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6/12/13 at 10:48 PM 1 Comments

Reflections on Every Christian's Life from Daniel Defoe's Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

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By Wade Burleson

They don't make movies like they used to make them: they make them better.

They don't write books like they used to write them; they write them worse.

Daniel Defoe's The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was written in 1719 and has stood the test of time as a first-rate fictional adventure for both children and adults. Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe in a simple, narrative style, and he is often credited as being the first English author to make realistic fiction a part of English literature. Before the end of 1719 Defoe's book had run through four editions, and since then Robinson Crusoe has become one of the most widely published books in history, spawning numerous sequels and adaptations for stage, film, and television.

What many do not realize is Robinson Crusoe is filled with intentional and beautiful underlying spiritual principles. Defoe wrote a second book about Crusoe entitled The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. In 1720 he wrote a third book with the fancy title Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe with His Vision of the Angelic World. This third book explains the first two Robinson Crusoe books. Literary scholars with no appetite for Christian doctrine nor any affection for spiritual matters will scoff at Serious Reflections, but listen to what Defoe says in the author's preface to his third book on Robinson Crusoe:

The present work is not merely the Product of the two first volumes, but rather the two first volumes may rather be called the Product of this: The Fable is always made for the Moral, not the Moral for the Fable.

Defoe then shows how Robinson Crusoe is an allegory about how life goes--for every human being, but with particular attention to those who come to faith in Christ. If you are a Christian, Robinson Crusoe is the story of your life. In Defoe's third book where he explains the allegory, I have found some of the wisest, clearest and most profound advice for Christian living I've ever read.

For example, one of the things that bothers me about most evangelical churches (particularly Baptists) is the emphasis on isolating people from "the world" and separating Christians from objects of worldly influence; in essence, withdrawing to our evangelical islands in the sea (like Crusoe). Defoe writes with wit and wisdom on the folly of such behavior in Chapter 1 of Serious Reflections. In preparation for a fall Wednesday night series at Emmanuel Enid called Serious Reflections on Every Person's Life through Daniel Defoe's 'Adventures of Robinson Crusoe', I am modernizing and paraphrasing the archaic 18th century English of Defoe's Serious Reflections. The following wise counsel comes from Chapter One:

"The truth is our withdrawal into a religious hermit-like existence, separating ourselves in solitude from this world, is but an acknowledgment of the defect and imperfection of the promises and resolutions we have made. Our incapacity to bind ourselves to what we deem as needful restraints and our failure to keep and observe the vows we make become the reasons for our withdrawal. Or to say it another way: The one who seeks happiness in heavenly things, through prayer and good works, but at the same time is sensible to how disagreeable such a life is to this world, will cause his soul to commit a rape upon his own body, through carrying his body by force into a desert, or into a religious retirement and/or solitude, from where he cannot return. In such a place it is impossible for this person “to have conversation with Mankind” other than with those people who are under the same vows as they, and the same banishment as they. The folly of this kind of religious activity is evident many ways:

(1). Christians can come to enjoy all the desirable advantages of solitude without a strict retirement from the world. When thoughts are strictly governed there is no need for outward formalities of religious exercises, rigorous religious activity or any apparent outward mortifications of the body, activities which I justly call a rape upon human nature.

(2). Wild beasts are not just in the wilderness. There is no escaping them in a cell on the top of a mountain, or on a desolate island in the sea. However, if the soul is truly the master of the body and the mind is confined, then all is safe. What advantage is there in a bodily retreat from the world, especially a forced retreat as some require, when the problem is a matter of the mind?

(3). Our business is to get an isolated soul, not a withdrawn body. We must ever have a frame of mind truly elevated above the world, for then we may be alone whenever we please. Even in the middle of a harried and corrupt world and among a great company of people with different moral values or no values at all, when our thoughts are rightly engaged we are free from the wild beasts that would tear us apart.

(4). The soul is superior to the body. The body is the servant and slave to the soul. The body has no hands to act, no feet to walk, no tongue to speak. The soul possesses understanding and will, which are the two deputies of the soul's power. All the passions which agitate, direct, and possess the body, are rooted in the soul. When we get the soul into it's natural superior direction and elevation, there is no need to prescribe a person to withdraw from the world.

(5). Christians say it is being entangled by worldly things which interrupts their focus and contemplation of heavenly things and thus becomes the excuse to withdraw and isolate themselves from the world. But what evidence of true Christianity is there in removing the body from the presence of worldly things? For example, a desire for something contracts the same guilt as if that something were actually experienced. For our Savior says, “He that has lust in his mind and desires a woman unlawfully has already committed adultery.” Our Savior’s meaning is that that the problem is thinking on a woman to desire her unlawfully, even if one has not looked on her or has not seen her at the time one's thinking of her. How shall this thinking of her be removed by transporting the body away from the object of desire?

Answer: The lust in the mind must be removed by a change in the soul. For only when there is a change in the soul will the mind be carried above the power or reach of the allurement. Otherwise the vicious desire remains in the body as force remains in the gunpowder, and it will exert itself whenever touched with fire.

Isolation and solitude from the world, as I understand by it, is a retreat from human society, on a religious or philosophical account. Such a thing is a mere cheat; for it can neither answer the end it proposes or qualify us for the duties of true Christianity which we are commanded to perform. Therefore, religious isolation from the world is really irreligious in itself and is inconsistent with a Christian life.”

Yesterday, a friend sent me a video of Southern Baptist preacher who uses me as an illustration in his message (You may watch it here). The pastor is of the belief that separation from the world is true religion. Not so. True religion is being smack dab in the middle of a pagan world and finding yourself unaffected. When we feel the need to condemn others and isolate ourselves, it is usually a sign of a fear within that we can't keep the promises and vows we have made to God. I feel no need to either make or keep any promises to Him yet I find myself believing and resting in every one of His promises to me, which are much superior promises to anything the world offers.

Thank you, Robinson Crusoe, for illustrating it so.


Wade Burleson is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma and blogs at WadeBurleson.org.

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