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Words to Live By

A Guide for the Merely Christian

Words to Live By by C. S. Lewis
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C. S. Lewis is a beloved writer and thinker and arguably the most important Christian intellectual of the twentieth century. His groundbreaking children's series The Chronicles of Narnia, lucid nonfiction titles such as Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain, and thought-provoking fiction, including The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, have become trusted companions for millions of readers. Here Lewis breathes new life into words and concepts that have dulled through time and familiarity, and his writings inevitably provoke deep thought and surprising revelations.

Words to Live By contains an unprecedented selection of Lewis's writings, drawing from his most popular works, but also from his volumes of letters and his lesser-known essays and poems. His works are presented in accessible selections covering subjects from A to Z, including beauty, character, confession, doubt, family, holiness, and religion. Both a wonderful introduction to Lewis's thinking and a wise and insightful guide to key topics in the Christian life, these are truly words to live by.

HarperCollins; June 2009
336 pages; ISBN 9780061950445
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Words to Live By
Author: C. S. Lewis
 
Excerpt

Chapter One

Almsgiving

Charity—giving to the poor—is an essential part of Christian morality. . . . Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce that kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
Mere Christianity

On the duty of alms-giving, and even on the subtle corruptions of alms-giving, few men have written better than Calvin himself. The limit of giving is to be the limit of our ability to give. We must not consider ourselves free to refuse because those who ask us are undeserving, "for Scripture here cometh to our aide with this excellent reason, that we respect not what men merit of themselves but looke only upon God's image which they bear." We must guard against that subtle insolence which often poisons the gift. Even "a merry countenance and courteous wordes" accompanying it are not enough. A Christian must not give "as though he would binde his brother unto him by the benefit." When I use my hands to heal some other part of my body I lay the body under no obligation to the hands: and since we are all members of one another, we similarly lay no obligation on the poor when we relieve them (Institutio, III. vii. 6, 7).
English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama

Asceticism

To shrink back from all that can be called Nature into negative spirituality is as if we ran away from horses instead of learning to ride. There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires. But behind all asceticism the thought should be, "Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?" Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body? These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys. We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatience, pawing and snorting in the King's stables. Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else—since He has retained His own charger—should we accompany Him?
Miracles

Because God created the Natural—invented it out of His love and artistry—it demands our reverence; because it is only a creature and not He, it is, from another point of view, of little account. And still more, because Nature, and especially human nature, is fallen it must be corrected and the evil within it must be mortified. But its essence is good; correction is something quite different from Manichaean repudiation or Stoic superiority. Hence, in all true Christian asceticism, that respect for the thing rejected which, I think, we never find in pagan asceticism. Marriage is good, though not for me; wine is good, though I must not drink it; feasts are good, though today we fast.

The wrong asceticism torments the self: the right kind kills the selfness. We must die daily: but it is better to love the self than to love nothing, and to pity the self than to pity no one.
God in the Dock

Assurance

Sorry you're in a trough. I'm just emerging (at least I hope I am) from a long one myself. As for the difficulty of believing it is a trough, one wants to be careful about the word "believing." We too often mean by it "having confidence or assurance as a psychological state"—as we have about the existence of furniture. But that comes and goes and by no means always accompanies intellectual assent, e.g., in learning to swim you believe, and even know intellectually that water will support you long before you feel any real confidence in the fact. I suppose the perfection of faith wd. make this confidence invariably proportionate to the assent.

In the meantime, as one has learnt to swim only by acting on the assent in the teeth of all instinctive conviction, so we shall proceed to faith only by acting as if we had it. Adapting a passage in the Imitation one can say "What would I do now if I had a full assurance that there was only a temporary trough" and having got the answer, go and do it. I a man, therefore lazy: you a woman, therefore probably a fidget. So it may be good advice to you (though it wd. be bad to me) not even to try to do in the trough all you can do on the peak.
The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume II

My primary field is the past. I travel with my back to the engine, and that makes it difficult when you try to steer. The world might stop in ten minutes; meanwhile, we are to go on doing our duty. The great thing is to be found at one's post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.

We have, of course, the assurance of the New Testament regarding events to come. I find it difficult to keep from laughing when I find people worrying about future destruction of some kind or other. Didn't they know they were going to die anyway?
God in the Dock

ISBNs
0061950440
9780061209123
9780061950414
9780061950438
9780061950445
9780061950452