. 2:8-9).

And this was ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich,’—rich in the eternal glory, the glory that He had with the Father before the world was, (John 17:5), as being in Himself ‘God over all, blessed for ever,’ (Rom. 9:5),— ‘for our sakes He became poor,’ (2 Cor. 8:9), by taking on Him that nature which is poor in itself, infinitely distanced from Him, and exposed unto all misery.

All which our apostle fully expresseth, (Phil. 2:5–7), ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.’

There was indeed great grace and condescension in all that He did and humbled Himself unto in that nature, as it follows in that place, ‘And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,’ (Phil. 2:8).

But His assumption of the nature itself was that whereby most signally ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, He ’emptied’ and ‘humbled Himself, and made Himself of no reputation.’

On this all that followed did ensue, and on this it did depend. From hence all His actings and sufferings in that nature received their dignity and efficacy.

All, I say, that Christ, as our mediator, did and underwent in our nature, had its worth, merit, use, and prevalency from His first condescension in taking our nature upon Him; for from thence it was that whatever He so did or suffered, it was the doing and suffering of the Son of God.

And, on the contrary, our grace of union with Christ, our participation of Him and His nature, is our highest exaltation, the greatest and most glorious grace that we can be made partakers of in this world.

He became poor for our sakes, by a participation of our nature, that we through His poverty may be rich in a participation of His, (2 Cor. 8:9). And this is that which gives worth and excellency unto all that we may be afterwards intrusted with.

The grace and privileges of believers are very great and excellent, but yet they are such as do belong unto them that are made partakers of Christ, such as are due to the quickening and adorning of all the members of His body; as all privileges of marriage, after marriage contracted, arise from and follow that contract.

For being once made co-heirs with Christ, we are made heirs of God, and have a right to the whole inheritance.

And, indeed, what greater glory or dignity can a poor sinner be exalted unto, than to be thus intimately and indissolubly united unto the Son of God, the perfection whereof is the glory which we hope and wait for, (John 17:22-23)?

Saith David, in an earthly, temporary concern, ‘What am I, and what is my father’s family, that I should be son-in-law unto the king, being a poor man, and lightly esteemed?’ (1 Samuel 18:23)

How much more may a sinner say, ‘What am I, poor, sinful dust and ashes, one that deserves to be lightly esteemed by the whole creation of God, that I should be thus united unto the Son of God, and thereby become His son by adoption!’

This is honour and glory unparalleled. And all the grace that ensues receives its worth, its dignity, and use from hence.

Therefore are the graces and the works of believers excellent, because they are the graces and works of them that are united unto.”

–John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 4, The Works of John Owen (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1667/1854), 4: 148–149.

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“God in the beginning made all things good, glorious, and beautiful” by John Owen

“The Lord, indeed, hath laid out and manifested infinite wisdom in His works of creation, providence, and governing of His world: in wisdom hath he made all His creatures. ‘How manifold are His works! In wisdom hath He made them all; the earth is full of His riches,’ (Ps. 104:24).

So in His providence, His supportment and guidance of all things, in order to one another, and His own glory, unto the ends appointed for them; for all these things ‘come forth from the LORD of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working,’ (Isa. 28:29).

His law also is for ever to be admired, for the excellency of the wisdom therein, (Deut. 4:7-8).

But yet there is that which Paul is astonished at, and wherein God will for ever be exalted, which he calls, ‘The depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God,’ (Rom. 11:33);—that is only hid in and revealed by Christ.

Hence, as he is said to be ‘the wisdom of God,’ and to be ‘made unto us wisdom;’ so the design of God, which is carried along in Him, and revealed in the gospel, is called ‘the wisdom of God,’ and a ‘mystery; even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world was; which none of the princes of this world knew,’ (1 Cor. 2:7-8).

In Ephesians 3:10 it is called, ‘The manifold wisdom of God.’ And to discover the depth and riches of this wisdom, he tells us in that verse that it is such, that principalities and powers, that very angels themselves, could not in the least measure get any acquaintance with it, until God, by gathering of a church of sinners, did actually discover it.

Hence Peter informs us, that they who are so well acquainted with all the works of God, do yet bow down and desire with earnestness to look into these things (the things of the wisdom of God in the gospel), (1 Pet. 1:12).

It asks a man much wisdom to make a curious work, fabric, and building; but if one shall come and deface it, to raise up the same building to more beauty and glory than ever, this is excellence of wisdom indeed.

God in the beginning made all things good, glorious, and beautiful. When all things had an innocency and beauty, the clear impress of his wisdom and goodness upon them, they were very glorious; especially man, who was made for His special glory.

Now, all this beauty was defaced by sin, and the whole creation rolled up in darkness, wrath, curses, confusion, and the great praise of God buried in the heaps of it.

Man, especially, was utterly lost, and came short of the glory of God, for which he was created, (Rom. 3:23). Here, now, doth the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God open itself.

A design in Christ shines out from His bosom, that was lodged there from eternity, to recover things to such an estate as shall be exceedingly to the advantage of His glory, infinitely above what at first appeared, and for the putting of sinners into inconceivably a better condition than they were in before the entrance of sin.”

–John Owen, “On Communion With God,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1657/1976), 2: 88-89.

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“The encouragement of good theology” by John Webster

“The encouragement of good theology requires that certain interventions be made in order to promote certain practices and achieve certain ends.

Thus, for example, I shall argue that among the most important practices which need to be cultivated – especially at the present time– are textual practices, habits of reading.

There can be few things more necessary for the renewal of Christian theology than the promotion of awed reading of classical Christian texts, scriptural and other, precisely because a good deal of modern Christian thought has adopted habits of mind which have led to disenchantment with the biblical canon and the traditions of paraphrase and commentary by which the culture of Christian faith has often been sustained.

Such practices of reading and interpretation, and the educational and political strategies which surround them, are central to the task of creating the conditions for the nurture of Christian theology.

Fostering the practice of Christian theology will involve the cultivation of persons with specific habits of mind and soul. It will involve “culture” in the sense of formation.

To put the matter in its simplest and yet most challenging form; being a Christian theologian/ involves the struggle to become a certain kind of person, one shaped by the culture of Christian faith.

But once again, this is not some sort of unproblematic, passive socialization into a world of already achieved meanings and roles. It is above all a matter of interrogation by the gospel, out of which the theologian seeks to make his or her own certain dispositions and habits, filling them out in disciplined speech and action.

Such seeking is painful; as a form of conversion it involves the strange mixture of resistance and love which is near the heart of real dealings with the God who slays us in order to make us alive.

Good theological practice depends on good theologians; and good theologians are— among other things— those formed by graces which are the troubling, eschatological gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

—John Webster, The Culture of Theology, Eds. Ivor J. Davidson and Alden C. McCray (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 45-46.

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