10 quotes from C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.”
Jesus’s work is much more invasive than we naturally suppose.
I began 2020 in earnest with the resolution to read more C. S. Lewis. His writings, until recently, have remained somewhat obscure to me, relegated to merely a colloquial knowledge of his assumptions and assertions. I will admit that Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia was until last year the only work of his that I had ever read in full. I determined to change that — and to some degree I would say I was successful. I ended up finishing Lewis’s The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses and, most recently, his seminal work, Mere Christianity. Rather than compose an in-depth review of this classic book, I am opting to share some of my favorite quotes and excerpts, offering a comment or two as I see fit along the way.1 I pray these lines impact you the way they did me and, perhaps, inspire you to read (or re-read) this wonderful apologetic of the Christian faith.
1: Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. (42)
2: Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. (125)
3: The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God. (178)
4: Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor — that is the only way out of our “hole”. This process of surrender — this movement full speed astern — is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. (57)
Lewis asserts throughout the book that Jesus’s work is much more invasive than we naturally suppose. This passage, in particular, brings that point home with the understanding that repentance is “a kind of death.” That is, it’s much more profound a thing than simply “a 180-degree turn” — it’s resurrection.
5: No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good . . . Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. (142)
6: Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive. (115)
This quote is has been particularly hard to escape for some while now. I think because it speaks to our natural tendencies. We are so often hard on others while being light on ourselves. We are quick to dole out justice but even quicker to assume that forgiveness is something we’re owed.
7: If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. (156)
Indeed, that is true. If the gospel is merely “good advice,” there are plenty of other resources at our fingertips that offer better advice. More helpful insights into “living better.” But, in fact, the gospel is not good advice. It’s good news. It’s the best announcement of all — namely, that God himself has come and died for our sins. Yours. Mine. And the entire world’s.
8: The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him. (133)
9: God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form. (53)
I love the imagery this quote evokes. It suggests that the Incarnation of God in Christ isn’t merely some quaint nativity scene picture. It’s the invasion of the Light into the darkness. It signals that the beachhead of God’s reclamation and redemption of creation has begun.
10: What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods” — be their own masters — invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. (49–50)
I haven’t ranked these quotes, per se, but if I had to choose, this last quote is would be my favorite in the entire book. It was instrumental in my studies for my sermon series through Ecclesiastes, as I think it encapsulates what the Preacher was wrestling with throughout that Old Testament book. There is nothing at all that can deliver on the promise of deep, abiding happiness except for the promise of God himself. And, indeed, he promises himself to us in the person of Christ, the Yes and Amen “for every one of God’s promises” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Every quote has been excerpted from C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2001).