Deliver us from morality

C.S. Lewis:

“…In reality [William] Tyndale is trying to express an obstinate fact which meets us long before we venture into the realm of theology; the fact that morality or duty (what he calls ‘the Law’) never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the ‘gospel,’ for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the ‘puritan’ of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote.”

Source: English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944), 187.

HT: D-Math

9 thoughts on “Deliver us from morality

  1. Tony,

    I have come across this type of thinking before, but I never seem to agree, at least fully, with the sentiment.

    Take for instance this quote: “We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind.”

    That very well may be true. But perhaps it is an unfair comparison. Is that the situation we are likely to face this side of heaven? Are we really choosing between those who do the right thing out of duty over those who do the right thing spontaneously out of “true virtue”? I don’t see a lot of people doing the right thing at all.

    What if your choice was between the person who was honest or helpful solely out of duty versus the person who is a bold-faced liar or selfish with integrity? Well, I’ll take the dutifully honest person over the ‘spontaneous’ dishonest one, thank you very much.

    I think duty can be a wonderful virtue. From my limited reading of the puritans, they didn’t frown on a sense of dutifulness either.

    Now, I’m not suggesting it is necessarily the ideal. But I don’t see it as negatively as some make it out to be.

    For example, I want my children to obey me out of love of God and love for me. Barring that, I would prefer obedience out of a sense of duty or obligation over disobedience. I even believe that dutiful action, over time, can often lead to performing the same action but with better motives.

    I have often struggled with the anti-dutyism and the dutyphobia that is prevalent in our society (see, now I have made myself a victim , LOL)

    Seriously though, I would welcome correction on this if I am out to lunch. I have a suspicion I am making an error somewhere. Like perhaps I’m confusing categories or something like that.

    Jude

    ps – you can wait till your finished your book to answer. :)

  2. You have a legitimate point here, Jude. But the point Lewis is making is that holiness is a delight for the Christian not a mere legalistic duty to appease God. Holiness IS a laborious duty for a Pharisee. There are many reasons for this. But where I wrestled with this most was in Jonathan Edwards emphasis on the “beauty of holiness” early in the Miscellanies. For the genuine Christian holiness is something that is beautiful. Holiness catches our eye and our affections. By the Spirit we are compelled to obey not out of mere duty but because we have been awakened to the genuine beauty of holiness. We pursue holiness because we are pursuing beauty. Now all this is a bit more ‘not yet’ and not enough ‘already’. The truth is that we need a push, we need structures, we need help to pursue holiness sometimes. But the point Lewis and Edwards make is a legitimate one: Am I seeking holiness because it is beautiful and because I want it? Convicting and humbling.

  3. I see what you’re getting at. And I see the truth in it.

    If you put ‘mere legalistic’ in front of any word you would make it a bad thing; mere legalistic chastity, mere legalistic charity.

    So, does duty in and of itself have that negative connotation? Can our dutifulness not be grounded in love? Could one be compelled by the Spirit to obey out of a beautiful God-honouring sense of duty? Could we not fulfill our duty out of a beautiful reverence for God as opposed to a mere legalistic sense of duty?

    Those aren’t rhetorical questions; what I’m getting at is duty inherently a negative thing? If it is, then I think that is where I’m getting off track.

    However, one might agree to fulfill an obligation at church not because one sees the beauty in serving God’s people, but rather because one knows it is one’s duty to do so. And I don’t think that person’s main motivation is to try and merit favor with God by ‘doing one’s duty’. The duty seems to be grounded in love and I believe one can reap joy from being dutiful where as the actual action might not seem beautiful in and of itself.

    Perhaps duty by definition suggests an inferior motive and I am not using the word properly. Thanks, you’ve given me some good pondering material.

    Jude

  4. To put it simply, duty (Gk: latreia) is a word that can be used in relation to genuine spiritual duty (ie Rom 12:1). The word requires a modifier to know whether it is good or bad. Edwards’ Freedom of the Will has influenced me here. Regeneration and sanctification are deep acts of God where by he redirects and continues to refine the objects of our wills. So in a sense the pursuit of what is holy is something that comes from the inner working of the heart, not something that can be imposed (Law). So I think my background in Edwards is what makes the Lewis quote appealing and sound. But I may of course be wrong or missing your points altogether, Jude. Blessings, brother!

  5. Here’s my take. Morality starts as a duty and ends as a joy. Take martial arts, which I practice. In the beginning no one is very good at it, and they may not particularly enjoy practice. But they have a desire to someday be good at it and thus they do their duty and practice, even if they don’t want to. After a while they find that they’re better at martial arts, and then, hey, martial arts has become natural and easy. And because people enjoy things that they are good at, they begin to love martial arts. Insert morality for martial arts and that’s my view.

  6. Whooosh! This is a breath of fresh air to me! It seems to compare a sort of legalism with being geared and ignited in thought and deed to, “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.”

  7. Tony, this is very helpful:”To put it simply, duty (Gk: latreia) is a word that can be used in relation to genuine spiritual duty (ie Rom 12:1). The word requires a modifier to know whether it is good or bad.” I think you are getting my point…at least your reply is helpful so your input is at least good accidentally :). And I do not disagree with anything you have said. I guess I read a lot about the negative side of duty but do not hear much about the positive aspects of duty.

    Cory: thanks, what you shared fits nicely with the above.

    Jude

  8. I think there are many things to say about what Lewis means in the quote Tony provides. But perhaps first it’s helpful to put this quote alongside another from the Screwtape Letters:

    “He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

  9. “Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

    Thanks Tom.

    I guess I was trying to get at that idea of ‘duty’. It seems that duty is like many virtues, it is never far from being a vice.

    Jude

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