Some Theological Themes Common to C.S. Lewis and John Wesley

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In similar fashion, John Wesley in Sermon 17 (II.7) observes that without self-denial, one cannot expect to see the kingdom of God. Wesley’s 48th sermon, on the topic of self-denial, asserts that Christian discipleship is impossible without renunciation of our own will in favor of obedience to God, precisely the same lesson that Orual learns at the end of her life.

John Wesley understands a person’s spiritual senses to be directly analogous to the physical senses.  For Wesley, assurance of peace is part and parcel of the inner witness.  He wrote in part I of “A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion” that “as we are figuratively said to see the light of faith, so by a like figure of speech we are said to feel this peace and joy and love; that, is, we have an inward experience of them, which we cannot find any fitter word to express.” His emphasis here upon the words “see” and “feel” underscores his understanding that, just as there are physical senses, so are there spiritual senses.  The implication here is that the spiritual world is real and can be sensed, just as the physical world is known by sight, hearing, and touch.

In his sermon, “The New Birth,” Wesley provides an extended analogy between a new Christian, who has never used his spiritual senses, and newborn baby, who has not yet learned to use his eyes to see or his ears to hear.  In both cases, it is necessary to learn how to use the senses.  A child in the womb has never used them, nor has the non-Christian had the occasion to use the spiritual senses until experiencing the new birth. Wesley writes, “How exactly does the parallel hold in all these instances?  While a man [or woman] is in a mere natural state, before he is born of God, he [or she] has, in a spiritual sense, eyes and sees not.”

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Western world increasingly began to perceive reality as in some way separate from the self.  Wesley’s view of reality was more participatory.  Owen Barfield, a close associate of C. S. Lewis and member of the inklings, advocated a similar understanding of reality, and Barfield’s views may have been an important influence upon Lewis, since both Barfield and Lewis sought to bring about a re-enchantment of our contemporary understanding of reality.

This re-enchantment can only be brought about fully through the crucified life.  In Perelandra, the second volume of Lewis’s space trilogy, there is an allusion to the crucified life, or death to self, and the understanding that His yoke is easy and His burden is light, to the extent that, indeed, one’s meat and drink, ideally, is to do the will of the Father.  Ransom’s thoughts after being in the presence of the Queen of Perelandra were described as follows: “When a man asserts his independence [he] feels that now at last he’s on his own.  When you felt like that, then the very air seemed too crowded to breathe; a complete fullness seemed to be excluding you from a place which, nevertheless, you were unable to leave.  But when you gave in to the thing, gave yourself up to it, there was no burden to be borne.  It became not a load but a medium, a sort of splendor as of eatable, drinkable, breathable gold, which fed and carried you and not only poured into you but out from you as well.  Taken the wrong way, it suffocated; taken the right way, it made terrestrial life seem, by comparison, a vacuum.” For the Queen of Perelandra, obedience to God was natural, easy, and fulfilling.  “I am his beast, and all His biddings are joys,” she said. The implication is that this state of always being very glad and happy to obey God would be the ideal, also, for humanity redeemed from the fall.