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C.S. Lewis:

The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.

The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman—glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made.

. . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.

—C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 280.

{HT: Joel Willitts}

This, of course, is reminiscent of Lewis’s comment in a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths (April 23, 1951):

“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.”


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17 thoughts on “The First Things First Principle”

  1. This was so cool to read, as I had been teaching this principle in my Bible study and wasn’t aware of Lewis’s teaching on it. But it’s always nice to see what the Lord has given you confirmed by the teaching of other believers.

    I’ve posted on this idea over the last couple of days at my place: Part One and Part Two, in case anyone’s interested.

  2. Brad says:

    Great quotes..truly the joys in earthly things point to the heavenly things found in and by faith in Jesus Christ…for which we absolutely CAN glut ourselves on to the fullest and are even encouraged to do so.

  3. I agree these are some great quotes. I love C.S. Lewis. When I was an atheist, God used his works powerfully in the process of my conversion. He is a great writer and apologists, even though he is in my opinion a lousy theologian.

    I know that he is really hard on “tee-totalers,” and that he seems to celebrate smoking and consuming alcohol, even in the Chronicles of Narnia.

    I understand that it is not a sin to consume alcohol. (There may be other good and God-honoring reasons not to do so, but that is another matter.) That seems indisputable from the Bible. However, the Bible also seems to clearly condemn drunkenness. For example, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:20-21, and Proverbs 23:19-21, and Proverbs 23:29-35 all seem to either forbid drunkenness or, at a minimum, regard it as very unwise.

    That being said, the reference to drunkenness at pleasurable levels would seem to be unacceptable. Consuming alcohol to reach a “pleasurable level” of drunkenness would seem to violate Scripture.

    I would like to know others’ thoughts on this as it seems to be an issue of growing importance. (And, again, I think we are wrong to add to the Bible and say that all drinking is sin. However, it also seems that even a “pleasurable level” of drunkenness would be either sin or extremely unwise as well.)

  4. Chris says:

    Rodney,

    I’ve read this before; I always assumed that in context “pleasurable levels of intoxication” does not mean “drunkenness,” but something less than drunkenness and more than drinking a glass of water. But, perhaps that is a overly-favorable reading of Lewis.

  5. Chris,

    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate hearing your thoughts.

    I wonder if it means something like a “buzz.” If so, I am wondering if there is a good distinction between a “buzz” and drunkenness, or is it just a level of drunkenness?

    If believers want to avoid drunkenness, but believe that a “buzz” is OK, then it would seem that there would need to be a good way to tell the difference.

  6. This reminds me of when lewis said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get nothing.” I may not be quoting it exactly and I have no idea which book or essay it comes from, but it suits the first things first principle exactly.

    As far as the alcohol part of Lewis’ quote, could it be he was using the word “intoxication” to mean excitement, joy, or elation. It would be the kind of play on words that Lewis loved so much. I’d be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that one.

  7. Daryl Little says:

    Rodney,

    I wonder if some (most?) of the confusion about drunkeness and what that entails has been caused by the advent of the car.

    Drunk to the point of out of control is way past the point of where we shouldn’t be driving, but we tend to think in terms of driving, don’t we.

    But about the post itself…great, great points. Kinda has a ring of “seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.” doesn’t it.

  8. Earl says:

    I knew this would turn into a discussion about drinking (again)

    1. Rodney Chrisman says:

      Hello Earl,

      I take it from your comment that you think an intelligent Christian discussion of alcohol consumption is a waste of time?

      1. Earl McCullough says:

        It seems on these blogs, anytime there is any mention of alcohol, it turns into a debate over a secondary issue.

        1. Earl McCullough says:

          quite ironic on a blog about “first things”

  9. Juanita Morton says:

    Is it not possible that a dog can be led through the Holy Spirit to save someone’s life as in my case.She is not the “centre of my life’ But has done some extradinary things that humans have failed to accomplish!THINK and PRAY before you utter such ignorant quotes! God does work in mysterious ways.I am living proof!We have dominion over ALL GOD’S creatures -great and small.To me this means we are to be guardians of the earth.Woe to those who abuse our creatures or our earth.Praise be to our SOVEREIGN LORD and HOLY FATHER! HE created ALL-and it was GOOD!

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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