C.S. Lewis on Giving Ourselves to God
C.S. Lewis preached the sermon “On a Slip of the Tongue” on January 29, 1956 at Cambridge’s Magdalen College chapel. It was the last sermon he preached. I read it in the complication of his papers, The Weight of Glory. This is a summary and outline of the main points. All quotes are his unless otherwise noted.
There is a temptation among Christians to view the Christian life like paying your taxes. We agree with the main principle of paying taxes, yet we nevertheless want to pay the minimum amount possible. But God does not want more of our time and attention. He wants us. God is love, but he cannot bless us unless we entrust ourselves completely to Him.
Lewis describes a “slip of the tongue” he had when saying a prayer:
I had meant to pray that I might so pass through things temporal that I finally lost not the things eternal; I found I had prayed so to pass through things eternal that I finally lost not the things temporal.
He attaches the following significance to it:
I come into the presences of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerable inconvenient when I have come out again into my “ordinary life”.
Lewis illustrates his point with the analogy of paying taxes:
Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant taxpayers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in the tax. We are very careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope - we very ardently hope - that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on.
Lewis describes why this is a plausible lie:
It is really possible to be carried away by religious emotion… into resolutions and attitudes which we shall, not sinfully but rationally, not when we are more worldly but when we are wiser, have cause to regret.
However, it is nevertheless a lie:
There is no parallel to paying taxes and living on the remainder. For it is not so much of our time and so much of our attention that God demands; it is not even all our time and all our attention; it is ourselves. For each of us the Baptist’s words are true; “He must increase and I decrease.”
Lewis explains why.
He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls… in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.
He then counters two possible misinterpretations of what he is saying:
I do not mean that each of us will necessarily be called to be a martyr or even an ascetic. That’s as may be. For some (nobody knows which) the Christian life will include much leisure, many occupations we naturally like. But these will be received from God’s hands.
Of course, I don’t mean that I can therefore as they say “sit back.” What God does for us, He does in us… We may never, this side of death drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not in the Vichy government.