Quotable G.K. Chesterton Weekend

Given the literary forte of Chesterton and attention shown the author by the ever-impressive TSS readers, I’m opening the blog up this weekend for you to post your favorite Chesterton quotes in the comments. You may choose to quote from an essay, a poem, or a work of fiction.

Please remember all comments on this blog are moderated and may not immediately appear (unless you’re on our list of trusted commentators, then it will). The name “Chesterton” attracts a lot of outside web traffic, so if you’ve come here for the first time please remember TSS is a reformed blog and post accordingly.

Never read Chesterton? No problem. Many of his books are a click away and can be read online for free. Start here and read Orthodoxy or Heretics. Try reading one chapter of one book and see if you don’t get hooked.

To kick of this “Quotable G.K. Chesterton Weekend” I’ll begin by posting one TSS reader’s quote from earlier in the week.

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. [G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 4]

Great quote! Looking forward to hearing from you.

Happy weekend reading.

Tony

30 thoughts on “Quotable G.K. Chesterton Weekend

  1. Okay, I’ll get this started with another personal favorite. When I read this I’m reminded that God created us to reflect on his awesome, unfathomable character and the rich mystery of the cross.

    “Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. … The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. … The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. … Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. … The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

    -G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Radford, VA: Wilder Pubs, 1908/2007) 10-11.

  2. “It is often said with a sneer that the God of Israel was only a God of Battles, ‘a mere barbaric Lord of Hosts’ pitted in rivalry against the other gods only as their envious foe. Well it is for the world that he was a God of Battles. Well it is for us that he was to all the rest only a rival and foe. In the ordinary way, it would have been only too easy for them to have achieved the desolate disaster of conceiving him as friend…As it was, while the whole world melted into this mass of confused mythology, this Deity who is called tribal and narrow, precisely because he was what is called tribal and narrow, preserved the primary religion of all mankind. He was tribal enough to be universal. He was as narrow as the universe.”

    G.K. Chesterton, *The Everlasting Man*, Part I, Chapter 4.

    Pax Christi,
    TB

  3. “I saw an old man like a child,
    His blue eyes bright, his white hair wild,
    Who turned for ever, and might not stop,
    Round and round like an urchin’s top.

    ‘Fool,’ I cried, ‘while you spin around,
    Others grow wise, are praised, are crowned.’
    Ever the same round road he trod,
    ‘This is better: I seek for God.

    ‘We see the whole world, left and right,
    Yet at the blind back hides from sight
    The unseen Master that drives us forth
    To East and West, to South and North.

    ‘Over my shoulder for eighty years
    I have looked for the gleam of the sphere of spheres.’
    ‘In all your turning, what have you found?’
    “At least, I know why the world goes round.'”

    GK Chesterton, “Behind”, *The Wild Knight* 5th ed.

    In Domino,
    TB

  4. I hope I have this right; couldn’t find the exact reference:

    “The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid.”

    and…

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

    Chesterton – Chapter 5, What’s Wrong With The World, 1910

  5. Good morning Shane! Yep, Chesterton was an anti-Calvinist and Roman Catholic so he needs qualification, which I did earlier in the week by pointing readers to John Piper. Piper’s cautions are helpful, as are his recommendations of Chesterton. Tony

  6. There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking. For he who has realized this reality knows that it does outweigh, literally to infinity, all lesser regrets or arguments for negation, and that under all our grumblings there is a subconscious substance of gratitude. That light of the positive is the business of the poets, because they see all things in the light of it more than do other men [or they are able to give expression to what they see better than other men]. Chaucer was a child of light and not merely of twilight, the mere red twilight of one passing dawn of revolution, or the grey twilight of one dying day of social decline. He was the immediate heir of something like what Catholics call the Primitive Revelation; that glimpse that was given of the world when God saw that it was good; and so long as the artist gives us glimpses of that, it matters nothing that they are fragmentary or even trivial; whether it be in the mere fact that a medieval Court poet could appreciate a daisy, or that he could write in a sort of flash of blinding moonshine, of the lover who ’slept no more than does the nightingale’. These things belong to the same world of wonder as the primary wonder at very existence of the world; higher than any common pros or cons, or likes and dislikes, however legitimate. Creation was the greatest of all Revolutions. It was for that, as the ancient poet said, that the morning stars sang together; and the most modern poets, like the medieval poets, may descend very far from that height of realization and stray and stumble and seem distraught; but we shall know them for the Sons of God, when they are still shouting for joy. This is something much more mystical and absolute than any modern thing that is called optimism; for it is only rarely that we realize like a vision filled with a chorus of giants, the primeval duty of Praise.
    -from his biography of Chaucer

    ‘…. about these unwritten histories of humanity we can only conjecture with the greatest doubt and caution. And unfortunately doubt and caution are the last things commonly encouraged by the loose evolutionism of current culture. For that culture is full of curiosity; and the one thing that it cannot endure is the agony of agnosticism. It was in the Darwinian age that the word first became known and the thing first became impossible.
    ‘It is necessary to say plainly that all this ignorance is simply covered by impudence. Statements are made so plainly and positively that men have hardly the moral courage to pause upon them and find that they are without support. The other day a scientific summary of the states of a prehistoric tribe began confidently with the words ‘They wore no clothes’. Not one reader in a hundred probably stopped to ask himself how we should come to know whether clothes had once been worn by people of whom everything has perished except a few chips of bone and stone. It was doubtless hoped that we should find a stone hat as well as a stone hatchet. It was evidently anticipated that we might discover an everlasting pair of trousers….’
    -from The Everlasting Man

    This is surely the very much mistaken meaning of those words to the first saints, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” which caused the Ex-Kaiser to remark with all solemnity that his beefy Germans were the salt of the earth; meaning thereby merely that they were the earth’s beefiest and therefore best. But salt seasons and preserves beef, not because it is like beef; but because it is very unlike it. Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt. It is because they were the exceptional people, that they must not lose their exceptional quality. “If salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” is a much more pointed question than any mere lament over the price of the best beef. If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world….
    -from his biography of Thomas Aquinas (‘The Dumb Ox’)

    “All these profound matters must be suggested in short and imperfect phrases; and the shortest statement of one aspect of this illumination is to say that it is the discovery of an infinite debt. It may seem a paradox to say that a man may be transported with joy to discover that he is in debt. But this is only because in commercial cases the creditor does not generally share the transports of joy; especially when the debt is by hypothesis infinite and therefore unrecoverable…. It is the highest and holiest of the paradoxes that a man who really knows he cannot pay his debt will be for ever paying it. He will be for ever giving back what he cannot give back, and cannot be expected to give back. He will be always throwing things away into a bottomless pit of unfathomable thanks…. the whole world has, or is, only one good thing; and it is a bad debt.”
    -from his biography of St. Francis

  7. I’m not even sure where to begin with someone who calls Chesterton an apostate. My goodness. What has the church come to?

    While you’re at it, you might as well call Calvin an apostate too for espousing baptismal regeneration (which he did–along with most of the English Reformers and English Puritans).

    And we can cut out most of the Church Fathers for not sounding like BB Warfield.

    And hey, why don’t we officially charge Richard Baxter with Heresy for his befuddled view of the atonement?

    And perhaps we should disown men like A.W. Tozer for promoting Roman Catholic mysticism (even though Lloyd-Jones believed such reading made Tozer the eminent man he was).

    And speaking of Lloyd-Jones, he smacks too much of Pentecostalism, doesn’t he? Let’s do away with him as well.

    My goodness! In the spirit of J.I. Packer, let’s be done with this “splendid” isolationism.

    The ark is full of all kinds of animals.

    Now…back to our man Chesterton.

  8. The list could go on and on. I like my quotes pithy — here are two favorites:

    “Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.” – The Man Who was Thursday,

    “The simplification of anything is always sensational.” – Varied Types

  9. As an ex-Roman Catholic myself, I think Chesterton can be useful to persons who have escaped (that’s the right word) from that communion. As long as one is aware of Chesterton’s catholicism, it is possible to be on the lookout for his “Catholicisms.” But, to dismiss Chesterton’s writings because he was Catholic is to throw out the baby with the bathwater. He was an immensely talented writer who wrote millions of words and thousands of essays (and other writings) that have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. I’m currently reading his autobiography (up to chapter 3) and find it immensely entertaining.

  10. Tom,

    I agree that the ark is full of all kinds of animals, I’m just not so sure Chesterton is one of those animals. If he held a Roman Catholic view on justification, it’s very likely he died a lost man in need of Jesus.

    That is the only reason I even take the time to comment on this post. I care for the lost souls of men like any true Christian should.

    For his literature, I am sure Chesterton was the genius he is said to have been. However, in light of eternity what does that really matter.

    Shane

  11. Dear Shane,

    Thank you for your comments. Keep loving people for Jesus. I suspect that one of these days you will meet a Roman Catholic brother or sister whose love and affection for the Lord Jesus Christ will make you wish that you knew Him that well too.

    For myself, I may disagree with another man’s theory of justification (as I do with the Arminians who, by necessity, conjoin works [righteous choice] to grace), and yet recognize that God in his mercy has swept them up into His glorious Son, has given them faith in the Cosmic Lord and only Savior.

    If this were not the case, then I might as well consign C.S. Lewis to the flames, for his views on the atonement are so very different from my own.

    You must know also that the Reformers knew very well that Augustine did not agree with them on the topic of justification:

    “At first I devoured, not merely read, Augustine. But when the door was opened for me in Paul, so that I understood Justification by Faith, it was all over with Augustine.” Martin Luther, Table Talk, No. 347.

    And yet, the Reformers continued to admire him, and owned him as their brother in the Lord. Are we to be less charitable than the Reformers?

    If our theory on justification is the litmus test for our identification with Christ, then many of us will be in trouble.

    I thank God that my salvation depends entirely upon God’s electing purposes, Christ’s unique work on Calvary, and the Spirit’s sovereign act in applying this redemption–and not upon my facile understanding.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    TB

  12. And Shane, if you love the Lord Jesus with genuine religious affection, then I love you as a brother with the love of the Lord.

  13. And thank you, Tony, for being broad enough to include GK on your blog. It is, of course, in good Reformation fashion, as Luther and Calvin thought so highly of the Catholic monk, Bernard of Clairvaux.

    That is to say, you are in good company Tony.

  14. Tom,

    Again, I agree with you. It is not our understanding of justification that really saves us, it is God’s electing love. However, I think it is safe to say the Reformers (many of them anyway) considered the Roman Catholic Church and those who accepted their doctrines to be apostate. Can you be apostate and still be saved?

    Consider the following: http://blog.shanetrammel.com/2007/12/06/confronting-error-do-it-biblically-seriously-and-leave-the-silly-attempts-of-sarcasm-behind/

    Error concerning the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ should also be treated biblically with the utmost of doctrinal concern and theological sobriety. Consider again the words of the Apostle Paul when he says this of those who are defecting from Christ and His gospel:

    “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” -Galatians 1:6-9 (emphasis mine)

    Notice that twice Paul pronounces a severe judgment on those who defect from Christ, distort the true gospel, and embrace a different one – let him be accursed; anathema; damned. This is powerful language and we will not water it down. Error of this sort should not be treated lightly or in a slovenly manner.

  15. And let’s remember the importance of understanding justification (see Galatians). Misunderstanding the role of faith and works is a dangerous thing, Paul tells us. It;s possible to have zeal for God without knowledge. The zeal/affection is authenticated by the knowledge.

    I think it’s proper and right to contend for the gospel of salvation by faith alone, in Christ alone (which is at many points contrasted by Rome).

    So while I glean and benefit much from the writings of Chesterton and Lewis I do not presume to know their eternal state. I leave the judgment of the soul to God. I don’t think we need to stamp outright authenticity on a writer before we benefit from their works.

    The reformed pattern we’ve been given from our forefathers (like John Calvin) is to contend and contest and clarify the gospel but read and quote from whatever literature helps along the way. It was the reformers who modeled the idea that we can and should incorporate all we agree on and reject the rest.

    Read great literature + boast in the cross. What better example could the reformers have left us?

    Tony

  16. “[N]o man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error. In similar style, I hold that I am dogmatic and right, while Mr. Shaw is dogmatic and wrong.”

    Heretics, “Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy”

  17. I always laughed when I saw this one pop up at the bottom of my signature randomizer:

    “When learned men begin to use their reason, then I generally discover that they haven’t got any.”

  18. Hi Shane,

    Thanks for this. I of course agree with Paul. Anyone who willfully diverts our attention from the life, death and resurrection of Christ to other means of salvation are to be rejected.

    This is the error with which you charge the Roman Catholics. Does this mean that the Arminians are apostate too? For the Arminians do not preach justification by faith alone. From an Arminian point of view, only those who make a righteous act of the will can be saved. All those who, in sin and by sin, reject the offer of the gospel are damned; all those who, in and by an act of righteousness, a righteous act of the will, embrace the gospel are saved. Here grace and works are conjoined. Only those who do this good work can be saved. This is not the doctrine of justification by faith as the Reformers understood it. Are the Arminians apostate because of their compromised views of this doctrine? If not, why? Why do we let the semi-pelagian Protestants off the hook and not the Roman Catholics? I think this question needs to be answered if we are to charge the Roman Catholics with apostasy.

    Was Wesley an Apostate? Was G.Campbell Morgan an Apostate?

    If not, then you are setting up a double standard. For many Roman Catholics would affirm that it is only by Christ’s unique sacrifice that salvation is possible, and they would affirm, as heartily as you, the Nicene Creed. This is why J.I. Packer has placed Thomas Aquinas within the stream of Evangelical History. And this is why so many of the English Puritans looked to Aquinas as a faithful theological guide–and by no means an apostate.

    Again, I think Packer is right, and it is fitting for Evangelicals to enter into dialogue with Roman Catholics to discover where there is a meeting of minds.

    For myself, I would be much poorer if I had not delved into the riches of the Roman Catholic tradition, both pre and post reformation: Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas a Kempis, Fenelon, Chesterton, Josef Pieper, and most recently, Peter Kreeft.

    And, I’m sorry Tony, but when I read C.S. Lewis I do not doubt his salvation. He writing breathes of an authentic life in Christ. I doubt very much that Aslan is the product of an apostate mind.

    Neither do I doubt Wesley’s salvation…

    Blessings,
    TB

    Secondly, is

  19. Tom,

    You bring up some very good points, many without easy answers, if any at all that will satisfy in some cases.

    Again, if we stick with scripture, there is reason to wonder about the salvation of many in light of Gal 1:6-9. So, the question becomes what is the gospel and then who has departed from it.

    With regards to Arminians, that is complicated as you well know. A year ago, I guess I would have been in that camp. However, I have since moved from that view to one of holding to the doctrines of grace. I do not and will never call myself a Calvinist, but I do embrace much of what he taught.

    I take the same position as Jonathan Edwards on this.

    Jonathan Edwards disclaims dependence on John Calvin and believing in everything just as he taught

  20. I bet he’s talking about the Aslan in Narnia, who died, because the White Witch (Satan) was demanding righteous judgment – that is, he died for justice’s sake. That does remind me pretty precisely of this one historical character… He also died to satisfy justice’s demands in the place of those who really sinned and were in fact still his enemies. The just for the unjust…
    I just can’t seem to think of the name of the person.
    ;-)

  21. Hi Shane,
    In view of your lofty thoughts of yourself, since you have put yourself in the Judgement seat of Christ by condemning Chesterton, do you not think that the scriptures have said in vain, as a man judges so shall he be judged.
    Has any man found himself sinless? Let him without sin cast the first stone.

    Tom

  22. Let’s keep Gal. 1:6-9 in context. They, the apostates, were saying Christ plus the obedience of the law of moses.

  23. I think that although the some theological beliefs must be clarified, beliefs should not be the most observed trait of person before you accept him. If it was, then I guess Jesus was wrong in loving humans in the first place. If we think what we believe is the truth, then we be careful that we don’t be despotic and judgemental in that regard. All this theology was meant by God to help us understand how big His love for us is; it is not a ruler by which we should esteem people, and fall short ourselves.

    The message of God is love despite differences, failures. He clearly states the changes we must undertake. He created a framework for relationships wherein certain parameters must be taken for you to experience the best of it, which is what he intended. However, the job to know who does and doesn’t qualify this prerequisites is God’s. Yes, “Bad company corrupts good character.” However, we must return to God to look for absolutes of good and evil.

    Is not Good the general or specific purpose of God which we may or may not understand? Is it not also that evil is anything innoccent out of God’s will. The Bible states that ‘all have sinned’ and therefore is evil. Jesus said, There is no one good, but God. In the perspective of Salvation, I think we recieved grace and mercy. Grace – recieving what we don’t deserve: a personal relationship with God. Mercy – not recieving what we deserve: eternal death, life withouth God.

    And to base our estimation of a person by whether he accepted or disbelieved salvation is totally an unGodly act. I mean a lot of people did not believe in Jesus back at his time or any time frame at all, but He did continue His assocciation with sinners not because he condones their sins, but rather to make them realize that there’s a better version of life He meant for them. He condemns our sins but not us. I guess all I’m blabbering about is:

    “To reject a person by his beliefs is to reject a person, made in the image of God, whom Jesus Christ loves and died for on the cross as much as he did for you.”
    – @praigLaBLeu

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