Mystery. Intrigue. Drugs, dark secrets, the decay of the will, and the transforming power of God’s love sown by a single man to a harvest of redemption.
That’s Donal Grant. George MacDonald has an uncanny gift for unzipping a reader’s heart, dropping in all kinds of mind-expanding and life-altering thoughts, and then zipping it all right back up.
By my late twenties I’d read nearly all of the C.S. Lewis catalog except for Studies in Words and Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (which I’ve still not read), some of them many times, and began to dig into George MacDonald because he was the man of whom Lewis said, “He was my master” and that his Phantastes “baptised my imagination.” When I first began reading MacDonald he seemed legalistic to me with all his talk of obedience and “doing what Jesus tells you.” At times he really agitated me. There were moments where I literally felt sick, knowing I didn’t have what it takes to be holy. Such is the effect of MacDonald’s work on someone with legalistic and unworthy concepts of God.
But perseverance had its way. As I continued I found the depth of his view of God – that it is God within the human who activates and empowers, and that we can be strong by His strength alone. In our time-bound perception this translates to the inner choice and attitude of faith, leading to the outer form or action of faith which is obedience. Donal Grant is a real character study in how this inner choice and attitude of faith is manifested as obedience; the Son re-incarnating the life of the Father in Donal through Donal’s continual offering of his body as a living sacrifice, and being transformed by the renewing of his mind.
On strength: “…if any one trust in work, he has to learn that he must trust in nothing but strength – the self-existent, original strength only; and Donal Grant had long begun to learn that. That man has begun to be strong who knows that, separated from life essential, he is weakness itself, that, one with his origin, he will be of strength inexhaustible.”
On the nature of punishment and the love of the Father: “All hatred of sin is love to the sinner. Do you think Jesus came to deliver us from the punishment of our sins? He would not have moved a step for that. The horrible thing is being bad, and all punishment is help to deliver us from that, nor will punishment cease till we have ceased to be bad. God will have us good, and Jesus works out the will of his father. Where is the refuge of the child who fears his father? Is it in the farthest corner of the room? Is it down in the dungeon of the castle, my lady?”
“No, no!” cried lady Arctura; “–in his father’s arms!”
What we touch in Donal is holiness. Not the pressed lips, hair in a bun caricature, but the real, living, breathing, loving, alive-with-the-life-of-God kind of holiness, the kind that makes us want to live and love and be alive with that same Life. “The gospel is given to convince, not our understandings, but our hearts; that done, and never till then, our understandings will be free.”