Before I get to the ten somewhat unknown*** C.S. Lewis quotes, please allow me to share and comment on a portion of C.S. Lewis’ fiction that is extremely well known. One of my favorite parts of Lewis’ Narnia series is found in the book The Silver Chair. In that book, Jill Pole and her new “friend” Eustace Scrubb are transported to Narnia – a sort of parallel world to our own. Jill (who has never been to Narnia before) and Eustace (who has) are both transported separately to different places, and Jill is left alone and bewildered. She wanders about for hours, quite afraid and growing ever more thirsty. Finally, she hears the blessed sound of running water in the distance, and rushes towards it, coming out from the woods into a clearing and finding a rippling stream. I’ll let Mr. Lewis pick up the narrative from here:
The wood was so still that it was not difficult to decide where the sound was coming from. It grew clearer every moment and, sooner than she expected, she came to an open glade and saw the stream, bright as glass, running across the turf a stone’s throw away from her. But although the sight of water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward to drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned to stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason: Just on this side of the stream lay the Lion. . . .
How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”
They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time,and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.
Source: The Silver Chair (Amazon Link)
This is, I believe, one of the finest fictional descriptions of Jesus in all of literature. Lewis well captures Jesus’ exclusivity, His wildness, His authority, His majesty, and His refreshingness. Just as this was the only source of water for Jill, so Jesus is the only source of salvation for the world. (John 14:6)
“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
JOHN 4:10,14 (ESV)
And now, here are: Ten Brilliant Yet Largely Unknown: C.S. Lewis Quotes: (In no particular order)
- “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping” Source: Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer.
- On the need for teamwork, team preaching, and different messengers: “The limitation of my own gifts [in preaching] has compelled me always to use a predominantly intellectual approach. But I have also been present when an appeal of a much more emotional and also more “pneumatic” [spiritual], kind has worked wonders on a modern audience. Where God gives the gift, the “foolishness of preaching (1 Cor 1.21) is still mighty. But best of all is a team of two: one to deliver the preliminary intellectual barrage, and the other to follow up with a direct attack on the heart.” Source: Present Concerns: A Compelling Collection of Timely, Journalist Essays.
- “If grace perfects nature it must expand all our natures into the full richness of the diversity which God intended when He made them, and Heaven will display far more variety than Hell…What pleased me most about a Greek Orthodox mass I once attended was that there seemed to be no prescribed behavior for the congregation. Some stood, some knelt, some sat, some walked; one crawled about the floor like a caterpillar. And the beauty of it was that nobody took the slightest notice of what anyone else was doing. One meets people who are perturbed because someone in the next pew does, or does not, cross himself. They oughtn’t even to have seen, let alone censured. “Who art thou that thou judgest Another’s servant?” Source: Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer.
- The following is the complete text of a letter written to Mary Van Deusen, who had apparently asked Lewis a question along the lines of what was God’s calling or purpose for her life. “Dear Mrs. Van Deusen, You ask ‘for what’ God wants you. Isn’t the primary answer that He wants you? We’re not told that the lost sheep was sought out for anything except itself. Of course, He may have a special job for you: and the certain job is that of becoming more and more His.” Source: The Collected Letter of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3.
- “The Christian life is simply a process of having your natural self changed into a Christ self. This process goes on very far inside. One’s most private wishes; one’s point of view are the things that have to be changed. That’s why unbelievers complain that Christianity is a very selfish religion. ‘Isn’t it very selfish, even morbid,’ they say, ‘to be always bothering about the inside of your own soul, instead of thinking about humanity. Now, what would an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) say to a soldier who had a dirty rifle, and when told to clean it replied, ‘But sergeant, isn’t it very selfish, even morbid, to be always bothering about the inside of your own rifle, instead of thinking of the United Nations?” Well, we needn’t bother about what the NCO would actually say – you see the point. The man isn’t going be much use to the United Nations if his rifle isn’t fit to shoot quickly. In the same way, people who are still acting from their old natural selves won’t do much real permanent good to other people. Let me explain that. History isn’t just the story of bad people doing bad things. It’s quite as much a story of people trying to do good things. But somehow, something goes wrong. Take the common expression: “cold as charity.” How’d we come to say that? From experience. We’ve learned how unsympathetic and patronizing and conceited charitable people often are. And yet hundreds and thousands of them started out really anxious to do good, and when they’d done it, somehow it just wasn’t as good as it ought to have been. The old story: What you are comes out in what you do. A crabapple tree can’t produce eating apples. As long as the old self is there its taint will be over all we do. We try to be religious and become Pharisees. We try to be kind and become patronizing. Social service ends in red tape of officialdom. Unselfishness becomes a form of showing off. I don’t mean of course that we’re to stop trying to be good. We’ve got to do the best we can. If the soul’s just fool enough to go into battle with a dirty rifle he mustn’t run away. But I do mean that the real cure lies far deeper. Out of our self and into Christ we must go.” Source: BBC Radio Address (Audio) linked below. (March 21, 1944)
- C.S. Lewis on writing, “I would say if a man is going to write on chemistry, he learns chemistry. The same is true of Christianity. But to speak of the craft itself, I would not know how to advise a man how to write. It is a matter of talent and interest. I believe he must be strongly moved if he is to become a writer. Writing is like a ‘lust,’ or like ‘scratching when you itch.’ Writing comes as a result of a very strong impulse, and when it does come, I for one must get it out…There is no formula in these matters. I have no recipe, no tablets. Writers are trained in so many individual ways that it is not for us to prescribe. Scripture itself is not systematic; the New Testament shows the greatest variety. God has shown us that he can use any instrument. Balaam’s ass, you remember, preached a very effective sermon in the midst of his ‘hee-haws.” Source: The Final Interview of C.S. Lewis (By Sherword Wirt)
The following illustration from Lewis on faith and fear is from a letter written to a Mrs. D. Jessup, “One last word, about getting rid of fear. Two men had to cross a dangerous bridge. The first convinced himself that it would. bear them, and called this conviction ‘Faith.’ The second said ,‘Whether it breaks or holds, whether I die here or somewhere else, I am equally in God’s good hands.’ And the bridge did break and they were both killed: and the second man’s Faith was not disappointed and the first man’s was.” Alas, if only the more radical and prosperity focused ‘preachers’ had this understanding of faith! Source: The Collected Letter of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3.
- This is a somewhat well known quote of Lewis, but is not so well known that it can’t find a place here, “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.” Source: The Weight of Glory
- “It is not enough to want to get rid of one’s sins, we also need to believe in the One who saves us from our sins. Not only do we need to recognize that we are sinners; we need to believe in a Savior who takes away sin. Matthew Arnold once wrote, ‘Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.’ Because we know we are sinners, it does not follow that we are saved.” The Final Interview of C.S. Lewis (By Sherword Wirt)
- Shortly after his conversion to Christianity, Lewis wrote an interesting letter to his brother, Warren “Warnie” Lewis, in which he expressed his lack of fondness for over-organized church trappings. “We should be glad that the early Christians expected the second coming and the end of the world quite soon: for if they had known that they were founding an organisation for centuries they would certainly have organised it to death: believing that they were merely making provisional arrangements for a year or so, they left it free to live.” Source: The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2.
Finally – here is, as far as I am aware, the only surviving audio of Lewis’ BBC World War 2 addresses. He sounds much like what you might imagine: Sharp, wry, and quite wondrously British, with a little bit of an Irish tang underneath, as a clue to his hometown of Belfast.
*** Note: I am not claiming to have unearthed any new C.S. Lewis quotes – all of the above are likely to be found in other places on the internet. A Lewis scholar or aficionado might be well aware of several of these quotes. I’m simply noting that these C.S. quotes are not the most common ones found in quote compendiums, blogs, Facebook posts, graffiti, and slathered all over public bathroom walls. 😉