“The greatest evil” by C.S. Lewis

“I like bats much better than bureaucrats. I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’ The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint.

It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result.

But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business con­cern.”

–C.S. Lewis, “Preface to the 1961 Edition,” in The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition (New York: HarperCollins, 1942/1996), xxxvii.

“Rejoice that your names are written heaven” by D.A. Carson

“The story is told of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the most influential preachers of the twentieth century.

When he was dying of cancer, one of his friends and former associates asked him, in effect, ‘How are you managing to bear up? You have been accustomed to preaching several times a week. You have begun important Christian enterprises; your influence has extended through tapes and books to Christians on five continents. And now you have been put on the shelf. You are reduced to sitting quietly, sometimes managing a little editing. I am not so much asking therefore how you are coping with the disease itself. Rather, how are you coping with the stress of being out of the swim of things?’

Lloyd-Jones responded in the words of Luke 10: ‘[D]o not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20—though of course Lloyd-Jones would have cited the King James Version).

The quotation was remarkably apposite. The disciples have just returned from a trainee mission, and marvel that ‘even the demons submit to us in your name’ (10:17).

At one level, Jesus encourages them. He assures them that (in some visionary experience?) he has seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven (10:18). Apparently Jesus understands this trainee mission by his disciples as a sign, a way-stage, of Satan’s overthrow, accomplished in principle at the cross (cf. Rev. 12:9–12).

He tells his disciples that they will witness yet more astonishing things than these (Luke 10:18–19). ‘However,’ he adds (and then come the words quoted by Lloyd-Jones), ‘do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20).

It is so easy to rejoice in success. Our self-identity may become entangled with the fruitfulness of our ministry. Of course, that is dangerous when the success turns sour—but that is not the problem here.

Things could not be going better for Jesus’ disciples. And then the danger, of course, is that it is not God who is being worshiped. Our own wonderful acceptance by God himself no longer moves us, but only our apparent success.

This has been the sin of more than a few ‘successful’ pastors, and of no fewer ‘successful’ lay people. While proud of their orthodoxy and while entrusted with a valid mission, they have surreptitiously turned to idolizing something different: success.

Few false gods are so deceitful. When faced with such temptations, it is desperately important to rejoice for the best reasons—and there is none better than that our sins are forgiven, and that by God’s own gracious initiative our names have been written in heaven.”

–D.A. Carson, “February 24” in For the Love of God: a Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word (vol. 1; Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 55.

“That old serpent” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us first mark in this passage, the power and unwearied malice of the devil. That old serpent who tempted Adam to sin in Paradise, was not afraid to assault the second Adam, the Son of God.

Whether he understood that Jesus was ‘God manifest in the flesh’ may perhaps be doubted. But that he saw in Jesus One who had come into the world to overthrow his kingdom, is clear and plain.

He had seen what happened at our Lord’s baptism. He had heard the marvellous words from heaven. He felt that the great Friend of man was come, and that his own dominion was in peril.

The Redeemer had come. The prison door was about to be thrown open. The lawful captives were about to be set free. All this, we need not doubt, Satan saw, and resolved to fight for his own.

The prince of this world would not give way to the Prince of peace without a mighty struggle.

He had overcome the first Adam in the garden of Eden;—why should be not overcome the second Adam in the wilderness? He had spoiled man once of Paradise;—why should he not spoil him of the kingdom of God?”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, Vol. 1 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 108. Ryle is commenting on Luke 4:1-13.

“The goodness of a wonder-working God” by John Newton

“The believer shall so conquer in the close of the campaign, that he shall never hear the sound of war any more and so conquer in time as to triumph to eternity.

This we owe to Jesus. We overcome not by our own might, but by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of His testimony.

He has conquered for us, and He goes before us, and He fights in us by His Spirit, and in His own time He will bruise Satan under our feet.

In the meanwhile, He will be your strength and your shield. He will be your song and your salvation. In His name you may lift up your banner, and bid defiance to Satan and all his hosts…

I think, when the Lord permits us all to meet here again together, we shall have much to say on the subject of redeeming love.

We shall have much to ascribe to the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of a wonder-working God, who causes light to shine out of darkness, and has given us the light of the knowledge of His glory in the person of Jesus Christ.

What an amazing change in our state, in our heart, in our views, is the result of this discovery! Old things pass away. All things become new.

Then we see how unavoidably we must be men wondered at by all who have not experienced the same things, and we are content to be so for His sake who has loved us, and to account His cross our glory.

Believe me to be, my dear Sir, most affectionately your’s, in the nearest and strongest bond of friendship,

John Newton”

–John Newton Letter V to Mr. William Cowper, March 15, 1770,” in The Works of John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 6: 155–156.

“The Lord of Hosts is on our side” by John Newton

“I can only advise you to resist, to the utmost, every dark and discouraging suggestion. The Lord has done great things for you, and wonderfully appeared in your behalf already.

Take encouragement from hence to hope that He will not forsake the work of His own hands (Judges 13:23). There is much weight in the apostle’s argument in Romans 5:10.

Surely He who showed us mercy before we asked it, will not withhold it now that He has taught us how to plead for it agreeably to His own will. Though sin has abounded in us, grace has superabounded in Him.

Though our enemies are many and mighty, Jesus is above them all.

Though He may hide Himself from us at times for a moment, He has given us a warrant to trust in Him, even while we walk in darkness, and has promised to return and gather us with everlasting mercies.

The Christian calling, like many others, is easy and clear in theory, but not without much care and difficulty to be reduced to practice. Things appear quite otherwise, when felt experimentally, to what they do when only read in a book.

Many learn the art of navigation by the fireside at home, but when they come to sea, with their heads full of rules, and without experience, they find that the art is only to be thoroughly learned upon the spot.

So, to renounce self, to live upon Jesus, to walk with God, to overcome the world, to hope against hope, to trust the Lord when we cannot trace Him, and to know that our duty and privilege consist in these things, may be readily acknowledged or quickly learned.

But, upon repeated trial, we find, that saying and doing are two things. We think at setting out that we sit down and count the cost. But, alas! Our views are so superficial at first, that we have occasion to correct our estimate daily.

For every day shows us some new thing in the heart, or some new turn in the management of the war against us which we were not aware of. And upon these accounts, discouragements may arise so high as to bring us (I speak for myself) to the very point of throwing down our arms, and making either a tame surrender or a shameful flight.

Thus it would be with us at last, if the Lord of Hosts were not on our side. But though our enemies thrust sore at us that we might fall, He has been our stay.

And if He is the captain of our salvation, if His eye is upon us, if His arm stretched out around us, if His ear open to our cry, and if He has engaged to teach our hands to war, and our fingers to fight, and to cover our heads in the day of battle, then we need not fear, though a host rise up against us.

But, lifting up our banner in His name, let us go forth conquering and to conquer (Romans 16:20).

We hope we shall all be better acquainted soon. We please ourselves with agreeable prospects and proposals but the determination is with the Lord.

We may rejoice that it is. He sees all things in their dependencies and connections, which we see not, and therefore He often thwarts our wishes for our good.

But if we are not mistaken, if any measure we have in view would, upon the whole, promote our comfort, or His glory, He will surely bring it to pass in answer to prayer, how improbable whatsoever it might appear.

For He delights in the satisfaction and prosperity of His people, and without a need-be, they shall never be in heaviness. Let us strive and pray for an habitual resignation to His will for He does all things well.

It is never ill with us but when our evil hearts doubt or forget this plainest of truths.

I beg an interest in your prayers, and that you will believe me to be,

Your affectionate servant,

John Newton”

–John Newton, Letter I to Mr. William Cowper, July 30, 1767,” The Works of John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 6: 141–143.

“I will pray” by John Bunyan

“Now, while these Scriptures lay before me, and laid sin ‘anew’ at my door, that saying in the 18th of Luke, with others, did encourage me to prayer.

Then the tempter again laid at me very sore, suggesting, That neither the mercy of God, nor yet the blood of Christ, did at all concern me, nor could they help me for my sin; ‘therefore it was in vain to pray.’

Yet, thought I, I will pray.

But, said the tempter, your sin is unpardonable.

Well, said I, I will pray.

It is to no boot, said he.

Yet, said I, I will pray.

So I went to prayer to God; and while I was at prayer, I uttered words to this effect:

Lord, Satan tells me that neither Thy mercy, nor Christ’s blood, is sufficient to save my soul.

Lord, shall I honour Thee most, by believing Thou wilt and canst? or ‘him,’ by believing thou neither wilt nor canst?

Lord, I would fain honour Thee, by believing Thou wilt and canst.”

–John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Works of John Bunyan, Vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 31-32. [HT: MED]

“Prosperity knits a man to the World” by C.S. Lewis

“The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally. The long, dull monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere.

The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it– all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.

If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him.

His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we want.

You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old. The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else.

This is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unravelling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth. While they are young we find them always shooting off at a tangent.

Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry— the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon– are always blowing our whole structure away.

They will not apply themselves steadily to worldly advancement, prudent connections, and the policy of safety first. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or ‘science’ or psychology, or what not.

Real worldliness is a work of time– assisted, of course, by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense or Maturity or Experience… Whatever you do, keep your patient as safe as you possibly can,

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE”

–C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillian, 1950), 143-145.