Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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

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.


Ken Colson said...

Thanks Wade. We are to be lights where there is no light. That requires getting out of the spotlight and finding the dark places and allowing Jesus to shine brightly. This is very hard and one must constantly be connected to the Jesus source.

Wade Burleson said...

Amen, Ken.

Rex Ray said...

I feel like Robinson Crusoe on his raft trying to see what’s ahead. I went to Moore, OK 6 days ago. The Baptist Men said the clean up was separating the wood to be made into mulch when the clean up was finished. The Texas Baptists Disaster Recovery told me their part was to separated the brick, steel, and wood and place it on the sidewalk, and the City moved it.

At the price of scrap iron it made sense to me, but the wood made into mulch didn’t.

Two days ago, the Baptist Fannin Association voted to pull nails from the wood and band it in stacks to be used by victims without insurance. The wood would be free for any in America. All we needed was permission from Moore. I got in a discussion with the City. I told them what the Disaster Recovery was doing and they about exploded saying they shouldn’t be doing that because everything was being put in a landfill.

That information did away with our project, but this morning I got to wondering if the ‘right hand knew what the left hand was doing’. I was planning to go to Moore and find out by seeing the ‘landfill’, but I saw your comment, and I’m wondering if you knew someone in Moore that would do that for us. My phone is 903-961-2326.

Feel free to delete this off topic stuff.

Wade Burleson said...


Thank you so much for your assistance in Moore. I do not have any phone numbers for city officials. The command post on site has been removed. My suggestion is you call city offices. Again, thanks Rex for your generosity and service.

Dee said...

I became a Christian when I was 17. My father, from a Russian immigrant family, was a bit startled since he was not a committed Christian. I started attending a small Baptist church instead of the Russian Orthodox church. He was curious about my beliefs.

My dad, as most Russians, did drink. He would often ask my questions about faith as we shared a glass of wine. He would ask what he would have to "give up" to be a Christian. I told him he needed to merely give up his sins to a forgiving Savior. We stuck to the knitting.

My father, at 85 and dying, finally came to the Lord and is now in heaven. I can assure you that he would not have listened to me if I had lectured him about the supposed sin of vodka.

I became a Christian up north. I did not encounter people who disagreed with drinking, dancing, etc. until I moved South. It was a bit of a culture shock to me. And that it is what it is-culture not Christianity. How many Christian today believe it is a sin to play cards? Cultural sins, as opposed to Biblical sins, appear to change with time.

So, as for your message, I have one response. "I'll drink to that!"

Wade Burleson said...


Sadly, many Southern Baptists, as you know, confuse cultural values with Christian values.

It's refreshing to have friends like you who know the difference.

Aussie John said...


"True religion is being smack dab in the middle of a pagan world and finding yourself unaffected".


What disgusting tensions that preacher causes those who believe him to live under, like walking along a picket fence with a leg either side!

I know from the experience of growing up in that graceless,religious prison, with any misstep adding to the sentence.

John Bunyan had obviously started off where I had,taught that we are saved by grace but with the burden being on our performance. He learned as I had to, in his own words:
"'But one day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and methought withal, I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations had fled away; so that, from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me now; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God."

Praise God for that day, so long ago, in my life!

Rex Ray said...


I heard a sermon about every thought goes through a ‘filter’ which the mind uses to process the thought, and everyone has different filters since time began.

Of course the more filters are alike, the more people agree with each other—thus the name Baptists. But it’s been said if two Baptists are in a room there are three opinions. :)

I believe the Scripture “Direct you children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” Proverbs 22:6 NLT)

When we were young, we were taught to stomp on any cigarette butt and say, “Dirty old cigarette!” I’ve never smoked one cigarette—does that violate Crusoe’s book?

My aunt always told us, “When in Rome, do as Romans SHOULD do”. And “Remember who you are!”

I believe Crusoe would have pushed her off his raft in a hurry.

A few years ago, I was on a mission trip to Kyrgyzstan where our Muslim interpreter asked if I drank. (They don’t believe in drinking but most do.) I told him I never had a drink in my life. I don’t know how he took that but before we left he accepted Jesus.

Does Crusoe encourage this advice? “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…” (Romans 12:2 NLT)

Crusoe said, “What evidence of true Christianity is there in removing the body from the presence of worldly things?

I think it’s interesting that most translations say in effect: “Stay away from every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22), but King James: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Imaginary case at the SBC in Houston this week between two Christian friends of the opposite sex that are looking for a place to stay but there’s only one room in the whole city. They share if they don’t believe KJ, but the man sleeps in his car if they do.

Ut Oh; just had a thought. I believe KJ, but since there were women in our home 24/7 for months, I’ve practiced NIV.

Anonymous said...

We are Christ's servants and accountable to Him only because He is our master. Likewise, neither would we want to stand in judgement on the servants of another.

The test for ourselves should always be: is this action good for the Kingdom of Heaven or not? How will our behavior impact our mission? While our freedom in Christ is liberating and enjoyable, it should never trump our love for others.

There are always those among us who are weak in conscience, slow in knowledge and understanding, and lacking in experience. This has to be taken into account before we speak or act; we are not 'free range' Christians to do as we please. We are our brother's keeper.

For example, do you think it would it be wise for missionaries to Muslim countries to serve up dishes of pork to invited guests, washed down with neat alcoholic drinks like vodka or whiskey ? It would be seen as a great cultural offence and an unforgivable faux pas. So we have to be sensitive and limit our freedom, even if our actions are legitimate and done in good faith and conscience.

For the sake of establishing a close rapport with the targeted group, we have to adapt to the ethical cultural aspects and interests of the people to whom we are sent, and become all things to all men for the sake of directing them to the Gospel.

For example, Jesus told his disciples to adapt to eating and drinking what is put before them, and to accept the hospitality on offer. He Himself came down to be like one of us in order to show His love for us, making Himself of no reputation. His focus was always on the needs of others and so ought ours to be; not on our freedom and rights.

We acknowledge, and should appreciate, that cultural diversity exists in our homes, churches, society and in the world, yet this does not detract from our unity of belief and purpose in Christ. We are all one in Him.

To my mind, we serve the Kingdom of Heaven best when we actively operate in the world, but are seen to be not of the world. People instinctively know and fear that this life and this world are like a sinking ship. They want the prospect and assurance of having something much more secure. And we have that treasure, albeit in 'earthen vessels', and we have our 'marching orders'. May we all be granted the grace of being obedient, loving , patient and wise.


Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christiane said...

some thoughts on a Sunday evening:

I think sometimes a person can be very lonely, even in a crowd, so I do not see 'solitude' in the same way as most might see it

it is known that a sense of 'isolation' is often felt by people who at times are suffering from depression, so proximity to others is not necessarily a participation in the life of a community, no

but within the Church, for those who have a deep faith in the community we call the Body of Christ, there is never a true loneliness of the spirit, never an isolation and separation from Him Who brings us together in the Body, in the spirit of love

and should we rest for a while 'beside the stilled waters' as God sometimes leads us to do,
the resulting peace of soul gives a strength that renews us for the work of the whole Body,
even if our task is solitary prayer it can still be an expression of abundant love for others which is given to us by Christ

from Corrie ten Boom, this:
"“Mama's love had always been the kind that acted itself out with soup pot and sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat in her chair at the window and loved us. She loved the people she saw in the street-- and beyond: her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls which shut it in. ”
― Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

Christians who live 'in Christ' can never fully be 'isolated' from one another
. . . not by geography
or even by death

and the world can always touched by the love of Christ through a Christian's prayer, even when it is said in solitude

Unknown said...

can you give me an essay about christian missionaries in Robinson Crusoe?