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Sermons

The Fellowship: Lewis, Tolkien and The Inklings

January 30, 2019 Speaker: The Rev. Brian K. McGreevy Series: The Fellowship: Lewis, Tolkien And The Inklings

Topic: Christian Education

The Weight of Glory
by C.S. Lewis
Preached originally as a sermon in the
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford,
on June 8, 1942: published in
THEOLOGY, November, 1941,
and by the S.P.C.K,
1942
f you asked twenty good men to-day
what they thought the highest of
the virtues, nineteen of them would
reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked
almost any of the great Christians of old he
would have replied, Love. You see what
has happened? A negative term has been
substituted for a positive, and this is of
more than philological importance. The
negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with
it the suggestion not primarily of securing
good things for others, but of going
without them ourselves, as if our
abstinence and not their happiness was the
important point. I do not think this is the
Christian virtue of Love. The New
Testament has lots to say about self-denial,
but not about self-denial as an end in itself.
We are told to deny ourselves and to take
up our crosses in order that we may follow
Christ; and nearly every description of
what we shall ultimately find if we do so
contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks
in most modern minds the notion that to
desire our own good and earnestly to hope
for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I
submit that this notion has crept in from
Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the
Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the
unblushing promises of reward and the
staggering nature of the rewards promised
in the Gospels, it would seem that Our
Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but
too weak. We are half-hearted creatures,
fooling about with drink and sex and
ambition when infinite joy is offered us,
like an ignorant child who wants to go on
making mud pies in a slum because he
cannot imagine what is meant by the offer
of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily
pleased.
We must not be troubled by unbelievers
when they say that this promise of reward
makes the Christian life a mercenary affair.
There are different kinds of reward. There
is the reward which has no natural
connexion with the things you do to earn
it, and is quite foreign to the desires that
ought to accompany those things. Money
is not the natural reward of love; that is
why we call a man mercenary if he marries
a woman for the sake of her money. But
marriage is the proper reward for a real
lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring
it. A general who fights well in order to get
a peerage is mercenary; a general who
fights for victory is not, victory being the
I
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proper reward of battle as marriage is the
proper reward of love. The proper rewards
are not simply tacked on to the activity for
which they are given, but are the activity
itself in consummation. There is also a
third case, which is more complicated. An
enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a
proper, and not a mercenary, reward for
learning Greek; but only those who have
reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry
can tell from their own experience that this
is so. The schoolboy beginning Greek
grammar cannot look forward to his adult
enjoyment of Sophocles as a lover looks
forward to marriage or a general to victory.
He has to begin by working for marks, or
to escape punishment, or to please his
parents, or, at best, in the hope of a future
good which he cannot at present imagine
or desire. His position, therefore, bears a
certain resemblance to that of the
mercenary; the reward he is going to get
will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper
reward, but he will not know that till he
has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually;
enjoyment creeps in upon the mere
drudgery, and nobody could point to a day
or an hour when the one ceased and the
other began. But it is just in so far as he
approaches the reward that be becomes
able to desire it for its own sake; indeed,
the power of so desiring it is itself a
preliminary reward.
The Christian, in relation to heaven, is in
much the same position as this schoolboy.
Those who have attained everlasting life in
the vision of God doubtless know very well
that it is no mere bribe, but the very
consummation of their earthly
discipleship; but we who have not yet
attained it cannot know this in the same
way, and cannot even begin to know it at
all except by continuing to obey and
finding the first reward of our obedience in
our increasing power to desire the ultimate
reward. Just in proportion as the desire
grows, our fear lest it should be a
mercenary desire will die away and finally
be recognized as an absurdity. But
probably this will not, for most of us,
happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar,
gospel replaces law, longing transforms
obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a
grounded ship.
But there is one other important similarity
between the schoolboy and ourselves. If he
is an imaginative boy he will, quite
probably, be revelling in the English poets
and romancers suitable to his age some
time before he begins to suspect that Greek
grammar is going to lead him to more and
more enjoyments of this same sort. He
may even be neglecting his Greek to read
Shelley and Swinburne in secret. In other
words, the desire which Greek is really
going to gratify already exists in him and is
attached to objects which seem to him
quite unconnected with Xenophon and the
verbs in μι. Now, if we are made for
heaven, the desire for our proper place will
be already in us, but not yet attached to
the true object, and will even appear as the
rival of that object. And this, I think, is
just what we find. No doubt there is one
point in which my analogy of the
schoolboy breaks down. The English
poetry which he reads when he ought to be
doing Greek exercises may be just as good
as the Greek poetry to which the exercises
are leading him, so that in fixing on
Milton instead of journeying on to
Aeschylus his desire is not embracing a
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false object. But our case is very different.
If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our
real destiny, then any other good on which
our desire fixes must be in some degree
fallacious, must bear at best only a
symbolical relation to what will truly
satisfy.
In speaking of this desire for our own faroff
country, which we find in ourselves
even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am
almost committing an indecency. I am
trying to rip open the inconsolable secret
in each one of you—the secret which hurts
so much that you take your revenge on it
by calling it names like Nostalgia and
Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret
also which pierces with such sweetness that
when, in very intimate conversation, the
mention of it becomes imminent, we grow
awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves;
the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell,
though we desire to do both. We cannot
tell it because it is a desire for something
that has never actually appeared in our
experience. We cannot hide it because our
experience is constantly suggesting it, and
we betray ourselves like lovers at the
mention of a name. Our commonest
expedient is to call it beauty and behave as
if that had settled the matter.
Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it
with certain moments in his own past. But
all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone
back to those moments in the past, he
would not have found the thing itself, but
only the reminder of it; what he
remembered would turn out to be itself a
remembering. The books or the music in
which we thought the beauty was located
will betray us if we trust to them; it was
not in them, it only came through them,
and what came through them was longing.
These things—the beauty, the memory of
our own past—are good images of what we
really desire; but if they are mistaken for
the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,
breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are
only the scent of a flower we have not
found, the echo of a tune we have not
heard, news from a country we have never
yet visited. Do you think I am trying to
weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember
your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking
enchantments as well as for inducing them.
And you and I have need of the strongest
spell that can be found to wake us from
the evil enchantment of worldliness which
has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred
years. Almost our whole education has
been directed to silencing this shy,
persistent, inner voice; almost all our
modem philosophies have been devised to
convince us that the good of man is to be
found on this earth. And yet it is a
remarkable thing that such philosophies of
Progress or Creative Evolution themselves
bear reluctant witness to the truth that our
real goal is elsewhere. When they want to
convince you that earth is your home,
notice how they set about it. They begin
by trying to persuade you that earth can be
made into heaven, thus giving a sop to
your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next,
they tell you that this fortunate event is
still a good way off in the future, thus
giving a sop to your knowledge that the
fatherland is not here and now. Finally,
lest your longing for the transtemporal
should awake and spoil the whole affair,
they use any rhetoric that comes to hand
to keep out of your mind the recollection
that even if all the happiness they promised
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could come to man on earth, yet still each
generation would lose it by death,
including the last generation of all, and the
whole story would be nothing, not even a
story, for ever and ever. Hence all the
nonsense that Mr. Shaw puts into the final
speech of Lilith, and Bergson’s remark that
the élan vital is capable of surmounting all
obstacles, perhaps even death—as if we
could believe that any social or biological
development on this planet will delay the
senility of the sun or reverse the second law
of thermodynamics.
Do what they will, then, we remain
conscious of a desire which no natural
happiness will satisfy. But is there any
reason to suppose that reality offers any
satisfaction to it? “Nor does the being
hungry prove that we have bread.” But I
think it may be urged that this misses the
point. A man’s physical hunger does not
prove that that man will get any bread; he
may die of starvation on a raft in the
Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does
prove that he comes of a race which repairs
its body by eating and inhabits a world
where eatable substances exist. In the same
way, though I do not believe (I wish I did)
that my desire for Paradise proves that I
shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good
indication that such a thing exists and that
some men will. A man may love a woman
and not win her; but it would be very odd
if the phenomenon called “falling in love”
occurred in a sexless world.
Here, then, is the desire, still wandering
and uncertain of its object and still largely
unable to see that object in the direction
where it really lies. Our sacred books give
us some account of the object. It is, of
course, a symbolical account. Heaven is, by
definition, outside our experience, but all
intelligible descriptions must be of things
within our experience. The scriptural
picture of heaven is therefore just as
symbolical as the picture which our desire,
unaided, invents for itself; heaven is not
really full of jewelry any more than it is
really the beauty of Nature, or a fine piece
of music. The difference is that the
scriptural imagery has authority. It comes
to us from writers who were closer to God
than we, and it has stood the test of
Christian experience down the centuries.
The natural appeal of this authoritative
imagery is to me, at first, very small. At
first sight it chills, rather than awakes, my
desire. And that is just what I ought to
expect. If Christianity could tell me no
more of the far-off land than my own
temperament led me to surmise already,
then Christianity would be no higher than
myself. If it has more to give me, I must
expect it to be less immediately attractive
than “my own stuff.” Sophocles at first
seems dull and cold to the boy who has
only reached Shelley. If our religion is
something objective, then we must never
avert our eyes from those elements in it
which seem puzzling or repellent; for it
will be precisely the puzzling or the
repellent which conceals what we do not
yet know and need to know.
The promises of Scripture may very
roughly be reduced to five heads. It is
promised, firstly, that we shall be with
Christ; secondly, that we shall be like Him;
thirdly, with an enormous wealth of
imagery, that we shall have “glory”;
fourthly, that we shall, in some sense, be
fed or feasted or entertained; and, finally,
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that we shall have some sort of official
position in the universe—ruling cities,
judging angels, being pillars of God’s
temple. The first question I ask about
these promises is: “Why any of them
except the first?” Can anything be added to
the conception of being with Christ? For it
must be true, as an old writer says, that he
who has God and everything else has no
more than he who has God only. I think
the answer turns again on the nature of
symbols. For though it may escape our
notice at first glance, yet it is true that any
conception of being with Christ which
most of us can now form will be not very
much less symbolical than the other
promises; for it will smuggle in ideas of
proximity in space and loving conversation
as we now understand conversation, and it
will probably concentrate on the humanity
of Christ to the exclusion of His deity.
And, in fact, we find that those Christians
who attend solely to this first promise
always do fill it up with very earthly
imagery indeed—in fact, with hymeneal or
erotic imagery. I am not for a moment
condemning such imagery. I heartily wish
I could enter into it more deeply than I do,
and pray that I yet shall. But my point is
that this also is only a symbol, like the
reality in some respects, but unlike it in
others, and therefore needs correction from
the different symbols in the other
promises. The variation of the promises
does not mean that anything other than
God will be our ultimate bliss; but because
God is more than a Person, and lest we
should imagine the joy of His presence too
exclusively in terms of our present poor
experience of personal love, with all its
narrowness and strain and monotony, a
dozen changing images, correcting and
relieving each other, are supplied.
I turn next to the idea of glory. There is no
getting away from the fact that this idea is
very prominent in the New Testament and
in early Christian writings. Salvation is
constantly associated with palms, crowns,
white robes, thrones, and splendour like
the sun and stars. All this makes no
immediate appeal to me at all, and in that
respect I fancy I am a typical modern.
Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which
one seems wicked and the other ridiculous.
Either glory means to me fame, or it means
luminosity. As for the first, since to be
famous means to be better known than
other people, the desire for fame appears to
me as a competitive passion and therefore
of hell rather than heaven. As for the
second, who wishes to become a kind of
living electric light bulb?
When I began to look into this matter I
was stocked to find such different
Christians as Milton, Johnson and
Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory
quite frankly in the sense of fame or good
report. But not fame conferred by our
fellow creatures—fame with God, approval
or (I might say) “appreciation’ by God.
And then, when I had thought it over, I
saw that this view was scriptural; nothing
can eliminate from the parable the divine
accolade, “Well done, thou good and
faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of
what I had been thinking all my life fell
down like a house of cards. I suddenly
remembered that no one can enter heaven
except as a child; and nothing is so obvious
in a child—not in a conceited child, but in
a good child—as its great and undisguised
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pleasure in being praised. Not only in a
child, either, but even in a dog or a horse.
Apparently what I had mistaken for
humility had, all these years. prevented me
from understanding what is in fact the
humblest, the most childlike, the most
creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific
pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure a beast
before men, a child before its father, a
pupil before his teacher, a creature before
its Creator. I am not forgetting how
horribly this most innocent desire is
parodied in our human ambitions, or how
very quickly, in my own experience, the
lawful pleasure of praise from those whom
it was my duty to please turns into the
deadly poison of self-admiration. But I
thought I could detect a moment—a very,
very short moment—before this happened,
during which the satisfaction of having
pleased those whom I rightly loved and
rightly feared was pure. And that is enough
to raise our thoughts to what may happen
when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope
and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that
she has pleased Him whom she was created
to please. There will be no room for vanity
then. She will be free from the miserable
illusion that it is her doing. With no taint
of what we should now call self-approval
she will most innocently rejoice in the
thing that God has made her to be, and
the moment which heals her old inferiority
complex for ever will also drown her pride
deeper than Prospero’s book. Perfect
humility dispenses with modesty. If God is
satisfied with the work, the work may be
satisfied with itself; “it is not for her to
bandy compliments with her Sovereign.” I
can imagine someone saying that he
dislikes my idea of heaven as a place where
we are patted on the back. But proud
misunderstanding is behind that dislike. In
the end that Face which is the delight or
the terror of the universe must be turned
upon each of us either with one expression
or with the other, either conferring glory
inexpressible or inflicting shame that can
never be cured or disguised. I read in a
periodical the other day that the
fundamental thing is how we think of
God. By God Himself, it is not! How God
thinks of us is not only more important,
but infinitely more important. Indeed,
how we think of Him is of no importance
except in so far as it is related to how He
thinks of us. It is written that we shall
“stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be
inspected. The promise of glory is the
promise, almost incredible and only
possible by the work of Christ, that some
of us, that any of us who really chooses,
shall actually survive that examination,
shall find approval, shall please God. To
please God...to be a real ingredient in the
divine happiness...to be loved by God, not
merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist
delights in his work or a father in a son—it
seems impossible, a weight or burden of
glory which our thoughts can hardly
sustain. But so it is.
And now notice what is happening. If I
had rejected the authoritative and
scriptural image of glory and stuck
obstinately to the vague desire which was,
at the outset, my only pointer to heaven, I
could have seen no connexion at all
between that desire and the Christian
promise. But now, having followed up
what seemed puzzling and repellent in the
sacred books, I find, to my great surprise,
looking back, that the connexion is
perfectly clear. Glory, as Christianity
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teaches me to hope for it, turns out to
satisfy my original desire and indeed to
reveal an element in that desire which I
had not noticed. By ceasing for a moment
to consider my own wants I have begun to
learn better what I really wanted. When I
attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe
our spiritual longings, I was omitting one
of their most curious characteristics. We
usually notice it just as the moment of
vision dies away, as the music ends or as
the landscape loses the celestial light. What
we feel then has been well described by
Keats as “the journey homeward to
habitual self.” You know what I mean. For
a few minutes we have had the illusion of
belonging to that world. Now we wake to
find that it is no such thing. We have been
mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but
not to welcome us; her face was turned in
our direction, but not to see us. We have
not been accepted, welcomed, or taken
into the dance. We may go when we
please, we may stay if we can: “Nobody
marks us.” A scientist may reply that since
most of the things we call beautiful are
inanimate, it is not very surprising that
they take no notice of us. That, of course,
is true. It is not the physical objects that I
am speaking of, but that indescribable
something of which they become for a
moment the messengers. And part of the
bitterness which mixes with the sweetness
of that message is due to the fact that it so
seldom seems to be a message intended for
us but rather something we have
overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not
resentment. We should hardly dare to ask
that any notice be taken of ourselves. But
we pine. The sense that in this universe we
are treated as strangers, the longing to be
acknowledged, to meet with some
response, to bridge some chasm that yawns
between us and reality, is part of our
inconsolable secret. And surely, from this
point of view, the promise of glory, in the
sense described, becomes highly relevant to
our deep desire. For glory meant good
report with God, acceptance by God,
response, acknowledgment, and welcome
into the heart of things. The door on
which we have been knocking all our lives
will open at last.
Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe
glory as the fact of being “noticed” by
God. But this is almost the language of the
New Testament. St. Paul promises to those
who love God not, as we should expect,
that they will know Him, but that they
will be known by Him (I Cor. viii. 3). It is
a strange promise. Does not God know all
things at all times? But it is dreadfully reechoed
in another passage of the New
Testament. There we are warned that it
may happen to any one of us to appear at
last before the face of God and hear only
the appalling words: “I never knew you.
Depart from Me.” In some sense, as dark
to the intellect as it is unendurable to the
feelings, we can be both banished from the
presence of Him who is present
everywhere and erased from the knowledge
of Him who knows all. We can be left
utterly and absolutely outside—repelled,
exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably
ignored. On the other hand, we can be
called in, welcomed, received,
acknowledged. We walk every day on the
razor edge between these two incredible
possibilities. Apparently, then, our lifelong
nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with
something in the universe from which we
now feel cut off, to be on the inside of
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some door which we have always seen
from the outside, is no mere neurotic
fancy, but the truest index of our real
situation. And to be at last summoned
inside would be both glory and honour
beyond all our merits and also the healing
of that old ache.
And this brings me to the other sense of
glory—glory as brightness, splendour,
luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we
are to be given the Morning Star. I think I
begin to see what it means. In one way, of
course, God has given us the Morning Star
already: you can go and enjoy the gift on
many fine mornings if you get up early
enough. What more, you may ask, do we
want? Ah, but we want so much more—
something the books on aesthetics take
little notice of. But the poets and the
mythologies know all about it. We do not
want merely to see beauty, though, God
knows, even that is bounty enough. We
want something else which can hardly be
put into words—to be united with the
beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it
into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become
part of it. That is why we have peopled air
and earth and water with gods and
goddesses and nymphs and elves—that,
though we cannot, yet these projections
can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace,
and power of which Nature is the image.
That is why the poets tell us such lovely
falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind
could really sweep into a human soul; but
it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of
murmuring sound” will pass into a human
face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we
take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if
we believe that God will one day give us
the Morning Star and cause us to put on
the splendour of the sun, then we may
surmise that both the ancient myths and
the modern poetry, so false as history, may
be very near the truth as prophecy. 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. When human souls have
become as perfect in voluntary obedience
as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless
obedience, then they will put on its glory,
or rather that greater glory of which
Nature is only the first sketch. For you
must not think that I am putting forward
any heathen fancy of being absorbed into
Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive
her. When all the suns and nebulae have
passed away, each one of you will still be
alive. Nature is only the image, the
symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture
invites me to use. We are summoned to
pass in through Nature, beyond her, into
that splendour which she fitfully reflects.
And in there, in beyond Nature, we shall
eat of the tree of life. At present, if we are
reborn in Christ, the spirit in us lives
directly on God; but the mind, and still
more the body, receives life from Him at a
thousand removes—through our ancestors,
through our food, through the elements.
The faint, far-off results of those energies
which God’s creative rapture implanted in
matter when He made the worlds are what
we now call physical pleasures; and even
thus filtered, they are too much for our
present management. What would it be to
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taste at the fountain-head that stream of
which even these lower reaches prove so
intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies
before us. The whole man is to drink joy
from the fountain of joy. As St. Augustine
said, the rapture of the saved soul will
“flow over” into the glorified body. In the
light of our present specialized and
depraved appetites we cannot imagine this
torrens voluptatis, and I warn everyone
seriously not to try. But it must be
mentioned, to drive out thoughts even
more misleading—thoughts that what is
saved is a mere ghost, or that the risen
body lives in numb insensibility. The body
was made for the Lord, and these dismal
fancies are wide of the mark.
Meanwhile the cross comes before the
crown and tomorrow is a Monday
morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless
walls of the world, and we are invited to
follow our great Captain inside. The
following Him is, of course, the essential
point. That being so, it may be asked what
practical use there is in the speculations
which I have been indulging. I can think
of at least one such use. It may be possible
for each to think too much of his own
potential glory hereafter; it is hardly
possible for him to think too often or too
deeply about that of his neighbour. The
load, or weight, or burden of my
neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on
my back, a load so heavy that only
humility can carry it, and the backs of the
proud will be broken. It is a serious thing
to live in a society of possible gods and
goddesses, to remember that the dullest
and most uninteresting person you talk to
may one day be a creature which, if you
saw it now, you would be strongly tempted
to worship, or else a horror and a
corruption such as you now meet, if at all,
only in a nightmare. All day long we are,
in some degree, helping each other to one
or other of these destinations. It is in the
light of these overwhelming possibilities, it
is with the awe and the circumspection
proper to them, that we should conduct all
our dealings with one another, all
friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have
never talked to a mere mortal. Nations,
cultures, arts, civilization—these are
mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of
a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke
with, work with, marry, snub, and
exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting
splendours. This does not mean that we
are to be perpetually solemn. We must
play. But our merriment must be of that
kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind)
which exists between people who have,
from the outset, taken each other
seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no
presumption. And our charity must be a
real and costly love, with deep feeling for
the sins in spite of which we love the
sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence
which parodies love as flippancy parodies
merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament
itself, your neighbour is the holiest object
presented to your senses. If he is your
Christian neighbour he is holy in almost
the same way, for in him also Christ vere
latitat—the glorifier and the glorified,
Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

75 Years Ago Tonight: C. S. Lewis Delivers a
Sermon in Oxford on “The Weight of Glory”
JUNE 8, 2016  | Justin Taylor
 
 
C.S. Lewis, ca. 1940. Used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.
On June 8, 1941, C.S. Lewis stepped outside of The Kilns, the residence on the outskirts of Headington Quarry he
shared with his older brother, Warnie, and their demanding 69-year-old housemate Mrs. Janie Moore, the mother of
a friend who had died in World War I.
It was a pleasant Sunday evening, with a slight breeze in the air and a temperature of 11 °C(61°F).
Lewis, who never learned to drive, eased his way into the car to be driven by Fred Paxford, the gardener and
handyman who had worked at The Kilns since before Mrs. Moore and Lewis acquired the property in 1930. Paxford
and Lewis were both 42-year-old bachelors—the latter just three months older than the former. Years later, when
Lewis wrote The Silver Chair in his Narnia series, he based the character Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle on Paxford:
“an inwardly optimistic, outwardly pessimistic, dear, frustrating, shrewd countryman of immense integrity.”
With Paxford behind the wheel, the two men made their way west along London Road, which soon turned into
Headington Road. The three-mile trip takes around 15 minutes by car. They arrived at their destination, the
University Church of St Mary the Virgin, located on the north side of High Street, where Lewis was to deliver the
Solemn Evensong sermon.
Originally built in the 13th century as the home of the university, St Mary’s—the parish church of Oxford
University—hosted notable figures and events in virtually every century. In the 16th century archbishop Thomas
Cranmer, along with bishops Latimer and Ridley, were tried for heresy in the church and executed at Broad Street.
In the 18th century John Wesley attended sermons in the church as an undergraduate student and later preached
from its pulpit. In the 19th century John Henry Newman served as vicar of the church, delivering well-
received sermons until he left the Church of England in 1845 and was received into the Roman Catholic Church.
The 1940s saw Lewis increasing in popularity and visibility. In February he had received a letter from Rev. J. W.
Welch, director of the Religious Broadcasting Department of the BBC, inviting Lewis to give a series of wartime
radio addresses, which he would begin delivering in August. In May, The Guardian had begun publishing weekly
installments of Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters.” Six years later, in September of 1947, he would grace the cover
of Time magazine.
Lewis preached several sermons throughout his lifetime. Almost all of the surviving records are from the 1940s,
where he preached nearly 20 sermons, many of them as a volunteer Lay Lecturer for the RAF (Royal Air Force)
Chaplains’ Branch.
Fifteen months before he preached “The Weight of Glory” he had given an evensong sermon at St Mary’s
entitlted “None Other Gods: Culture in War-Time” (October 22, 1939), later shortened and recast in publication form
as simply “Learning in War-Time.” Both sermons were at the invitation of Canon T. Richard (“Dick”) Milford, the 45-
year-old Vicar of St Mary’s, and both were prompted by his reading of The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), Lewis’s first
Christian book.
England, of course, was heavily engaged in World War II at this time. Between these two preaching engagements at
St Mary’s—from September 7, 1940, to May 21, 1941—British cities were on the receiving end of 100 tons of
explosives dropped during air raids, including 71 attacks upon London, some 60 miles to the southeast.
As Lewis ascended the pulpit that evening, he looked out at the Oxford students and dons to witness what Walter
Hooper later described as “one of the largest congregations ever assembled there in modern times.”
The anticipation to hear Lewis must have been significant, but the listeners could hardly have predicted that they
were about to hear what would become one of the most famous sermons of the twentieth century, still being read
and appreciated seventy five years hence. Lewis’s announced text for the address was Revelation 2:26, 28, a
passage different from the day’s New Testament reading in the Book of Common Prayer: “And he that overcometh,
and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations . . . And I will give him the morning
star” (KJV). Lewis does not quote from the passage directly or refer to it by its reference, though he does discuss
near the end of the sermon what it means to be given “the morning star.”
The title of the sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” comes from 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light affliction, which is but
for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” But even this verse receives only a
passing mention in the course of his remarks. One of the striking features about Lewis’s sermonic work is how little
exegetical work they contain. They are more like philosophical, theological, and practical meditations on themes
than exposition proper.
The address in printed form is just over 5,300 words. Based upon his speaking pace from his surviving audio, where
he spoke at a clip of 120 words per minute, this talk at the same rate would have lasted about 45 minutes.
Lewis’s two-and-a-half minute opener is now one of his best-known passages:
“If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply,
Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love.
You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological
importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others,
but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.
I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial
as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly
every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds
the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion
has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it
would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with
drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a
slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
On August 17, a couple of months after delivering the sermon, Lewis responded to Alec Vidler, the Anglo-Catholic
editor of the monthly journal Theology, granting him permission to publish the talk. It appeared that fall: C. S. Lewis,
“The Weight of Glory,” Theology 43, no. 257 (November 1941): 263-74.
The following year, the Anglican mission organization Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), which
publishes Theology, produced the address as a 4.25″ x 6.5″ 24-page pamphlet, sold for 2 pence.
At the end of the decade, the British publisher Geoffrey Bles released Lewis’s Transposition and Other
Addresses (1949) as a 62-page hardcover, containing five essays:
 “Transposition”
 “The Weight of Glory”
 “Membership”
 “Learning in War-Time”
 “The Inner Ring”
The American edition, published the same year by Macmillan, dropped the “Transposition” essay and changed the
book title to highlight The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses.
Lewis explained in the preface that all of the addresses were for specific requests and addressed to particular
audiences, and that they are largely reprinted as originally given.
From left to right, the first editions of the Geoffrey Bles edition in the UK (1949), the Macmillan edition in the US
(1949), and the Eerdmans paperback edition in 1965.
In 1980, Macmillan released a revised and expanded edition, with a new introduction by Walter Hooper, literary
adviser to the Lewis estate and Lewis’s secretary at the end of his life. To the original five essays, Hooper restored
“Transposition” and included four more: “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” “Is Theology Poetry?” “On Forgiveness,” and “A
Slip of the Tongue.”
Hooper arranged the various essays chronologically, with one exception: he placed “The Weight of Glory” at the
front, writing that it is “so magnificent that not only do I dare to consider it worthy of a place with some of the Church
Fathers, but I fear I should be hanged by Lewis’s admirers if it were not given primacy of place.”
Hooper’s comments note the longstanding popularity of “The Weight of Glory” among Lewis’s admirers, but the
essay became especially well-known among Reformed evangelicals through the writings of John Piper. Piper
discovered Eerdmans’ 1965 paperback edition of The Weight of Glory in the fall of 1968, as a first-year student at
Fuller Seminary, while browsing at Vroman’s Bookstore on Colorado Avenue in Pasadena, just a few blocks
southeast of the seminary.
“The first page of that sermon,” he now says of the passage quoted above, “is one of the most influential pages of
literature I have ever read.” “There it was in black and white,” Piper recounts, “and to my mind it was totally
compelling: It is not a bad thing to desire our own good. In fact, the great problem of human beings is that they are
far too easily pleased. They don’t seek pleasure with nearly the resolve and passion that they should. And so they
settle for mud pies of appetite instead of infinite delight.” He had never in his whole life heard a Christian, let alone
one of Lewis’s stature, say these kinds of things, and Piper became convinced that our fault lay not in our desire for
happiness but in the weakness of our quest for true and lasting joy.
John Piper’s copy of C.S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory,” purchased in 1968.
Nearly a decade later, while teaching biblical studies at Bethel College, Piper published “How I Became a Christian
Hedonist,” His 37 (March 1977): 1, 4-5, building off of Lewis’s insights from “The Weight of Glory,” combined with
that of the Psalms, Lewis’s Reflection on the Psalms, and the writings of Blaise Pascal. In 1986, Piper expanded this
essay, this time incorporating the work of Jonathan Edwards, which became the introduction to his signature
book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.
“The Weight of Glory” can be read online in its entirety. As the length of this post might suggest, it is worth the
investment of your time to read and consider the whole thing. For it was 75 years ago tonight that the church
received one of the great sermons of the 20th century.

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