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Okay.  I must confess.  I have collected Chesterton quotes without reading Chesterton’s books.  Dude is just so pithy, pointy, and “plagariasable.”  Here are a few cases in point:

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”

“It [feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”
― G.K. Chesterton

“It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”

“Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.”

“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

“One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.”

“You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.”

“We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When man’s terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God.”

“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

As you can see, sometimes Chesterton is witty, sometimes profound, and always curious.  Some people like C.S. Lewis–and who can blame them.  But I have a feeling I like Chesterton more.  In addition to being insightful, he has that Mark Twain look that somehow seems to project playfulness, a child’s unhindered insight, and a little irreverence in the face of convention.  Perhaps the fact that Chesterton was Roman Catholic troubles Evangelicals.  But the man was a good thinker, notwithstanding our irreconcilable differences on the justification, etc.  I plan to read more Chesterton; I know I’m poorer for not having done so already.

If you’re interested in more quotes, you can find plenty over at Good Reads.

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21 thoughts on “Quotable Chesterton”

  1. LG says:

    I recently Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and was struck by how familiar it all was — he is so quoted that I felt like I’d read much of it already!

  2. While I cannot always agree with Chesterton, I have always found him worth reading. He has a strange whimsical way of looking at the world that gives you new perspectives.

  3. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    There is no excuse for this – go read a whole book by Chesterton – it will be one of the best investments of time you make outside the Holy Scriptures. :-)

    Really, pick up “Orthodoxy” and read it through, then move on to “Heretics,” and then I recommend “That Dumb Ox” (his biography of St Thomas Aquinas) and then – well, you’ll figure it out from there.

    Lewis is a great mind and always instructive. So is Chesterton. They should definitely be a both / and NOT an either / or.

  4. Timothy Reynolds says:

    Like you, Thabiti, I love Chesterton quotes more than I love his books. But I have at least tried to read his books. I have several of them on my shelf (Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Everlasting Man, What’s Wrong with the World) and three of them have bookmarks stuck part way through. Perhaps it’s just that my brain is so much smaller than his.
    I find reading him to be like eating a rather dry currant bun in which the currants are still deliciously fat and moist. He does seem to ramble so in Orthodoxy. Give me CS Lewis over Chesterton any day for readability and clarity of thought and argument!
    PS CS Lewis was at least a Protestant, though strangely confused about doctrine!
    PPS It is interesting that both wrote successful novels (CSL’s Narnia books and Science Fiction trilogy, GKK’s Father Brown stories). I think CS Lewis wins on that front too.

  5. Kaynenn Parker says:

    You Just gotta plagiarize Chesterton!!! I couldn’t agree more!

    1. Timothy Reynolds says:

      …and he has a head that is too big for his hat!

  6. Thabiti says:

    Okay, just for the record. I do have a few Chesterton books in my possession (Orthodoxy, Heresy, and a volume of his Father Brown short stories). I’ve read Orthodoxy and enjoyed it. But I’m quoting far beyond that one book and I can no longer pretend that having read Orthodoxy about 10 years ago I’ve “read Chesterton.” Oh the shame. :-)


  7. Don’t forget the ballad of the White Horse!

    …In some far century, sad and slow,
    I have a vision, and I know
    The heathen shall return.

    “They shall not come with warships,
    They shall not waste with brands,
    But books be all their eating,
    And ink be on their hands.

    “Not with the humour of hunters
    Or savage skill in war,
    But ordering all things with dead words,
    Strings shall they make of beasts and birds,
    And wheels of wind and star.

    “They shall come mild as monkish clerks,
    With many a scroll and pen;
    And backward shall ye turn and gaze,
    Desiring one of Alfred’s days,
    When pagans still were men.

  8. The pop nihilism that infects youth culture is just a rejuvenated barbarism. Just consider the bleak, black humour of “The Cabin in the Woods”; or the chilling amoralism of the “Hostel” and “Saw” movies. We won’t watch these films, be we’ve read enough, and talked to enough young people to know that they’re swimming in polluted waters.
    So this has to be the best critique of paganism ever written; and it is vitally relevant.

    “Sirs, I am but a nameless man,
    A rhymester without home,
    Yet since I come of the Wessex clay
    And carry the cross of Rome,

    “I will even answer the mighty earl
    That asked of Wessex men
    Why they be meek and monkish folk,
    And bow to the White Lord’s broken yoke;
    What sign have we save blood and smoke?
    Here is my answer then.

    “That on you is fallen the shadow,
    And not upon the Name;
    That though we scatter and though we fly,
    And you hang over us like the sky,
    You are more tired of victory,
    Than we are tired of shame.

    “That though you hunt the Christian man
    Like a hare on the hill-side,
    The hare has still more heart to run
    Than you have heart to ride.

    “That though all lances split on you,
    All swords be heaved in vain,
    We have more lust again to lose
    Than you to win again.

    “Your lord sits high in the saddle,
    A broken-hearted king,
    But our king Alfred, lost from fame,
    Fallen among foes or bonds of shame,
    In I know not what mean trade or name,
    Has still some song to sing;

    “Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
    But the heart of flame therein,
    But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
    When all is ice within;

    “Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
    Men wondering ceaselessly,
    If it be not better to fast for joy
    Than feast for misery.

    “Nor monkish order only
    Slides down, as field to fen,
    All things achieved and chosen pass,
    As the White Horse fades in the grass,
    No work of Christian men.

    “Ere the sad gods that made your gods
    Saw their sad sunrise pass,
    The White Horse of the White Horse Vale,
    That you have left to darken and fail,
    Was cut out of the grass.

    “Therefore your end is on you,
    Is on you and your kings,
    Not for a fire in Ely fen,
    Not that your gods are nine or ten,
    But because it is only Christian men
    Guard even heathen things.

    “For our God hath blessed creation,
    Calling it good. I know
    What spirit with whom you blindly band
    Hath blessed destruction with his hand;
    Yet by God’s death the stars shall stand
    And the small apples grow.”

  9. When he writes “by God’s death the stars shall stand, and the small apples grow” we presume he is referring to the resurrection, and the New Heavens and the New Earth. It’s difficult to make sense of the passage otherwise.
    If we’re reading him correctly – what a response to nihilistic hedonism! Just listen to what teens listen to, read about the films they’re watching… then read that passage again!
    “The stars shall stand, and the small apples grow!” You can know that it is true in the same way that you know that water and air give life. It’s a blast of health and sanity.

    Graham and Nicola

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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