C.S. Lewis, John Calvin and Christian Joy

C.S. Lewis, John Calvin and Christian Joy

C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis

We’ve been dipping into CS Lewis’s wonderful work, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (excluding drama) and have discovered some fascinating insights on the Protestant believers of the 16th Century and the Puritans that followed them in the 17th.

Lewis was never one to hold back his opinion and therefore readers of a variety of theological persuasion will find his views both illuminating and challenging. He has argued that our view of the early Protestant believers and our understanding of the Puritans needs some revision if we’re to understand what really drove their thinking forward:

C.S. Lewis on Protestant Joy: Too glad to be true!
‘It follows that nearly every association which now clings to the word puritan has to be eliminated when we are thinking of the early Protestants. Whatever they were, they were not sour, gloomy, or severe; not did their enemies bring any such charge against them. On the contrary, Harpsfield (in his Life of More) describes their doctrines as ‘easie, short, pleasant lessons’ which lulled the unwary victim in ‘so sweete a sleepe as he was euer after loth to wake from it’. For More, a Protestant was one ‘dronke of the new must of lewd lightnes of minde and vayne gladnesse of harte’ (Dialogue, III.ii)…Protestantism was not too grim, but too glad to be true.’[i]

Calvin’s freedom to enjoy God’s creation
‘Even when we pass on from the first Protestants to Calvin himself we shall find an explicit rejection of ‘that vnciuile [uncivil] and forward philosophy’ which ‘alloweth vs in no vse of the creatures saue that which is needful, and going about (as it were in enuie [envy]) to take from vs the lawful enjoyment of God’s blessings, yet can neuer speede vnless it should stoppe vp all a man’s senses and make him a verie block’.’[ii]

Lewis commends Calvin
‘When God created food, ‘He intended not only the supplying of our necessities but delight and merriment (hilaritas)’.

Clothes serve not only for need but also for ‘comelinesse and honesty’; herbs, trees, and fruits, ‘beside their manifold commodity’, for ‘goodlinesse, brauery, and sweete smelling sauour’.

The right mistake: Protestantism too earth-bound, enjoyable, ‘sensual’
A comparison of the whole passage (Institutio, III.x.2) with, say, the sermons of Fisher, will correct many misapprehensions. When Newman in his Letter to X Y professed an ‘abstract belief in the latent sensuality of Protestantism’, he was, in my opinion, dreadfully mistaken; but at least, like More and Harpsfield, he was making the right mistake, the mistake that is worth discussing. The popular modern view of the matter does not reach that level.’[iii]

CS Lewis on the freedom of the Protestants
‘To be sure, there are standards by which the early Protestants could be called ‘puritanical’; they held adultery, fornication, and perversion for deadly sins. But then so did the Pope. If that is Puritanism, all Christendom was then puritanical together. So far as there was any difference about sexual morality, the Old Religion was the more austere. The exaltation of virginity is a Roman, that of marriage, a Protestant, trait.’[iv]

To read the next post in this series (CSL on 16th Century persecution, including the Calvin and Servetus controversy) click here

To read the first post in this series on CS Lewis click here

©2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1954), p.34

[ii] ibid p.35

[iii] ibid p.35

[iv] ibid p.35

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Noisy Meetings!

The Problem of Praiseless Praise and Joyless Joy!
Most Christians are used to passion in their gathered church meetings. It would be strange, in a perfectly logical sense, to encounter strict formality, dull routine and lacklustre praise (how can you praise someone blandly, with praiseless praise, joyless joy?)

The Bible repeatedly exhorts us to praise God with joy filled hearts and even with shouts of joy!

The Sound Psalmists
David says, ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart’ (Ps 9:1) and the sons of Korah cry repeatedly, ‘Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.’ (Ps 47:6)

You have to admit, you don’t need to go far in the Book of Psalms to realise these guys are exhorting the gathered community of God’s people to exuberant expressions of joy!

Again, Psalm 66:17 says ‘I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.’ And there’s even a Biblical exhortation to clap our hands and shout – during a time of worship!! (see Psalm 47:1)

Anyhow, for the great Evangelistic preachers of the 18th Century, the noise didn’t usually come from meetings of believers.

Noise, sometimes overriding everything else, came from the mobs and crowds that were hired to disrupt their meetings, and who blew trumpets, banged on drums and threw copious amounts of dirt and stones.

The meetings were also disturbed by the loud cries and shrieks of those who were suddenly aware of their desperate need of God’s forgiveness, or who were being delivered from some form of bondage.

Non-Christians behaving, Christians raving!
However, when Wesley visited Gwennap in Cornwall (England) in 1747 he was surprised by a welcome reversal.

A very large crowd gathered to listen attentively to his preaching. Wesley writes, ‘About half an hour after five I began at Gwennap. I was afraid my voice would not suffice for such an immense multitude.

‘But my fear was groundless; as the evening was quite calm, and the people all attention.

‘It was more difficult to be heard in meeting the society, amidst the cries of those, on the one hand, who were pierced through as with a sword, and of those, on the other, who were filled with joy unspeakable.’
(from John Wesley’s Journal, Vol 2, p.62, Baker Edition)

May God give us such ‘revival’ scenes once more, with multitudes gathering to hear the good news of the grace of God in Christ, and church meetings filled with foretastes of heavenly glory.

More next time…

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Whitefield and Harris in Bristol – some further observations

Believers Baptism in the 18th Century
Believers Baptism in the 18th Century

Honouring Christian Leaders from other Church Backgrounds

Whitefield’s friendship with Howell Harris proved to be strategic in a number of ways. Firstly, he began preaching the gospel to massive audiences in the fields. As Whitefield once remarked of Harris, ‘I follow him!’

But due to Harris’ rejection by the Church of England and his friendship with leaders from other church groupings, Whitefield began to meet many other Christian leaders of real weight and authority. Reading his journals, he gives the ‘dissenters’ (non CofE) equal standing with those from the traditional Church.

That openness to evangelical leaders from other church backgrounds was to prove pivotal in Whitefield’s ministry in America (and Scotland) and has been a healthy feature of Evangelists that have followed in Whitefield’s footsteps.

Writing of the Welsh ministers Harris introduced him to, he says, ‘They have many burning and shining lights among both the Dissenting and Church ministers…so that there is a most comfortable prospect of the spreading of the Gospel in Wales.’ (George Whitefield’s Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.231)

We would do well to follow these Evangelists’ example as we seek to see churches planted and the gospel extended around the world.

Whitefield’s gracious leadership before Wesley fully enters the work

One of the frustrating factors for those who know the history of this period is the oft-repeated and incorrect impression that John Wesley was acknowledged as the leader of the new movement at this point.

This simply wasn’t the case. We shall see how Wesley’s formidable preaching and organisational gifts certainly did establish him as the clear leader in Whitefield’s absence. But at this point Wesley, though older in years, and though leading the Society at Oxford, was actually following Whitefield, even as Whitefield was following Harris!

Wesley sent Whitefield a letter about this time in which he excitedly spoke of meetings attended by crowds of two or sometimes three hundred (p.224). Those numbers were not inconsiderable, but he was apparently unaware that Whitefield was preaching out of doors to crowds of 10,000 and 14,000!

Whitefield himself says, ‘I now preach to ten times more people than I should if I had been confined to the churches…Every day I am invited to fresh places.’ (p.233)

Wesley, on seeing Whitefield in action, soon abandoned his stuffy sense of decorum and bravely became a great evangelistic preacher in his own right.

23,000 gather to hear George Whitefield in Bristol!

But before Wesley arrived in Bristol to see the work that Whitefield began, Whitefield himself broke yet another attendance record: ‘Sun Mar 25. Preached at Hannam to a larger congregation than ever, and again in the afternoon to upwards (as was computed) of 23,000 people…Oh may God speak to them by His Spirit.’ (p.238)

Joy in the Holy Spirit

A recurring feature of Whitefield’s beautifully written Journals is the joy he experienced when the Holy Spirit came upon him. Constantly serving those who came to hear him, he speaks of his wages being joy!

‘Mon Mar 26. After I had done [preaching to about 1000], I went to a Christian house, where many waited for me. At my return home, my Master paid me my wages: for my soul was filled with an intenseness of love, and I knew what it is not only to have righteousness and peace, but joy in the Holy Ghost. This is my continual food.’ (p.239)

While we must always remember that our joy is ultimately in our salvation (Luke 10:20) we must also fully embrace the outpoured love of God into our souls as we experience the joy of serving Christ in our generation.

You can purchase Whitefield resources here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Law Cannot Produce Life – Only the Gospel Can

So George Whitefield, merely months before becoming one of England’s youngest and most popular preachers, discovers that he needs to be born again in order to get right with God. He discovers that spiritual life is imparted by God through faith.

But strangely, he then acts in the opposite direction – throwing himself into a round of even more exacting religious exercises and good works, desperately trying to appease God.

The young Charles Wesley
The young Charles Wesley

Self-denial, satanic oppression, sickness and scaring Charles Wesley!
He increases his fasts, he stops eating fruit, giving the money he would have spent to the poor, he goes outside in rain and storm to cry out to God and confess his sinfulness.

Rather than finding relief from any of these exercises he becomes even more disconsolate, fearful and insecure. Feeling himself to be horribly oppressed by the devil he finally decides to ‘forsake’ all, including his new friends and stays in his study for days on end. He becomes physically ill and his tutor sends a physician.

His gloomy, depressed demeanour, the terrible loss of weight, all of this alarms the other students.

Charles Wesley is way out of his depth, doesn’t know what to do, and so refers him to his older brother John (already in his thirties, clearly the leader by this time, but not yet converted).

John painstakingly talks George down from the extremity of legalism in which he is bound and gives him Thomas a Kempis to read. Perhaps John realises even at this point that the strictness of the lifestyle he is promoting, the intensity of examination of every moment, is not working.

Locked in the second half of Romans 7

George seemed to have been caged in experience into what Paul merely illustrates in Romans 7:7-25.

There, Paul illustrates the inability of the Law to produce freedom from sin. Life is in the Gospel not in the Law. George Whitefield, having been awakened to the rightness of God’s Commands, then went on to try and justify himself through religious duty to fulfill those Commands. But Paul clearly demonstrates that the Law cannot produce life – only Christ can.

But, as in Paul’s illustration, so in real life, and as Whitefield was about to experience – the bondage of the cycle of sin and death is broken only by the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Finally the breakthrough
Whitefield had come to that great pre-conversion cry, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?’ (Rom 7:24)

In his Journal he records, ‘God was pleased to set me free in the following manner. One day, perceiving an uncommon drought and a disagreeable clamminess in my mouth and using things to allay my thirst, but in vain, it was suggested to me, that when Jesus Christ cried out, ‘I thirst!’ His sufferings were near at an end. Upon which I cast myself down on the bed, crying out, ‘I thirst! I thirst!’’

From Mourning to Dancing
Although it seems a small thing – to be desperately thirsty, and to somehow see that when Christ cried out that He thirsted, it was near the end of His anguish – yet, here’s the point, when George Whitefield cried out to God, God intervened and heard him.

‘Soon after this’, writes George, ‘I found and felt in myself that I was delivered from the burden that had so heavily oppressed me. The spirit of mourning was taken from me and I knew what it was truly to rejoice in God my Saviour; and, for some time, could not avoid singing psalms wherever I was…’

‘Thus were the days of my mourning ended. After a long night of desertion and temptation, the Star, which I had seen at a distance before [referring to the doctrine of the New Birth in Scougal’s book], began to appear again, and the Day Star arose in my heart.

Now did the Spirit of God take possession of my soul, and, as I humbly hope, seal me unto the day of redemption.’ (GW Journals, Banner of Truth, p.58)

Well, he had wrestled and struggled and, at last, discovered God’s free and Sovereign grace. Being now certain of the new birth in his own experience he began to proclaim the message of it to the English speaking world.

To read more about Whitefield click here
To read the first part of Whitefield’s story click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Sarah Edwards and Foretastes of Heavenly Glory!

Sarah Pierpont Edwards, by John Badger c.1750
Sarah Pierpont Edwards, by John Badger c.1750

We’ve been enjoying Sarah Edwards’ articulate descriptions of being filled with Holy Spirit during the 1741-1742 revival in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Here, she concludes her experience…

Monday morning at the Edwards’ house…
‘So strong were my feelings, I could not refrain from conversing with those around me, in a very earnest manner, for about a quarter of an hour, on the infinite riches of divine love in the work of salvation.’

Carried to the fireside entirely without strength
‘[Then], my strength entirely failing, my flesh grew very cold, and they carried me and set me by the fire.
As I sat there, I had a most affecting sense of the mighty power of Christ, which had been exerted in what he had done for my soul…and of the glorious and wonderful grace of God in causing the ark to return to Northampton.’

Mrs. Edwards leaps for joy!
‘So intense were my feelings, when speaking of these things, that I could not forbear rising up and leaping with joy and exultation.’

The Following Sunday at church…a foretaste of heavenly glory!

‘When I heard him [the preacher, William Williams] say, that those, who have assurance, have a foretaste of heavenly glory, I knew the truth of it from what I then felt: I knew that I then tasted the clusters of the heavenly Canaan: My soul was filled and overwhelmed with light, and love, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and seemed just ready to go away from the body. I could scarcely refrain from expressing my joy aloud, in the midst of the service.’

(From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41)

This was not ‘mere excitement’
Over-emotional? Iain Murray, himself wary of mere emotionalism, writes, ‘her joy, it should be noted, was far from the exuberance of mere excitement.’ (Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.196)

And her loving husband Jonathan writes of his wife’s ‘season in the Spirit’, ‘It was the greatest, fullest, longest continued and most constant assurance of the favour of God and of a title to future glory that I ever saw…in any person.’ (Quoted by Murray, p.195-6)

May God the Father bless you with similar assurances of His love for you in Christ, by the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

‘The Happy Ones!’ – Jonathan and Sarah Edwards in their Own Words

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards
Jonathan and Sarah Edwards

When a revival of Christianity took place in Northampton, Massachusetts in the early 1700’s Jonathan Edwards unexpectedly became the apologist of the new movement, warts and all.

His discernment and level-headedness in the midst of much religious excitement and emotion have impressed Christian leaders ever since.

As a young Pastor in his early thirties he led the congregation and the town through a turbulent and spiritually explosive time with great ability.

Edwards defended the fact that a powerful apprehension of God’s glory does tend to affect people in noticeable ways, particularly in their emotions, but sometimes even physically.

Because this was a major cause of concern and criticism from those outside the town he tends to speak quite a lot about it when discussing that period.

‘Joy inexpressible and full of glory!’
He had himself experienced something of the overwhelming love of God. Iain Murray in his biography of Edwards records one such moment:

‘Another Saturday night (Jan 1739) I had such a sense, how sweet and blessed a thing it was to walk in the way of duty; to do that which was right and meet to be done, and agreeable to the holy mind of God; that it caused me to break forth into a kind of loud weeping, which held me some time, so that I was forced to shut myself up, and fasten the doors.

I could not but, as it were, cry out, ‘How happy are they who do that which is right in the sight of God! They are blessed indeed. They are the happy ones!’ (Quoted by Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.146)

But not only had Jonathan had personal encounters of joy and delight in God’s presence; so had his wife!

And, certainly by the time he published ‘Religious Affections’ in 1746, he was surely drawing not only on his general pastoral experience but also on the experience of the woman he both loved and trusted.

He apparently urged her to write her story down. In this, and the next post, we’ll listen to her testimony of God’s presence and power.  She was 32 when she wrote of her experience.

Justified by faith and free from accusation!
Having described her longing for a more profound experience of God’s grace, she began reading Romans 8 once again, and particularly Rom 8:33f

‘Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom 8:33-35 KJV)

She writes,
‘The words…were impressed on my heart with vastly greater power and sweetness still.  They appeared to me with undoubted certainty as the words of God, and as words which God did pronounce concerning me.

I had no more doubt of it than I had of my being.  I seemed as it were to hear the great God proclaiming thus to the world concerning me; ‘Who shall lay anything to thy charge’, and had it strongly impressed on me how impossible it was for anything in heaven or earth, in this world or the future, ever to separate me from the love of God which was in Christ Jesus.

I cannot find language to express how certain this appeared…My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love seemed as durable and unchangeable as God Himself.

Melted and overcome by the sweetness of this assurance, I fell into a great flow of tears and could not forbear weeping aloud.  It appeared certain to me that God was my Father, and Christ my Lord and Saviour, that He was mine and I His.’ (From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41) also for pictures above)

More next time…I’m struggling to keep these posts short!

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Tender Care of the Puritan Pastor

heaven-on-earth

Perhaps we have become accustomed to rough preaching. Perhaps we don’t listen as carefully unless we are shocked by an abrasive style. Perhaps our senses are dull through the constant overload of information.

I invite you to come and bask in the warmth of the pastoral care of the much-loved Puritan Thomas Brooks. Let this first passage from his outstanding book, ‘Heaven on Earth’ enliven you to the treasures of puritan literature.

And if you are a leader in the church, perhaps these words will refresh you once again, in your high calling, and in God’s own love for His Bride.

Brooks’ opinion of Christian Believers
‘Beloved in our dearest Lord: You are those worthies of whom this world is not worthy. You are the princes that prevail with God. You are those excellent ones in whom is all Christ’s delight. You are His glory. You are His picked, culled, prime instruments which He will make use of to carry on His best and greatest work against His worst and greatest enemies in these later days. You are a seal upon Christ’s heart…You are the anointed of Christ…You have the greatest advantages and the choicest privileges to enable you to try truth, to taste truth, to apply truth, to defend truth…You have the next place to Christ in my heart…’ (from his introduction to ‘Heaven on Earth’)

On non-believers needing to be convinced of sin

‘Men must first see their sins, they must be sensible of their sins, before they can repent of their sins…Till he sees he is out of the way, he walks still on.’ (p.221)

‘The sweetest joys are from the sourest tears; penitent tears are the breeders of spiritual joy.’ (p.222)

On why the Christian loves Jesus

‘The true bred Christian loves Christ for Christ; he loves Christ for that internal and eternal worth that is in Him.’ (p.239)

On Prayer
‘As a painted fire is no fire, a dead man no man, so a cold prayer is no prayer…Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings: they peirce not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers do always freeze before they reach to heaven.’ (p.261)

‘Christ hath a a full purse, a noble heart, and a liberal hand.’ (p.264)

‘The tears of the saints have such a kind of omnipotency in them, that God Himself cannot withstand them.’ (p.316)

On Final Perseverance
‘That ship will never be split upon the rocks, whose anchor is in Heaven.’ (p.282)

The supremacy of the Spirit in growth of the believer

‘Nothing makes the heart delight more in the love, study, practice, and growth of holiness, that in the glorious testimony of the Holy Spirit.’ (p.303)

All quotations and page references are taken from Heaven on Earth, Banner of Truth.

Read the next post on ‘The Puritans and Sin’

You can purchase ‘Heaven on Earth’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides