The classic Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis, the most important Christian writer of the 20th century, contains nine sermons delivered by Lewis during World War Two. The nine addresses in Weight of Glory offer guidance, inspiration, and a compassionate apologetic for the Christian faith during a time of great doubt.
The Weight of Glory
This sermon was preached when England was at war with Germany, on June 8, 1941. People were probably at that time struggling with issues like truth, and justice and relevance in a world that is falling apart. Lewis puts forward the idea that a desire for reward is a basically biblical idea. He goes on to state that the appeals in scripture are actually given with desire in mind, and that desire is built into the design of man. He also states that the reward fits the behavior and is not an inappropriate or mercenary reward but the culmination of the activity. “The proper rewards are not tacked onto the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”
He goes on to make the point that within us is the desire for heaven since that is what we were created for. I also appreciate his discussion of the concept that our memories of things that are good are actually memories of memories, that is the good things we have experienced in our lives are mere shadows of the desire within us for the ultimate good, heaven. This is helpful in understanding the longing within us, for that other land is something yet not experienced and should not be confused with those things that have awakened that desire within us. Lewis wrote about this longing in Till We Have Faces also, “Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. All my life the God of the Mountain has been wooing me. Oh, look up once at least before the end and wish me joy. I am going to my lover.” This longing I would agree with Lewis is in the heart of every man. His argument is very successful because it appeals to that inner truth that is part of general revelation. The passage in Romans Chapter 8 indicates that man desires the redemption of creation, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now”. Romans 8:20-22. This passage supports what Lewis is saying, in the heart of all mankind there is a longing for everything to be put right once again.
The other very good insight Lewis makes in this sermon is the value we are to place on each other. We truly have never met a mortal person. We all shall live forever. This should have an impact on how we think about people.
Learning in War Time
I really appreciate Lewis’ argument here. He states that we are never really secure in life. Human life is lived on a precipice of constant danger. He also states that if we waited until we were safe to pursue beauty we would never begin that pursuit. Lewis preached this sermon in 1939 while tensions over the war in Europe were raging. Lewis as an former soldier and Christian was called in to set things in perspective. I am certain he was addressing the question, “Why should we continue with our studies when the world is hanging on the edge of disaster?” He divides the question into two categories, one is the need for the saving of souls, and secondly the need for exclusive nationalism.
He goes on to discuss the idea of the totality of life being offered to God. This brings glory to God and is in line with our purpose. Also Lewis makes the point that the pursuit of the mind is essential for addressing the intellectual attacks of the heathen. If believers don’t pursue intellectual understanding we are in essence laying down our weapons and abdicating the realm of intellect to the enemy. The unlearned and naive will become fair game then for this kind of attack.
He goes on to mention three mental exercises to defend against three mental attacks for the scholar. First the battle against excitement. To battle against this way of thinking is to realize that a perfect time will never come. It is the old axiom we use, “The tyranny of the urgent!”. We will always have external situations that wage war against our thinking and demand our attention. We must come to the realization that this will always be and we must continue with the really important things, not be ruled by that dreaded tyrant.
Secondly the battle is against frustration. We will all face that nagging feeling that we don’t have enough time to complete the things God has called us to do. I know for myself that is a pressing feeling at times. The answer here is to commend the future to God. We are to do our work daily unto the Lord and find our fulfillment in the present work.
Thirdly the battle is against fear. Mainly fear of death. Lewis points out that even war doesn’t increase the percentage of deaths, it is still 100%, it just makes us more aware of our own mortality. I would agree with Lewis here as I think anyone who really thinks about it would also.
Why I am not a Pacifist
I appreciate how Lewis starts out this talk by defining his terms carefully. He is using logic to appeal to the audience and this is very effective as it considers all options. He is going to systematically take apart these options one by one and be left with his own position as the best option.
He is addressing a group of pacifists, according to Hooper in the introduction. I wonder why a group of pacifists would ask Lewis to speak, since he was a soldier himself, and an outspoken supporter of the war? This is particularly interesting since he had one year earlier preached The Weight of Glory and openly spoke of duty to serve one’s country. “The rescue of a drowning man is, then a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for. It seems to me that all political duties (among which I include military duties) are of this kind” This makes me wonder if Hooper is correct as to where this talk was given. He may be right but it does make me wonder.
Lewis masterfully takes on this argument from each of his three points, facts, intuition, and authority. For the sake of brevity I will not elaborate here. As he works through this idea, he explains how each of these work against the pacifist idea. He then concludes his argument by saying that pacifists are probably persuaded more by their passions than their reasoning. They want to believe this way so they do. It is an irrational system of belief.
One insight I really did appreciate and it was a strong point was when he said that pacifism practiced would be, “taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists.” This is a thought for those who embrace this kind of thinking.
Lewis tackles a tough issue here, the issue of tongues. He starts by explaining the difference between sensations and emotions. Emotions are a higher order than sensations and sometimes the same sensation can be used for different and even opposing emotions.
He goes on to explain the idea of transposition. To understand this he uses several good illustrations, taking a musical score intended for a symphony orchestra and writing it for a piano, you must allow the notes that are intended for a flute in one part of the score also be the same notes that are intended for a violin in another part. The idea here is taking something that has a complex language and putting the same idea in another format using a smaller vocabulary. In the lesser format the expressions must have more than one meaning because of the reduced ways of expressing them. The emotions are quite complicated and the sensations often use the same feeling to express differing emotions. This is the concept he is expressing.
He goes on to compare the spiritual world and the material world. He states that the spiritual world is the superior world like the real world is to a pencil drawing. This world is the diminution and the other the real. We are phantoms waiting to be made real. This reminds me of Lewis’ discussion in The Great Divorce when we find that the people from hell are transparent and the grass cuts their feet while in heaven. In Lewis’ mind this is the transparent world and the solid world will be heaven. I am also reminded of the passage in I Cor 15:44 “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” Our bodies are compared here with a seed and the resurrected body with the tree that grows from that seed. The idea here is again transposition. Lewis shows great insight here especially when he applies this idea to the incarnation. I am going to give this idea some thought.
I also appreciate his closing statement, “May we not , by a reasonable analogy, suppose likewise that there is no experience of the spirit so transcendent and supernatural, no vision of Deity Himself so close and so far beyond all images and emotions, that to it also there cannot be an appropriate correspondence on the sensory level?” He leaves the argument open for the gift of tongues to be a valid gift of the Spirit.
Is Theology Poetry?
“Does Christian theology owe its attraction to its power of arousing and satisfying our imaginations?” That is the question Lewis attempts to answer in this essay. He made this speech at Oxford University at the Socratic Club on Nov. 6, 1944. He talks about his own experience to show the inadequacy of the Christian faith to be merely poetic in its appeal. He states that he prefers other mythologies to Christianity if it were merely mythical. He is particularly fond of Norse Mythology.
Lewis in no way says that Christianity doesn’t have poetic qualities within it. He indicates that there are aesthetically pleasing things within the faith. He goes on to warn against believing that Christianity is merely poetry. Christianity uses poetic language to describe concepts that are foreign to us. We can’t understand a spiritual being without body completely, it becomes necessary to use poetic language to help us to understand, but the poetry is not the reality. We do not really think God sits on a physical throne. So we use metaphorical language to explain those concepts we can’t otherwise explain.
I chuckled at his humor at discussing the “Scientific Outlook”as an Elizabethan tragedy. He sees that image as more fitting of mythology than the Christian position. Lewis goes on to compare the concepts of science and theology. I enjoyed this discussion as it showed great insight into both. He partly gives his testimony in a nutshell here, how he abandoned science because of the insistence that the brain was nothing more than biochemical impulses. He says, “…Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is a flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.” He shows how inconsistent thought caused him to reject that idea and to consider the idea of Theism. Once he accepted Theism, he had to consider the claims of Christ.
He concludes his argument with showing how Christianity makes room for science and other religious ideas. He also shows how science cannot make room for Christian thought. His argument is quite effective here also. He has anticipated most objections that could be made and answered them. He has built an iron clad case in my opinion. I really enjoyed his use of humor as he somewhat mocked the naturalist view as I stated earlier. I don’t believe he was being contemptuous in any way, he was just using humor to get his point across, and he did it very well.
The Inner Ring
This talk was given at Kings College, University of London during a commemoration Oration on Dec. 14, 1944. He talks about the idea of inner rings, or in other words, being a part of a specific group. This group can be for any purpose, the main point is the desire to belong.
He warns that this natural tendency can be dangerous if we live for it, that desire to be on the inside. It is a true danger to be influenced by those people we desire to please the most, we can be vulnerable to their influence when crucial decisions are to be made. I think Lewis is making a very good point here, peer pressure works on people no matter what age they are. I think for a young person the real danger is being given over to a life style of giving into peer pressure. That is what Lewis is getting at in this lecture. Lewis mentions this same idea in The Weight of Glory when he says, “I wonder whether the shoe is not sometimes on the other foot. I wonder whether in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the caucus. For of course when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for the lighter matters, the number who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.” This kind of pressure is real and should be resisted. It takes a deliberate act of the will to battle in this area. The danger here is not being aware of the battle and simply going along without having thought it through.
The real issue which Lewis speaks of is friendship. Not seeking to be in someone’s inner circle but being with the people you really enjoy being with. This is the better road and the road must be followed deliberately.
Lewis again does a good job of getting his point across. I think he is quite effective. The group he is addressing are young college students who are just starting out in life. He is attempting to help them not to fall into a common trap of impressionistic young people.
The best insight that I see in this essay is the point about real friendship. I think that is how Lewis’ life was characterized. I know he was shunned by many of his colleagues most of his career and he himself in some sense remained an outsider. This speaks volumes to me in the area of his personal integrity so his argument has a strong impact.
Faith has been relegated to a position of solitude, this is both paradoxical, dangerous, and natural. He states it is paradoxical considering that every other activity in recent history has robbed us of solitude. Secondly he states that this is dangerous because solitude has been pushed out of our lives, this effectively can keep religion out of our lives if we accept that concept. He also states this idea is natural, by that I mean we fall into the mentality of collectivism and fail to understand the meaning of being a part of the “Body of Christ”. Collectivism reduces the value of the individual and only speaks of the value of the group to which the individual belongs, while the concept we should embrace states both the value of the group as a whole entity and yet keeps the importance of each individual member within that specific group. That is the essence of what Lewis is arguing for. He gave this address to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius, Oxford, on Feb. 10, 1945 and appears to be addressing the growing problem of understanding both the value of solitude and the importance of the individual within the context of the whole. He argues against two extremes, first is Pelagian thought which states that the chief end of man is the expression of individuality. The second idea is that the collective body is what is important with the loss of personal identity. Both of these concepts are in error. The truth is that God is interested in new creatures.
Lewis is quite effective in his argument here. He is persuasive and insightful. He is systematic in his approach and builds one idea on top of another. I very much appreciate his logical approach to matters.
This essay was published after the death of Lewis, he sent it to Father Patrick Irwin for publication in 1947 but Father Irwin was transferred before he could publish it. It was placed into the Bodleian Library and was published in 1975.
The question he is answering is why do we recite in the creeds the phrase, “We believe in the forgiveness of sins”? He assumes this is just something we all understand, but after giving it some thought he sees the wisdom of the writers of the creeds. We by nature need to be reminded of our own sinfulness and our need for forgiveness.
Here is where he goes on to explain our terms and what we wrongly think about forgiveness. The issue here understanding forgiveness, a biblical understanding, that effects our actions. We often change that concept into making excuses for our sins. We expect God to overlook our sins instead of the biblical understanding that we look at our sin straight on, call it sin, assume full responsibility for that sin, and ask God to forgive it. We also have that same responsibility when someone sins against us. There may be some degree of excuses for the offense and that can be overlooked, but the real issue must be we are to forgive the sin, in the like manner that God forgives us our sin.
Forgiveness on our part is not an easy thing to do. Lewis makes that very point in Reflections of the Psalms, “There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, “You’ve given up smoking once: I’ve given it up a dozen times.” In the same way I could say of a certain man, “Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.: For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again.”
Lewis does a very good job as he always does with his positions. He is a master of his argument here again. He understands how human nature works and how we are inclined to think about forgiveness itself and how we will probably treat others when we are sinned against.
A Slip of the Tongue
This was the last sermon Lewis ever preached. He gave this talk at Oxford in a small chapel in Evensong on Jan. 29, 1956. The question he seems to be addressing is the reluctance of the believer to fully commit himself to God. He became aware of this in his prayer life. The difficulty seems to be the real fear that God will require something more than we wish to give at that time. The illustration he uses of paying taxes, we all agree in the necessity of paying taxes, but at the same time we all want to know how little we can get away with paying. So is our thinking with our relationship with God, we desire a relationship with Him but we don’t want Him to demand too much of us. We desire to “keep things temporal” as Lewis puts it.
The danger Lewis point out is those areas we desire to keep are areas of death. They are areas in which we can’t receive the blessing of God. If He doesn’t own that area of our life, He will not bless it. The very thing we need to let go of we fear letting go of the most.
He points out correctly that we can’t do this ourselves and that it is God working in us. Yet at the same time he does emphasize that it is through the faculty of our wills that this work is done. So both are true, the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. His argument is very well done again. I so appreciate Lewis’ work because he stimulates much thought in me. I find myself pondering things I have never before thought of through the reading of these essays.