If our greatest triumphs come out of our greatest struggles, Christians everywhere should be grateful that Charles Dickens struggled so much with the wide gap between Christian faith’s ideals and its’ practice in society. Out of Charles Dickens’s struggles, Dickens has left the Christian faith a literary legacy that preaches to the Christian world today. It was from Dickens Personal faith struggles that he illustrated sermons in his books.
The young Dickens’s greatest childhood tragedy was when he had to leave Mr. Giles school, a Baptist school where he found affirmation and affection, because of his father’s imprisonment in debtors’ prison. He wrote to his friend, Foster, that this disaster nearly destroyed him and said, “I know that, but by the mercy of God, I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a little vagabond.”
It was from this tragic event that Charles Dickens would draw inspiration for many of life the situations where people were denied basic education and opportunity because of class or poverty. Yet even within this poverty the glimmer of redemption through the door of repentance is never outside the grasp of any of the characters in Dicken's Novels.
Charles Dickens preached in voice of Amy Dorrit in Little Dorrit, when she advises a woman who betrayed her
"Be guided only by the healer of sick, the raiser of the dead, the friend of all who were afflicted and forlorn, the patient Master who shed tears of compassion for our infirmities. We cannot but be right if we put all the rest away and o everything in remembrance of Him"
Dickens preachers in in the conversion of Sydney Carton while he hears the echo of Jesus's words "I am the resurrection and life," amidst the bloody remains of French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens preaches in Pip’s silent prayer for the convict of “O Lord, be merciful to him, a sinner” in Great Expectations.
I n 1849 Charles Dickens wrote a book for his Children’s religious education called “The Life of our Lord.” Yet “The Life of Our Lord” was not his best work and he never sought for it to be published.
But Charles Dickens writes the best for the church when he sharpens his pen against church’s hypocrisy and failure to live up to its’ creeds.
Charles Dickens’s was infuriated at the Christian faith that ignored Christ’s compassion for the poor. He once wrote that the Clergy had, “the Master of the New Testament put out of sight in their rage and fury turning on the letter of the law.” He said that “The church that is to have its’ part in the coming time must be a more Christian one, with less arbitrary pretension and a stronger hold upon the mantle of our Savior, as He walked and talked upon this earth.”
Charles Dickens preaches to the Church in Oliver Twist ,when Mr. Bumble prays over Oliver’s gruel while defending his mistreatment of Oliver by saying, “We have given him the gospel!” He preaches to Christians Bleak House, when he presents with the false piety of Mrs. Jellby, who dreams of missionary efforts in Africa while neglecting her children and when in the same novel he presences us with messenger boy who longingly gazes at a cross on top of St. Paul's cathedral from comfort after being publicly shamed by Christian missionary and ignored by his Christian employers.
He preaches that people should be treated as creatures created in God’s image and not as mere chattel most powerfully in “The Haunted Man” “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton”
Yet Charles Dickens reserves his strongest sermon for in “Martin Chuzzelwit” and
“A Christmas Carol".
Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol" and "Martin Chuzzelwit" in 1843 after he toured in America. While, he was originally impressed with some Christian abolitionist and how the American Church had advocated for child education and prison reform, he was amazed at the open Christian religiosity in the face of the sinful oppression of slavery. He was appalled at some openly Christian, pious slave owners. He could not reconcile the Christian ethic of Christ teaching with the oppression of slavery and wondered how intelligent people could live in such open contradiction with religious convictions and their actions.
He wrote that slavery created an atmosphere of “decay and gloom.” He even soured on abolitionists whom he found hypocritical by their arrogant attitude. He later illustrates this view of American Abolitionists, who patronizingly viewed the African race as an absurd and inferior part of creation, in his book Martin Chuzzelwit by the bigoted and uncouth people that young Martin meets in his trip to America.
In a letter to his friend, John Foster, Charles Dickens rebutted the American idea that slavery may be sanctioned by scripture and that God could or would protect the slaves through their convictions of their masters. When a Christian defended this teaching by citing Ephesians 6:5-9, Dickens rebuke was,
“All human beings knew that there were bad masters, cruel masters and masters who disgraced the form they bore, (these) were matters of history, whose existence were undisputed as slaves themselves.”
His clear point was not all masters behave toward their slaves as if they were answerable to God, so it was cruel and absurd to expect slaves to obey their masters “as they would to Christ” while claiming scripture to defend that stand. Dickens believed that oppression of the weak and slavery was the great sin of Christian society, Christians “disgraced the form they bore”, the image of God who is full of grace and love, when they exploited and oppressed people who were created in the image of God. They disgraced the image of God when they lived in great wealth that was gleamed from the sweat of oppressed people who were created in God’s image.
Dickens convictions should not surprise us because they are found in scripture, Jesus himself told us “what you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done unto me” Matthew 25:45
We dishonor God’s image when we dishonor people created in His image. The simple instinct of kindness that God gives us, tells us that exploiting people is wrong.
But he reserves his powerful sermon for Christmas ghost story called "A Christmas Carol."
It enraged Charles Dickens that Christians could be involved in the calloused materialism of slavery. This is reflected in his book Martin Chuzzlewit, but also in "A Christmas Carol" where Dickens reminds English Society that they have treated the poor as little more than slaves. Dickens wrote moral tale “A Christmas Carol” that encouraged the miserly Scrooge to look outside his locked bedroom door to care for the needs of others after his trip to the Americas when his rage at the mistreatment had once more been ignited.
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