The guest speaker had ten minutes. The venue was not completely foreign. He had previously given a series of radio talks addressing issues such as the existence of God, the moral law, and the meaning and message of Jesus Christ. On this Sunday afternoon, September 27, 1942, he would address behavior, Christian behavior.
“Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that,” he began. “The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see.” The speaker, a recent Christian convert and a tutor at Oxford, was professor Clive Staples Lewis. Until the day of his death, November 22, 1963, C.S. Lewis would work tirelessly to bring anyone who would listen back to the “old simple principles.”
For me, the most poignant “old simple principle” in Lewis’s broadcast talk is the last. Under the rubric of “Charity,” he confronts his listeners’ stewardship:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. . . . For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity.
Lewis concludes the address saying,
I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbor as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward—driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home.
For us, Lewis’s words are convicting. What about the original audience? C.S. Lewis, at the invitation of the BBC, was speaking to thousands of Britons who had little to give and much to lose. Such basics as meat, bacon, sugar, and butter were in rationed, short supply. Hilter’s naval blockade of the British Isles and devastating air raids on central London were a mere prologue to the coming climax and catastrophe—land invasion. Against this backdrop Lewis calls for self-sacrifice, courage, neighbor-love, and obedience. Profound.
Remember this “old simple principle” this stewardship season: Give until (when) it hurts.