I have said it before, but it bears repeating: classics are classics for a reason. In The Four Loves, Lewis sets out a description and exploration of one of the most basic human experiences: love. This work has influenced countless Christian minds over the years. In our day, I often hear Tim Keller quoting from it at length. As in his other nonfiction, Lewis showcases his spiritual insight and accessibility at the same time.
- “Our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.”
- “Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done ‘for love’s sake’ is thereby lawful and even meritorious.”
- “We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.”
- “Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: ‘We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.’”
- “If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach. The tendency to take her as a teacher is obviously very easily grafted on to the experience we call ‘love of nature’. But it is only a graft. While we are actually subjected to them, the ‘moods’ and ‘spirits’ of nature point no morals. Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, sombre desolation are flung at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make at all. The only imperative that nature utters is, ‘Look. Listen. Attend.’”
- “Demons never keep their promises.”
- “The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift.”
- “Man with dog closes a gap in the universe.”
- “If Affection is made the absolute sovereign of a human life the seeds will germinate. Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.”
- “Affection and Eros were too obviously connected with our nerves, too obviously shared with the brutes. You could feel these tugging at your guts and fluttering in your diaphragm. But in Friendship—in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen—you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels.”
- “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”
- “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.”
- “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
- “We picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.”
- “Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”
- “The little knots of Friends who turn their backs on the ‘World’ are those who really transform it.”
- “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
- “Every real Friendship is a sort of secession, even a rebellion.”
- “It is one of the difficult and delightful subtleties of life that we must deeply acknowledge certain things to be serious and yet retain the power and will to treat them often as lightly as a game.”
- “Pleasure, pushed to its extreme, shatters us like pain.”
- “When natural things look most divine, the demoniac is just round the corner.”
- “The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church—read on—and gave his life for her (Eph. 5:25). This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him.”
- “Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.”
- “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
- “We cannot see light, though by light we can see things. Statements about God are extrapolations from the knowledge of other things which the divine illumination enables us to know.”
- “How difficult it is to receive, and to go on receiving, from others a love that does not depend on our own attraction.”
- “We are all receiving Charity. There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one’s fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times—and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit—they are receiving charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.”
- “When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it.”
What I Would Have Liked
I don’t have too much to offer by means of critique, but I do think it would be helpful to dive more deeply into the doctrine of the Trinity in order to draw out the source and nature of human love. Lewis mentions this, but I think more could be done. I also would have liked a bit more engagement with Scripture. There’s plenty of passages that could be explored (not just in the Song of Solomon and John’s epistles).
Should You Read It?
Yes, please. Again, this is a classic work of nonfiction by one of the greatest authors we’ve seen in some hundreds of years. You really can’t go wrong here. But always read thoughtfully and with Scripture in mind.
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