MacDonald (as selected by Lewis)

(200) No Middle Way

There is, in truth, no mid way between absolute harmony with the Father and the condition of slaves–submissive, or rebellious. If the latter, their very rebellion is by the strength of the Father in them.

As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon: “Freedom” (200 - 202)


This is a very interesting take on the condition of slaves. Have you read more of the sermon, Merv, to get a feel for what he’s getting at?
I’m not sure what to make of “absolute harmony with the Father” in contrast with submissive and rebellious slaves.
What do you think, or know, Merv?
Or someone else?

I had read more of it back when I first posted that - and went back now to skim a bit and bring some back to memory so I can engage your question.

MacDonald sees slavery as a less than ideal thing (even a bad thing - but always at least: less than God’s purpose for any of his children - i.e. all of us.) Now to be sure here - he isn’t addressing chattel slavery in its modern popular-to-argue-about sense, though he would for sure absolutely despise that and find no quarter for it at all in terms of trying to justify human exploitation. He’s addressing slavery in a wider general sense, which would certainly include all the most outwardly horrific forms.

And in that wider sense, he sees the children of God who have realized and embraced that status as therefore not being slaves at all, any more than a beloved child of yours would be thought a slave while living in your household. BUT - for all of us who fall short of living up to and into our sonship and daughtership of God, i.e. - those of us who want to be “in the household” so-to-speak, but are still thinking of that as being a matter of figuring out and following the right rules and formulas (i.e. we can’t quite yet just trust in God’s unconditional love, and so we insist on thinking that we’ve got to believe a, b, and c and behave like x, y, and z before we’ll be allowed to stay) when we think that way, we’re still slaves. Perhaps submissive slaves - to the extent that we do manage to believe some pretty good and important stuff, and manage to do some loving things that God asks us to do. But we aren’t yet doing it out of love. We’re doing it because it’s expected of us. In that sense, we’re still living as slaves instead of as beloved children - the way God wants to relate to us. That’s a higher form of slavehood (MacDonald thinks - as I read him) than being a rebellious slave - the slave that refuses to do what he knows is right. The rebellious slave is still a slave too, but to even much worse things - like themselves and their own slave-driving desires. God will use that slavery too, to eventually drive his wayward child away from all the terrible things so chased, and drive that child ultimately into the Father’s welcoming arms. And God will make use of the higher form of slavery too - but does not want his children to remain as slaves at any level. They are to be the free “children of Sarah” - not “children of the slave woman”.

To my mind, this is a slam-dunk, crystal clear judgment against any notion that the Bible understood at large gives approval to slavery. Anybody who insists it does has not understood the very heart of the gospel messages and the apostolic commentary on it all. Those who want to eke out something of biblical “approval” for slavery, much less any institutions based on it, only show that they have never grasped the very heart of the gospel news to us all, and are instead off in the eisigetical biways and peripheries with all the other abusers of sacred teaching, where they can labor hard to keep away from anything that might be of God’s heart and Spirit.

At least that’s my take on it! What impression did it leave on you?

[Of course - I should have proceeded with a next daily installment before the reply above! …It could be that MacDonald begins to address some of your question with his own words here. Looks like other good stuff in the pipe too, as long as interest remains in partaking of it.]

1 Like

(201) On Having One’s Own Way

The liberty of the God that would have his creature free, is in contest with the slavery of the creature who would cut his own stem from his root that he might call it his own and love it; who rejoices in his own consciousness, instead of the life of that consciousness; who poises himself on the tottering wall of his own being, instead of the rock on which that being is built. Such a one regards his own dominion over himself–the rule of the greater by the less, inasmuch as the conscious self is less than the self–as a freedom infinitely greater than the range of the universe of God’s being. If he says, ‘At least I have it my own way!’ I answer, You do not know what is your way and what is not. You know nothing of whence your impulses, your desires, your tendencies, your likings come. They may spring now from some chance, as of nerves diseased; now from some roar of a wandering bodiless devil; now from some infant hate in your heart; now from the greed or lawlessness of some ancestor you would be ashamed of if you knew him; or it may be now from some far-piercing chord of a heavenly orchestra: the moment it comes up into your consciousness, you call it your own way, and glory in it!

As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon: “Freedom

1 Like

To be sure. No question about this at all. When I looked back at my reply to you, I see I simply assumed unanimity in understanding: slaves to righteousness/slaves to sin.

This is where I was hung up. Slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:16) are in harmony with God as opposed to slaves to sin. MacDonald seemed to be working with 3 categories, which I didn’t understand, rather than two. Your explanation helps.

This is a place, where I think we see MacDonald and Kierkegaard diverge radically. This quote from SK’s journals and notebooks appears in Bruce Kirmmse’s translator introduction to SK’s The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air : Three Godly Disocurses. (In this section think of “confidence” as “confiding in” or “shared confidence” not “assurance” or “trust” or “certainty.”

Only in Christianity (as opposed to paganism) does God’s majesty come to be properly majesty, qualitatively different from what it is to be human, a paradoxical majesty that is therefore recognizable by suffering.
Take the same matter in a different way. Think the thought: God’s confiding, or sharing confidence with God. If the content of the confidence is that all the happiness and good fortune that comes a person’s way is from God, then there is no relationship of spirit–thus there is no confidence with God in the highest sense, because God is spirit.
No, when that which comes from God is suffering–but then what is confided is that this suffering signifies God’s love, look, this is the confiding of the Spirit. God is Spirit.

It cannot be otherwise if you really want God to be God and if you want to involve yourself with him. That is, if you are to be permitted to do the most blessed thing of all, to love God. Indeed, God can love the sparrow without that relationship becoming suffering, but in that case there cannot be any talk of a relationship of spirit or of loving God in return.
(pp. xxiv & xxv)

I can’t say that I grasp where SK is going with this, but I think this view is reflected later in the three discourses, which I have just begun reading in full.

Sorry to be nearly invisible publicly lately. Time has been short for reorienting myself to discussions that are quite different from what drew me originally and to the absence of some of the people with whom I found thinking and talking very enjoyable and fruitful.

And to your most recent piece:


Oh, ouch! It’s so easy to take credit for everything we feel is our work.

1 Like

(202) The Death of Christ

Christ died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust. He died that we might live—but live as He lives, by dying as He died who died to Himself.

As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon: “Freedom

1 Like

I struggle to fully grasp K as well - though I’m not (or haven’t yet) dived in nearly so deeply as you - so what I’m getting from him has been thus far curated by you (and helpfully so).

This bit about the sparrow brings up an interesting question for me - does love require sentience, or conscious choice and intention? The answer (or so it seems to me as it apparently did to K) is ‘yes’, I’m sure; at least to have love in its fullest realized sense. And yet when we are informed that even the trees and rocks praise God, can we be sure there isn’t any love in that, echoed back the Creator? And if in rocks and trees, then how much more the sparrow too? But that musing aside, I’m still with K (or think I am - provided I’m not misunderstanding him) that God wants us to use our conscious freedom to express and live out God’s love to everything and everyone around us as we can.

And I think that is our way of loving God. I.e. - we love the unseen by loving what is seen.


(203) Hell

For the one principle of hell is–'I am my own.

As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon “Kingship” (203-206).


Thanks. It seems to me that we arrive at that point in different ways. Do you think that sometimes, it comes from fear of misuse? That’s maybe why Jesus, by co suffering, has opened up some to reconciliation. It’s a hard one.

In medicine, I often see people who are dead set against any meds (statins, vaccines, blood pressure meds, even masks) not because of the data, but because of fear of abuse. In those cases, I have to listen first (I don’t do that very well, sometimes). They would be happier with a higher death rate, and not taking something, than complying with the main stream. It seems to me that this must stem from a very early misperception that whoever is mainstream is wrong and motivated by greed. It may be from a trauma they have experienced, or even fear of an overwhelming medical system, with obscure, Latin-sounding words and white coats, mainly staffed with white males.

I’ve been convicted that in addition to praying for those who suffer lately (Ukraine, Khartoum, Afghanistan, migrants), I also need to pray for those who cause suffering, too. There is trauma there that can use healing. At the same time, may it prevent me from the victim mode that says “I am my own, and I alone can see what is wrong with the world.”

Sorry for the meandering…sometimes the shortest quotes are among the pithiest. I’d like to hear what others think the quote means.


Speaking for myself, I think the answer is “yes.” I don’t understand love, and particularly love for God, to be a property of the material world but one of many possible outcomes of sentience, particularly the human kind. Do higher-order, non-human animals have a consciousness of or concept of a God to love? Or do we interpret what we see in nature in terms of human experience. I think it’s the latter. However, this really is out of my area. I’m just giving opinion here.

Regarding Kierkegaard, so far in “The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air”, the deciding factor is actually speech. I don’t know if this is the end of the matter for him, but it’s what I’ve read so far:

“Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.”

But what does this mean, what am I to do, or what is the effort that can be said to seek, to aspire to God’s kingdom? Shall I see about getting a position commensurate with my talents and abilities in order to be effective in it? No, you shall first seek God’s kingdom. Shall I give all my possessions to the poor? No, you shall first seek God’s kingdom. Shall I then go out and proclaim this doctrine to the world? No, you shall first seek God’s kingdom. But then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do? Yes, quite true, in a certain sense it is nothing. In the deepest sense you shall make yourself nothing, become nothing before God, learn to be silent. In this silence is the beginning, which is to seek first God’s kingdom.

Thus in a certain sense one devoutly comes backward to the beginning. The beginning is not that with which one begins but that to which one comes, and one comes to it backward. The beginning is this art of becoming silent, since to be silent as nature is silent is no art. In the deepest sense, to become silent in this way, silent before God, is the beginning of the fear of

God, because just as the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, so silence is the beginning of the fear of God. And just as the fear of God is more than the beginning of wisdom, is wisdom, so silence is more than the beginning of the fear of God, is the fear of God. In this silence the many thoughts of wishes and desires God-fearingly fall silent; in this silence the verbosity of thanksgiving God-fearingly becomes silent.

The advantage of the human being over the animal is the ability to speak, but, in relation to God, wanting to speak can easily become the corruption of the human being, who is able to speak. God is in heaven and the human being is on earth and therefore they can hardly converse. God is infinite wisdom; what the human being knows is idle chatter; therefore they can hardly converse. God is love and the human being, as we say to a child, is a little ninny even in regard to his own welfare, and therefore they can hardly converse. Only in much fear and trembling is a human being able to speak with God, in much fear and trembling.
(The Essential Kierkegaard, pp. 333-334)
Slightly edited with added emphasis by me.

Here SK is stating that the “advantage” humans have is speech, and we use it to our detriment. If we are talking, we don’t hear God, can’t hear what he is saying, don’t gain wisdom and thus can’t seek his kingdom. But to stop talking is a learned “art” that nature has by nature. For the lily or the bird, silence is their only option, because they have no speech. Making noise, like chirping is not the same as speaking, so it is also silence. For humans to be silent before God is a learned art, but one that is necessary.

This section comes from an anthology, which is thorough but incomplete. I have the complete book as well and have only just begun to read it. In it SK will also attach suffering as a requirement for being in relation with and loving a majestic God. But I only have that from the introduction. His arguments are unique and complex, but it seems like he is trying to make sense of the reality of human experience within a space for Christian faith, something that is rarely attempted without a lot of handwaving and heavy discounting or reinterpretation of that experience.

I don’t know yet what I will think of his views, or how they will age with me, but I appreciate his desire to be real about things like suffering, anxiety and despair, and the entire range of human experience. Right now, I’m trying to get a handle on what he expresses (not easy) before I can even begin to evaluate those ideas.
Well, most of them. Some of them I already think are outstanding, particularly his points in F&T about faith being the highest achievement, and in standing in faith, having one’s life in it, rather than seeking to progress beyond it as if it were a childhood illness.

That’s a really good point.

Thinking about this part in relation to earlier discussions about Mac Donald’s views on universal salvation, this seems like the place where the rubber meets the road. The person who, after God’s sanctifying refinement, insists on running their own show will be given the opportunity to do just that. But it won’t be good. However again, this is just conjecture. I’ve not read the sermon that this quote comes from.

1 Like

Kendel quoting Kierkegaard…

Those quotes really connect for me - especially the first couple of paragraphs.

And beyond that too are some things I’m personally finding very challenging right now. I praddle on quite incessantly before God, probably because I am afraid of the silence - or what God might fill that with if I were to leave any opening or opportunity in my monologue. And I know how annoying it feels when other people do that to the rest of the people all around them - I sometimes run an imaginary bar graph in my head that advances each person’s bar for the time during which they “own the floor”, and then take note of how a one or few people dominate the time, while others’ bars barely advance (or not at all). Of course, I don’t seem to be running that same mental program while I’m the one talking (and that happens quite a lot - I’m sure I would find myself quite annoying.) But that I get so preoccupied with this “attention envy” in the first place says a lot about me - none of it flattering.

Thanks for sharing that from Kierkegaard.

I’ve been listening to a Bible series lecture (behind a registration/pay wall unfortunately!) in which the lecturer has also repeated the refrain quite a bit that our fallen nature at root consists of selfishness: “the world is or should be all about me and my desires.” And when that is the only mental space we know how to cling to, we are a mess indeed! MacDonald uses the stronger language of even calling this hell. And MacDonald has made a (compelling to me) case that in the end, if this selfish implosion of inward-directed attention is all one has, that would be a hell indeed to make all the externally imagined fires and tortures seem mild in comparison.


(204) The Lie

My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is–what I desire. The more I am all in all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself–the greater I am. I will be free with the freedom that consists in doing whatever I am inclined to do, from whatever quarter may come the inclination. To do my own will so long as I feel anything to be my will, is to be free, is to live. To all these principles of hell, or of this world–they are the same thing, and it matters nothing whether they are asserted or defended so long as they are acted upon–the Lord, the king, gives the direct lie. It is as if he said:–'I ought to know what I say, for I have been from all eternity the son of him from whom you issue, and whom you call your father, but whom you will not have your father: I know all he thinks and is; and I say this, that my perfect freedom, my pure individuality, rests on the fact that I have not another will than his. My will is all for his will, for his will is right. He is righteousness itself. His very being is love and equity and self-devotion, and he will have his children such as himself–creatures of love, of fairness, of self-devotion to him and their fellows.

(bolded part is the portion Lewis chose to excerpt.)
As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon “Kingship


(205) The Author’s Fear

If I mistake, he will forgive me. I do not fear him; I fear only lest, able to see and write these things, I should fail of witnessing, and myself be, after all, a castaway–no king, but a talker; no disciple of Jesus, ready to go with him to the death, but an arguer about the truth; a hater of the lies men speak for God, and myself a truth-speaking liar, not a doer of the word.

As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon “Kingship


This reminds me of Jay’s post over in Pithy Quotes, where he presented a section from Kierkegaard’s smaller piece “Practice in Christianity.”


“Admiration” vs. “Imitation” … that’s a good contrast to reflect on. It strikes me how the latter is sometimes denigrated today in the world of education. Simply imitating somebody or something is not often seen as a positive sign of critical or creative thinking.

And yet, how many preachers preaching today would dare echo the Apostle’s words when he exhorts people to “imitate him”! There are times when I’m modeling at the board, the steps I hope students will document as they solve a multi-step math problem; but to just tell people in general to look at what kind of person I am - and model yourself after that! … that would be perceived as a height of arrogant hubris! And rightly so?

Unless you are Christ. He wants imitators indeed. If “imitation is the highest form of flattery” - then I suppose one could make the case that imitation already included admiration - or even more strongly - apart from imitation, there wasn’t even any true admiration.


(206) Sincerity

Do we carry ourselves in bank, on farm, in house or shop, in study or chamber or workshop, as the Lord would, or as the Lord would not? Are we careful to be true? Do we endeavour to live to the height of our ideas? Or are we mean, self-serving, world-flattering, fawning slaves? When contempt is cast on the truth, do we smile? Wronged in our presence, do we make no sign that we hold by it? I do not say we are called upon to dispute, and defend with logic and argument, but we are called upon to show that we are on the other side. But when I say truth, I do not mean opinion : to treat opinion as if that were truth, is grievously to wrong the truth. The soul that loves the truth and tries to be true, will know when to speak and when to be silent; but the true man will never look as if he did not care. We are not bound to say all we think, but we are bound not even to look what we do not think.

As found toward the end of MacDonald’s unspoken sermon “Kingship” (the bolded part being what Lewis selected).


Such a hard one. With so much room for disagreement.
So much screaming and condemnation: “You’re not doing it right.”

And with what authority do I have the right to speak? In my case, even that is not agreed on. But if circumstances were different, when truth is no longer seen as universal, with what authority does one speak?

I think a good deal of our “authority” must come from how we live and if that is the height of our ideas.

1 Like

This was a hard one for me too - I leave SO MUCH unsaid around so many people, and no doubt leave them with wrong presumptions about what I really believe (and are they right to interpret my silent presence as ascent?) How much can I “pick my battles” before I am open to the charge of dishonesty? MacDonald - not surprisingly - seems to place a high bar here too.

1 Like

(207) First things First

Human justice may be a poor distortion of justice, a mere shadow of it; but the justice of God must be perfect. We cannot frustrate it in its working; are we just to it in our idea of it? If you ask any ordinary Sunday congregation in England, what is meant by the justice of God, would not nineteen out of twenty answer, that it means his punishing of sin? Think for a moment what degree of justice it would indicate in a man–that he punished every wrong. A Roman emperor, a Turkish cadi, might do that, and be the most unjust both of men and judges. Ahab might be just on the throne of punishment, and in his garden the murderer of Naboth. In God shall we imagine a distinction of office and character? God is one; and the depth of foolishness is reached by that theology which talks of God as if he held different offices, and differed in each. It sets a contradiction in the very nature of God himself. It represents him, for instance, as having to do that as a magistrate which as a father he would not do! The love of the father makes him desire to be unjust as a magistrate! Oh the folly of any mind that would explain God before obeying him! that would map out the character of God, instead of crying, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do? God is no magistrate; but, if he were, it would be a position to which his fatherhood alone gave him the right; his rights as a father cover every right he can be analytically supposed to possess. The justice of God is this, that–to use a boyish phrase, the best the language will now afford me because of misuse–he gives every man, woman, child, and beast, everything that has being, fair play ; he renders to every man according to his work; and therein lies his perfect mercy; for nothing else could be merciful to the man, and nothing but mercy could be fair to him.

From MacDonald’s unspoken sermon: “Justice” (207-215) Bolded part above was Lewis’ short daily snippet. I will probably be including much longer excerpts of some of these, as this particular sermon from MacDonald might be considered by some to represent the heart of his thinking about atonement theology, and beyond that - high Christology. It is worth an entire read, for those who dare.


(208) Inexorable Love

Because God is so altogether alien to wrong, because it is to him a heart-pain and trouble that one of his little ones should do the evil thing, there is, I believe, no extreme of suffering to which, for the sake of destroying the evil thing in them, he would not subject them. A man might flatter, or bribe, or coax a tyrant; but there is no refuge from the love of God; that love will, for very love, insist upon the uttermost farthing.

‘That is not the sort of love I care about!’

No; how should you? I well believe it! You cannot care for it until you begin to know it. But the eternal love will not be moved to yield you to the selfishness that is killing you. What lover would yield his lady to her passion for morphia? You may sneer at such love, but the Son of God who took the weight of that love, and bore it through the world, is content with it, and so is everyone who knows it. The love of the Father is a radiant perfection. Love and not self-love is lord of the universe. Justice demands your punishment, because justice demands, and will have, the destruction of sin. Justice demands your punishment because it demands that your father should do his best for you. God, being the God of justice, that is of fair-play, and having made us what we are, apt to fall and capable of being raised again, is in himself bound to punish in order to deliver us–else is his relation to us poor beside that of an earthly father. ‘To thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy, for thou renderest to every man according to his work.’ A man’s work is his character; and God in his mercy is not indifferent, but treats him according to his work.

From MacDonald’s unspoken sermon: “Justice” Here we see MacDonald’s dialogical writing style again - imagining his sparring partner’s response - and giving voice to that conversation. Again - Lewis’ chosen bit bolded; I won’t continue mentioning that going forward, just consider it the default practice.