I just read this passage from a sermon by George MacDonald in a book called George MacDonald in the Pulpit (published by Johannesen) and it reminded me again why I so love the man’s writings. Here’s the sermon heading:
THE UNEXPECTED GUEST
A Discourse Delivered in the
Union Park Congregational Church, Chicago, Illinois
Sunday Evening, April 13th, 1873
“Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” —Revelation iii. 20.
…I have a picture of you sitting alone by your hearth. You hear the wind moaning outside, over the dreary mountain. Now and then a gust of the coming storm beats against your window, and you are cold. You are sitting by your little fire, and you are trying to make it burn to warm you—coaxing it and feeding it, and it will hardly flicker, hardly glow. You have been living a good many years, and you have gathered what seemed to be at one time precious to you. It may be gold, or golden opinions, it matters not. You have got a chest full of these precious things of some sort, but they won’t make the fire burn. You do not care about them, and your very heart s getting cold. But you hear a tap, calling you to the door. You say, “Oh, it is but the wind; or perhaps it is a neighbour coming; I don’t want him; he cannot help me now.”
Perhaps you go to the door and fling it open and find nothing there but the cold clear sky, and the stars looking in. With a sigh of utter loneliness you shut the door. But the tap comes again, and grows more and more importunate. Where can it be? Yes! There is another door to the room of the house, but you have not used it for years and years. Your big chest with the gold in it, or whatever thing it may be, that you have been gathering all these years, but which won’t burn—the chest stands across it. But the knock comes and comes, and you begin to think it is someone better than you had thought. Suspicion arises in your mind that it is some message—something you must know. You start to the door and you drag the chest away. It bursts, and the treasures roll out. You sweep them aside, and you tear open the old neglected door, and there is a face. It is like a human face only it is full of grace and loveliness. “Why, who is it?” Your own, only friend, the only being that understands your heart, he has come to you, and you have opened the door to him, and he has come in to sup by your fire, and take what you have to give him, if it is the poorest supper you could set before a human being. He will sit down and eat with you. You shall say, “I have not much, but what I have is thine. I am a poor creature, so poor that I am ashamed of myself. That is what I have have been doing all my life long—gathering that stuff there. My heart has been withering and withering, and my mind becoming more and more selfish. I have been wanting that which can feed it. I have been putting value upon things that are worthless. I have not been good and kind. I have tried, but have not got on at all. I am a wretched creature.”
But the friend says, “I have come to sup with you, let us talk about it.” And He whose voice the disciples heard as they went to Him, you hear, though it is a stranger, deeper, and a more tender voice still; and He will sit with you and talk with you as if there were not another soul in the universe that wanted Him. How it is, you cannot tell; but if that be not true, it ought to be true before our hearts can be quiet. But do not wait until He ceases knocking. Let Him in. Let Him in and hearken to Him. What is the best thing in this world? What is the best thing we have got? Jesus—some human heart that can love ours and be honest to it, some heart that loves our heart so well that it would die rather than there should be a blot upon it, or a speck of defilement upon it.
For a moment, imagine such a friend as you would like. Imagine the perfection of the ideal of your soul. I do not care, for a moment, how low you are. I know that a creature that God made must imagine an ideal. I say if you are the lowest and most sensual creature in the world, imagine honestly, what you think your ideal man to be. Then I say to the loftiest of you, dream your highest dream, your highest ideal, your loftiest dream, your most glorious fancy, if you will, of what a friend, a man, a hero, and a perfect human being might be, and he is standing at your door, and knocking to get into your heart, only he is a thousand times grander than it is possible for you to think. He is always knocking and always wanting to get in. It seems to me that we are surrounded on all sides by an infinite sea of truth and love, pressing on all sides of us, in order that we might be benefited thereby.
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.
oh goodness. literally….GOODness.
About five years ago, as a homeschooling dad, I decided to read through a list of “100 Essential Classics” so that when my children were old enough to read literature, I could embark on that journey with them. I read whatever struck my fancy, in no particular order, thinking that I had five years or so to get through the list. Don Quixote was a romp, and my children enjoyed my reading some parts aloud. (Don’t read a modern English translation, they’re awful. There is one from the late 19th that has a vocabulary as rich as the original Spanish, and the poetry rhymes.) Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Brothers Karamazov, some Dickens, Chesterton’s works, C.S. Lewis (everything he wrote), Tolkien, and more, were delightful and insightful true classics.
But then my random finger selection method fell upon Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. At the end I slammed the book shut (well, the cover of my eBook) frustrated and filled with such an empty, hopeless feeling. Yes it was well-written, but the world to which it had transported me was full of despair.
Literally moments later, desiring to come out of the gloom, and for some unknown reason, I thought of trying a George MacDonald book, even though none were on “the list.” After all, if Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton all cited him as a profound inspiration, there must be something to him. So at random, I selected “The Flight of the Shadow.” Wow! It was as if George MacDonald had read Wuthering Heights also, slammed it shut in frustration, and set down immediately to pen a story like Bronte’s, but full of light. The setting and tone of the two stories is astonishingly similar, yet MacDonald’s Muse (Jesus) shines through.
At that point I abandoned “the list” and set about reading everything George MacDonald wrote. Each book, some written better than others, was packed full of characters who truly walk with Jesus, teaching by example what a thousand sermons could not. How wonderful it was to meet Sir Gibbie and his adoptive mother Janet, and Donal Grant, and Malcom (and his blind grandfather Duncan), and Thomas Wingfold, and Alister and Ian, and Cosmo, and so many more.
The best part is that God has greatly blessed (beyond what I had even imagined) the original desire I had when I began “the list.” My older children, 13, 15, and 16, and my wife, have joined me in reading about a dozen MacDonald Essentials. Not long ago, during a discussion of our family bible study in the Gospel of Luke, my 13-year-old son said, “Hey! That’s just like what Donal Grant did for so-and-so!” That was only the beginning of the insights and lessons about living a life of simple obedience to Jesus that my family has taken away from MacDonald’s stories.
Praise be to God!
There is something about the preachers/writers of yesterday. I guess the truth of the Gospel never gets dusty no matter what era it was written or recorded. One of my favorites for mp3 sermons is Major Ian Thomas. “Sent,Went,Put”.
Just found that a bunch of George MacDonald’s books are free in the kindle version on Amazon.com. Also, there is one kindle version that is $1.99 and is the Complete Works of George MacDonald.
I always feel nourished after reading MacDonald. Even (or should I say “especially”?) his children’s stories.
Dad likes to be visionary and dream of the future, but I’m not fifteen until next week. 🙂
” and He will sit with you and talk with you as if there were not another soul in the universe that wanted Him. ”
How I love George MacDonald.
I love this. I’m convicted and also lifted up by it. Thank you for sharing!
I love how he describes a chest full of treasure, grown worthless by comparison to our true need, but lying between us and the knocking Savior. So true!
I also love that, here, even the futility of life (Ecclesiastes rendered as poignantly as ever it was) is made beautiful by the mercy of love,
I spent a number of years on treasure hunts in used bookstores collecting George MacDonald anything! I have all his novels and a good many of his collected writings in a variety of editions. They are a place of solace to retreat to – in my corner reading chair – reading story that actually has made my heart leap for joy and overflow with such a desire for the Lord as He is truly brought to life in my spirit through fiction. God – His Story – MacDonald was the best at putting Him on paper in the metaphor of story. Thanks for the post today!
I am stunned, humbled and deeply encouraged. That Christ constantly seeks to sit and be with me, His child who neglects and rejects Him all the time, is mind-blowing.
I was going to mention some quotes, but then I’d be repeating the whole piece. Needless to say, George MacDonald is one of the saints I’m most excited to meet one day.
Thank you Andrew for this perfect dose of inspiration. In “opening the door to him” we are raising our hearts to the overwhelming beauty of love. In effect we are – from that beautiful song by Jason Gray – “bringing our hearts to everyday.”
I wish the RR had one of those “Gateways to Geekery” features on George MacDonald like the A.V. Club does. Where should the MacDonald neophyte begin? What are the next steps? Where should the MacDonald neophyte not begin?
Thank you Andrew. I shall be reading it at a certain prison, and mailing it in beautiful cards to several running people.
Thank you! So grateful for yet another literary mentor, revealing the unseen kingdom =)
I posted of the “George MacDonald (GMD) Essentials” that my family has been reading and then discussing, and I would be happy to share that list with you. You can approach GMD’s writings from a few directions (roughly); fantasy, realistic novels, and preaching–whether unspoken or transcribed.
The world knows him best for his fantasy, though his purpose is probably opaque to most. Some fantasy purists might say that his adult fairy tales–not “adult” in the infantile, Las Vegas sense of the word, but rather in their depth and darkness–are just fantasy for its own sake. Indeed they, along with Tolkien nearly a century later, inspired a whole new genre which the enemy has successfully darkened and perverted like everything else. But upon reading GMD’s works across the spectrum, one gets the idea that he never wrote for “art’s sake” but only ever for Christ’s sake. He clearly saw his writing as his pulpit and evangelistic medium, and it was therefore always consecrated to Jesus.
GMD’s realistic novels have been criticized as fluffy Victorian romance. There is some validity to that view, but when you see them from the standpoint of evangelism, they stand tall as painting some of the finest portraits of ideal Jesus followers. My family has been inspired and challenged by these glorious examples. In one of his biographies I remember GMD quoted as saying that the novels were his pulpit to a wide, popular audience. So if you read them more for the purpose of mining nuggets of spiritual gold, you will not be disappointed. One note of warning though. Many of his novels are wonderfully set in Scotland and therefore use the Scotch dialect of the late 19th century. With effort you can get used to it, but some find the dialog unreadable. This is why most of them were edited and republished by Michael Philips in the 1980’s. Unfortunately Philips didn’t keep the original titles and he shortened some of the stories. If you can do it, the originals are free or super cheap ($1.99 for all of GMD’s works for iBook or Kindle), and you will get the whole story.
Finally, the written sermons are excellent. They are typical of 19th century preaching, being verbose and technical, but as Andrew pointed out with this Rabbit Room post, there are many many illustrations that take your breath away. My personal favorite is when he asks the question, “Who is the true possessor of the earth?” The illustration he uses to prove his point is, as Andrew also said, awesome. You’ll have to find it.
So with that introduction, here’s our family’s list.
1 and 2 – The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie. You have to read them both. G.K. Chesterton cited the pair as a profound personal *spiritual* influence, and I personally see much of the stories and themes echoed in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
3 – At the Back of the North Wind – Mark Twain said this was his children’s favorite story. It’s also a great blend of realism and fantasy. Focus on the Family also did an excellent (must have) radio drama version, which we love here in our house. Thankfully digital media files don’t wear out.
4 – Sir Gibbie – If you only read one of the realistic novels, this is the one.
5 – Malcolm – This one paints the best picture of Scotland, both in place and in people. Some of the characters have, like AP’s Podo, become household friends. Andrew, if you haven’t read Malcolm, then you must–just to compare Podo with Duncan.
6 – Thomas Wingfold – If you weren’t compelled to read the sequel to Sir Gibbie (Donal Grant), or the sequel to Malcolm (The Marquis of Lossie), then try Thomas Wingfold. This is the first of a trilogy that explore several characters who all come from being “religious” (or atheists) to being true Christ followers.
7 – The short fairy tales such as The Light Princess, The Golden Key, The Wise Woman, Day Boy and Night Girl, etc.
8 – Unspoken sermons
There are many more than a dozen represented there, but perhaps this will help a “GMD neophyte” get an idea of where he would like to begin.
Perhaps I sound like a GMD groupie, but the reason his writings are so great to me is that in each one he points the reader to Jesus. Our family has grown closer to Jesus in tangible ways as a result of enjoying GMD’s stories together.
This post is an example of Rabbit Room being awesome. Thanks for uncovering and sharing this treasure.
Most excellent passage. How beautiful are those feet.
If anyone would like to share clips from George, please check out this facebook page.
In studying the Lew Archer novels of Ross Macdonald I’ve tried to identify certain characteristics, themes, motifs, images – call them what you like – that crop up frequently throughout the various books. I don’t claim that the following are particularly important or have any special significance or meaning; nor do I say this is a comprehensive list.
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