Grace In The Arts: Grace Abounding—In Great Literature -- By: Jim Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 03:2 (Autumn 1990)
Article: Grace In The Arts: Grace Abounding—In Great Literature
Author: Jim Townsend

Grace In The Arts:
Grace Abounding—In Great Literature

Jim Townsend1

Elgin, Illinois

Essayist and art critic John Ruskin (in Modern Painters) penned: “I believe that the root of almost every schism and heresy from which the Christian church has ever suffered has been rooted in the effort… to earn rather than to receive… salvation….”2 In other words, Ruskin attributes heresy squarely to a misunderstanding of the doctrine of grace. John Bunyan, most remembered for Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote another book—and a part of his title is Grace Abounding. The purpose of this article is to show the subject of grace—both abused and abounding—throughout some of the world’s great literature and its authors.

I. Grace Abused

1. In Literature

Probably the most frequent and formidable fashion in which grace is abused appears in the form of people—whether in life or literature—who espouse Christian orthodoxy, yet are anything but gracious in character. Hardly a crustier example of religious rigidity could be found in literature than in the character of the infamous Murdstones in Charles Dickens’s semi-autobiographical David Copperfield. The name Murdstone is itself certainly an immediate giveaway as to the character of young David Copperfield’s stepfather and his austere sister. They are true-to-form “wicked” stepparents whom no child would wish to have—austere, harsh disciplinarians. When Miss Murdstone made her debut at David’s house,

she brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the coachman,

she took her money out of a hard steel purse in the very jail of a bag which hung upon her arm by a heavy chain, and shut up like a bug.3

What a wonderfully wicked woman! No televised version could ever do justice to Dickens’s description of her. The repetition of the word “hard” three times is the tip-off to this religious but rigid person. She appears as the female version of that parabolic perception of God as a “hard man” (Matt 25:24, KJV). From a supposed “hard” God (as Matt 25:25 indicates) one only hides things. An open-hearted gracious God begets an open-hearted, disclosive response.

Charles Dickens was obviously familiar with religious eccentrics—as indeed he was with all eccentrics....

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