In C.S. Lewis's book Mere Christianity, Book Four, Chapter 9 ("Counting the cost") there are 2 illustrations that C.S. Lewis borrowed from George MacDonald.

The first:

And yet—this is the other and equally important side of it— this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.’

The second:

I find I must borrow yet another parable from George MacDonald. Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

The question: Which books / sermons / stories by George MacDonald do these references coming from?

2 Answers 2


The first one is from a sermon called The Father's Appeal, preached in Westminster Chapel:

“Though Jesus Christ is very hard to satisfy, He is very easy to please. Think of that and it will help you a little. He is very easy to please, but very hard to satisfy. If you will but let Him in, and you have not much to put on the table. You cannot share much of life because you have not got it, He will be so pleased, if it be but a cup of cold water that you can give him. Let it be something genuine, something real.”

I could not find the second one but MacDonald may have borrowed it from Book 1 Chapter 5 of The Confessions of St. Augustine:

My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. But who is to rid me of these things? There is no one but you …


Book IV of Mere Christianity was first published in 1944, a few years before George MacDonald: An Anthology was first published in 1947, containing 365 short quotes with a 17-page preface by C.S. Lewis. The latter is still currently in print published by Harper Collins in 2001 in paperback and electronic versions. Using the book for clues I was able to find the original source of the 2 references since there is a list of sources for each quote in the back of the book.

First reference

It is listed in the Anthology as #55 ("Easy to Please and Hard to Satisfy"):

That no keeping but a perfect one will satisfy God, I hold with all my heart and strength; but that there is none else He cares for, is one of the lies of the enemy. What father is not pleased with the first tottering attempt of his little one to walk? What father would be satisfied with anything but the manly step of the fullgrown son?

The larger context can be read in The Way, a sermon in Unspoken Sermons Second Series (1885) which can be found in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website (pdf version here).

Second Reference

It is listed in the Anthology as #336 ("The House Is Not for Me"), coming from Diary of an Old Soul (July 16 entry):

The house is not for me—it is for Him.
His royal thoughts require many a stair,
Many a tower, many an outlook fair
Of which I have no thought.

The book's complete title is A Book of Strife, in the form of the Diary of an Old Soul (1880), which can be found in the *Christian Classics Ethereal Library* website as well (txt here). Each entry is a 7-line rhyme royale stanza. I think for the Mere Christianity reference, the July 15 entry goes together with the July 16 entry (which is partially quoted in the Anthology):


Too eager I must not be to understand.
How should the work the master goes about
Fit the vague sketch my compasses have planned?
I am his house--for him to go in and out.
He builds me now--and if I cannot see
At any time what he is doing with me,
'Tis that he makes the house for me too grand.


The house is not for me--it is for him.
His royal thoughts require many a stair,
Many a tower, many an outlook fair,
Of which I have no thought, and need no care.
Where I am most perplexed, it may be there
Thou mak'st a secret chamber, holy-dim,
Where thou wilt come to help my deepest prayer.

Further resources

For those who would like to read more George MacDonald works curated by C.S. Lewis, here is a source list of all 365 quotes. The anthology also includes a complete bibliography of his other works.

Quote # Work
#1 - #52 Unspoken Sermons, First Series
#53 - #167 Unspoken Sermons, Second Series
#168 - #257 Unspoken Sermons, Third Series
#258 - #259 Phantastes
#260 - #266 Alec Forbes, Vol I, II, III
#267 - #278 Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood
#279 - #280 The Golden Key
#281 The Shadows
#282 - #287 The Seaboard Parish
#288 - #289 The Princess and the Goblin
#290 - #301 Wilfred Cumbermede
#302 - #313 Thomas Wingfold, Curate
#314 - #332 Sir Gibbie
#333 - #340 Diary of an Old Soul
#341 - #344 The Princess and the Curdie
#345 - #360 What's Mine's Mine
#361 - #365 Lilith

A good introduction to George MacDonald can be read in a journal article A Retrospective on George MacDonald: Poet, Novelist, Preacher by Roderick McGillis (Vol 36. Article 1).

More on his Diary of an Old Soul can be read in a journal article "The Path of Pain": George MacDonald's Portrayal of Death in the Diary of an Old Soul by J. Patrick Pazdziora (Vol 36. Article 6).

Both articles were published in North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies in January 2017.

  • 1
    I vouch for your references in Lewis's 'Anthology' as I have a copy published by Geoffrey Bles, The Centenary Press MCMXLVI, with Preface by Lewis. A friend wrote to me of Macdonald's 'Unspoken Sermons' (p.190) "The question between matter and spirit is which was first and caused the other things or thoughts: whether things without thought caused thought, or thought without things caused things." His works are (i) often beyond me, (ii) often full of aspects which seem contrary to my convictions, (iii) crammed with exhilarating thoughts of what seems to me to be breathtaking originality. +1
    – Anne
    Feb 2, 2021 at 19:10
  • @Anne Wow, you may own a first edition copy then, which can worth a lot these days. Yes, I probably can relate to your difficulties with George MacDonald, esp. his fantasy fiction that has mythopoetic quality that turns out to be one of the 3-4 qualities highly influential to C.S. Lewis. I have been meaning to venture into his writings though, with the assistance of the now growing papers on himself as well as his influence on C.S. Lewis (such as the Retrospective article in my answer). I also need to learn German and English romantic literature, idealism philosophy, and mythopoetic genre. Feb 2, 2021 at 20:58
  • Good luck with that little lot!!!
    – Anne
    Feb 3, 2021 at 12:36

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