The Kingdom of Heaven

The “Dead Theologians’ Society”, a monthly men’s reading group at my church, is working our way through Human Nature in its Fourfold State by Thomas Boston, written in 1720 (it helps me follow Lewis’ injunction to read old books; most of our material comes from the Puritans). I’m currently in the chapter on the Kingdom of Heaven, and this sentence really grabbed me:

Now when we shall behold Him, who died for us, that we might live for evermore, whose matchless love made Him swim through the Red Sea of God’s wrath, to make a path in the midst of it for us, by which we might pass safely to Canaan’s land; then we shall see what a glorious One he was, who suffered all this for us; what entertainment He had in the upper house; what hallelujahs of angels could not hinder Him from hearing the groans of a perishing multitude on earth, and from coming down for their help; and what glory He laid aside for us.

(Banner of Truth 1964 edition, p. 454)

Thank you for this, Dan. It made me think of I John 3:2: “Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is.” I read this verse recently and find myself pondering the “because” in the last statement. I have two thoughts: 1) seeing Him is transformative, and 2) We can only see Him when we are like him, have realized the fullness of our redemption in our glorified bodies (I Cor. 15); then, then we can see him, face to face, with pure eyes. We will see the the One who left all glory to enter our darkness and suffer, even the death of the cross.

I’m stuck for a Lewis connection–maybe the soul-filling joy of The Last Battle?


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There’s a hint of it at the end of Screwtape as well. I’ll have to see if I can find a more direct parallel in Lewis, but the other obvious connection is, as I mentioned above, his injunction to read old books (though for him, this may have been positively modern).

The reference to Puritans brought to mind what Screwtape wrote in Letter 10, par. 3:

“In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as ‘Puritanism’ – and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life”.

And it also brought to mind what Lewis called “verbicide” in “Studies in Words”.


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

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Yes, of course; I think Lewis mentioned this elsewhere as well. The passage from Screwtape I was thinking of was from Letter 31, para. 5:

He not only saw Them [angels]; he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, as clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. You would like, if you could, to interpret the patient’s prostration in the Presence, his self-abhorrence and utter knowledge of his sins (yes, Wormwood, a clearer knowledge even than yours) on the analogy of your own choking and paralysing sensations when you encounter the deadly air that breathes from the heart of Heaven. But it’s all nonsense.

On old books, back to Screwtape, letter 27, para. 5:

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true.

By Lewis’s standards, books from the 17th-18th centuries, written in English, probably don’t even qualify as old books–but they’re definitely older than most of what I read, and we’re certainly reading them to address the truth of the content (and with a presumption in favor of their truth).

But I suspect the discussion I was really thinking of was in God in the Dock, Part II, Ch. 4, “On the reading of old books,” pages 200-207 of my copy. Some relevant quotes:

. . . I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ – lies where we have never syspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.

To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

And he does cite a number of 17th-century authors among the “old books”, so I guess I can feel comfortable on that question.

A post was merged into an existing topic: Lewis sighting - John Piper’s blog/podcast

What old books are you reading? The last old book I remember is The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. So very good–I want to read it again!

Currently, as I mentioned, it’s Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State from 1720. It deals at length with the state of man in his innocence (i.e., in the garden, before the fall); in nature (fallen, not yet born again); in grace (having been born again); and in eternity (the judgment, and then heaven or hell). Our last meeting on this book is later this month.

We spent the better part of last year going through George Swinnock’s The Christian Man’s Calling, from 1661-65, volumes 1, 2, and part of 3 of his collected works. It’s an extraordinarily thorough discussion of how a Christian ought to live, covering (among other things) positions as a husband or wife, parent or child, attending church, partaking of the Lord’s Supper, visiting the sick, in your own sickness and death.

Thanks, and sorry I forgot you had mentioned the current book. I will save for future reference.

I am doing tolerably well with reading old books. Where I am struggling is with reading modern ones - except for the very specific kind that are about the period and topics of my old ones.

In what seemed like a tremendously good idea at the time, I began working about a year ago for a PhD in an area of patristic-era theology. The upshot of this is that my reading now ranges across the gamut of writers from Irenaeus of Lyon to Julian of Toledo, with particular attention to the Church in the Latin west. Anything as recent as the eighth century counts as rather too avant-garde for me.

I’m studying part-time (and at a distance), so I have another five years, plus up to two years of writing-up time, left to me. This is good, because I am still at the stage of being fairly clueless about what I’m doing. Still, my formerly rusty schoolboy Latin has been developing quite strongly - as also has my impostor syndrome.

On the bright side, I already understand my research topic far better than I did when last I tried for a PhD, thirty-odd years ago and in maths. I think this counts as a positive thing.

Most of what I’m reading are actually newer books. I decided, about a year ago, that it would be helpful to teach an adult Sunday School class on the reliability of the New Testament text–how can we be confident that we have a reliable record of what the apostles (and their associates) wrote? I decided to call the class θεοπνευστος, after the word used in 2 Tim. 3:16 to describe scripture (translated “breathed out by God” in the ESV). Given that my name is tied to The DaVinci Code, it seemed like a good subject for me to teach (to bust the kinds of myths promulgated there). The only problem was that, other than various Youtube videos, I really don’t have any background in any of the relevant disciplines.

So I’ve been reading Kruger on the Canon of scripture, Metzger and Ehrman on the NT text, Hixson and Gurry on myths of textual criticism, Wasserman and Gurry on CBGM, for some of Dan Wallace’s work, James White’s King James Only Controversy (not that that’s directly my subject, but it deals with many of the issues I want to address[1]), etc. It’s interesting reading, but I haven’t wrapped my head around CBGM yet. But it pretty much demands the reading of newer books, because it’s barely been 100 years that we’ve had the papyri available, and those change a lot of the analysis.

And alongside that, I’m trying to make it through my pastor’s latest book, The Identity and Attributes of God.

I love my church, but it has me buying books faster than I can read them.

  1. I could really teach 80-90% of what I’m intending to cover out of this book, but the subject is too important, IMO, to single-source it. That much more work for me. ↩︎

Hi, Dan, the best book ever written on the writers of the Gospels is Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. I love this book because it presents very strong evidence for the gospels as eyewitness records within the biographical traditions of the time.


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