3 : 12 December 2004

George Macdonald's Ministry of Stories
Mary Reeder


If I were to say, "George Macdonald was an amazing man ..." most Christians today would just give me a blank stare. For your average Christian, this name means nothing, and to me that is a profound sadness. You see George Macdonald truly was an amazing man, and he had more impact on today's Christian world than most people realize. He touched the world of his day intensely, and in so doing crossed the barriers of time to touch our world as well. So, if you've never met him, let me introduce you to a truly amazing man, Mr. George Macdonald; beloved teacher, father, storyteller, and poet.


Mr. Macdonald was born the second son of George Sr. and Helen Macdonald on December 10th 1824 in Huntly, Scotland. During his early years his family was not wealthy, but neither did they lack for the necessities of life. His father George Macdonald Sr. partnered with his brothers in several successful businesses, though eventually all of these operations fell on hard times. Still, this did not hamper young George's childhood. He was raised in a loving, if sometimes strict family, with a long history of Christian heritage. His earliest days were spent roaming the hills surrounding Huntly, dreaming of adventure, and exploring castle ruins. Even at this young age one can imagine that his keen mind was exploring the world around him; picking up bits and pieces to store, and many years later, incorporate into his books which touched so many.

George's father, George Sr., was a remarkable man for his time, and his relationship with his son molded the way young George developed. He was an excellent role model for George; a man hard, yet tender and humorous all at the same time. He was a man through which young George could see a picture of what Fatherhood should be. It was through this extraordinary man that George Jr. first saw Christianity played out.

This strong relationship with his father had a vast effect on his life, and gave him deep roots in which to base his Christian faith. This strong father/son relationship was an excellent portrait of the biblical principles for child rising. George Sr. raised his son to know Christ, and is so doing, not only did George Jr. come to know God in an intimate way, but he also brought many others to know Him as well.

To young George, his father represented the loving side of God, an unusual thing in a time when the wrath of God was the attribute most taught and expressed. But it was this very relationship of love that taught George to want to know his heavenly father, in the same way that he knew and loved his earthly father. In other words, George's later understanding of the father-heart of God, came from the realization he had had played out for him all his growing up years.


Being raised in a Christian family, we don't know the exact date of young George's conversion. But we do know that he followed Christ from a very early age, and was taught the Bible at home, as well as at school. This was a great advantage, as it grounded him in the Scriptures, and prepared him for the ministry he was to have later on in life. Of course, like most boys, it is unlikely that he enjoyed school, but he learned much. In fact, in many ways, many of the issues he came to write on later in life, were brought up during his early schoolboy years.

Being raised during the time of enforced catechisms, and stern schoolmasters, it is quite likely that he began to question the vengeful picture of God they portrayed, at a fairly young age. Why was he forced to memorize verses picturing a loving, forgiving, father God (like his own father) with a whip and lash? This, and other questions like it, where not lost on the young man. Was God one to be loved and trusted as his own father? Or was He one to be feared and pleased as one would fear the schoolmaster? It was a question to be answered; and so his quest to find the true nature of God began.


This quest to know God that began at such a young age would carry him throughout the next few years of his life. His main query seemed to be, was God the vengeful tyrant portrayed by so many? Or the loving father, (a concept not as widely accepted)? We can see, if we glance though a few of Mr. Macdonald's books, that it was this second option that he hoped and prayed for. How wonderful if his heavenly Father might be like his own dear earthly father, whom he loved so much. It is with this line of thought that we see George's questions deepen and intensify.

It is very obvious from George Mcdonald's life and writings, that his one true wish was to KNOW God. Therefore he never rebelled against God, even though he came to eventually disagreed with some of the teachings of his childhood. He never questioned the truthfulness of God Himself, only the human perception of Him.

During the years that this remarkable man went from boy, to student, to teacher, he questioned many things; but the one thing he never questioned was the goodness and truthfulness of God. He searched not for the reality of God, but rather for a better understanding of His character. These years of growing and questioning were very important for George; especially the years he spent in school in Aberdeen.

It was during these years of test and turmoil that young George would come to establish many of his views and understandings about God. It was during this time that he finally came to know God as the loving heavenly Father for whom he longed. He was ultimately able to gently untangle himself from all his training about a wrathful God, and come to know the true nature of a God he could call Father. By the time he left the university at age twenty-one these views - views which were distinctly at odds with much of what he had been taught in early life, views which formed the foundation of his ministry and writing career, and views which all his life long placed him in the center of controversy - were solidly in place. During this time, he went from a boy struggling for understanding, to a young man, ready to reach out to the world.


Now, we have studied something of the background of this remarkable man, but what about his adult life, and the ways in which he touched our world today? Mr. Macdonald's childhood is indeed an interesting story, and necessary to understand him, but what effect did this poet/teacher have on his time that makes him so noteworthy today? Well, let me continue by saying, he was not your average teacher or reformer.

You see, Mr. Macdonald was not so proud as to seriously think he could go out and change the world. God had been revealing wonderful things to him about His character since he was a child, but these views were so different than the ones held by Christendom of that time. Because of this, George was very unsure of his fitness for the clergy.

But God was not through with this man. He had revealed to him many things about Himself (as He was doing too many people all over Europe during that time), and He wanted them to be in turn revealed to others. The only practical way to do this was the ministry. Therefore, the call to tell people about this loving God he had come to know, became heavier and heavier on George's heart. In many ways, God practically had to push George into the ministry; once there though, he found that he had much to say to these people.

George's heart was so full of the knowledge of God's love that he simply had to tell people, and tell people he did. After some years of uncertainty, he finally knew that he was called to ministry, and so entered Highbury College. Since he already had a degree in Arts, George was only required to spend two years in Highbury. Therefore in June of 1850, George Macdonald graduated from Highbury, ready and willing to tell the world of God's great love for them. This revelation of love had become, and would continue to be, the greatest calling in George's life.


This calling was by no means easy though. In our world, the revelation of the love of God is widely accepted. In fact, many times it is over-used, and an "easy" gospel is preached; one that conveniently forgets God's requirement of justice. But, in George's world, this was not at all the case. In the U.K during the eighteen hundred's the view of God was much stricter. Our understanding of a loving and forgiving God was little, if not completely unheard of.

This was a new doctrine to the people of Macdonald's time, and "new" is often rejected before it is given a chance. To us, George's views seem to have been entirely correct, and even conservative and orthodoxed in some ways. But to the church of his day, Macdonald was a liberal, someone they weren't entirely sure what to make of. Consequently, the beginning of George's ministry was not easy. He had come to "set the people free" so to speak, the problem was that most of them didn't want to be set free. They were safe in their service of a wrathful God, and this thought of a God who loved them beyond their wildest dreams, was not comfortable.

Thus, it is no surprise that the first few postings George had as a minister, soon wished to be ride of him. He was not your average vicar, and they simply didn't know what to make of him. Never the less, George persevered, and he came to love the people he ministered to. Most of them were simple folk; people of little education with long family histories.

Sometimes preaching to such people was difficult for George, for he was a man of intellect, and a poet at heart. He longed to open up the world for his parishers, but many times his poems and pastoral illustrations meant nothing to them. Still, he truly loved the people he served, and for the next several years, he pastored several small churches in the north of England. The going was slow, but he continued to reach out to the people with the love of God.


The ministry of the pastorate was not all that God had for George. God was not finished with this man yet, for it was during this time, that God began prompting him to write more and more. Macdonald had always loved the written word, and had penned many a verse himself, but he had never actually written a true novel. He was a pastor, and though he loved writing, it was not what he had dedicated his life to. Little did he know that it would be through his BOOKS that God would reach out to so many. Up to this time in his life George had been a full time pastor and had written some poetry on the side, and actually had quite a bit of it published. But he certainly didn't consider his writing a vocation. He had also written one book, but he was still didn't consider himself a "writer".

It was at this time that one day his publisher said to him, "George if you would but write novels…!" Up to this point Mr. Macdonald hadn't considered such a thing. Though he had written plenty of poetry, plus several short stories and the one book, he still considered himself a preacher/poet. When he was told he had a talent for fiction, it was hard for him to believe at first. But God had gifted him uniquely in this way, and as he gradually began writing. He slowly began to realize that his books could touch people in a way that his preaching never could. He could tell people about the love/father heart of God, through his books! This was something of a revelation for him.

In the years following this revelation, his giftedness for storytelling became very obvious. Macdonald wrote book after book, and the public snapped them up. Within the next twenty years, George Macdonald was to become the reputed "storyteller of Scotland". His books came to touch hearts of the public of that era in a way that nothing else seemed to. The more he wrote, the more people around him seemed to embrace his particular style of writing. It was during this time, that "George Macdonald" became a household name.

Through his books, Macdonald was able to reach many people with the love of God. The characters, morals, of his novels, drew people to them like flies to honey. As the popularity of his books grew, so did his ability to reach people, and the impact he could have on lives. This preacher/poet turned author was reaching people in a way he never thought possible! He soon was in great demand for lecturing and teaching, as well as writing.

Throughout all this though, he never lost sight of his goal to reach people with the news of God's love. He filled his books with the lessons he wanted to teach people, leading them to a better understanding God, through the characters of his stories. Macdonald came to understand and appreciate the fine art of teaching through storytelling, much the same way Jesus did with all His parables. Through his stories, he was able to reach people who would never have read a non-fiction work. His stories touched hearts, and drew people to question the picture of a wrathful unloving God, they had grown up with. He was able to share his love for Christ through his stories, and the effect on people was remarkable.

For the remainder of his life, Mr. Macdonald wrote stories. He wrote works of non-fiction as well, that were light-years ahead of their time in their understanding of intimacy and the character of God; but still most of his books were fiction. Up until his death in 1901 Mr. Macdonald wrote stories for people; stories that touched hearts and told people about God.

In the end, it was through these very stories that Mr. Macdonald fulfilled his life's goal; to know God and to make Him known. He was uniquely gifted to do just that by stirring our imaginations with tales.


Unfortunately, around the turn of the century, not too long after Mr. Macdonald's death, the interest in his books fell into decline. His long and intricate stories, with so much to teach, didn't fit the new faster paced lifestyle of the twentieth century. His name gradually faded from the mind of the public, and his books slowly stopped being printed. But this seeming decline in popularity did not end Mr. Macdonald's impact on the world.

In fact I would go so far as to say this is only where it begins. For it was only after his death and the reading of his books went out of style, that the true impact of his works on individuals could be seen. Over the next hundred years, his books, often locked up in attics or found sitting dusty on shelves, where occasionally picked up and read. They were read by people who longed for a deeper understanding of God, and they found it between the pages of George Macdonald's stories. Time and history had not, and could not; lessen the truths God revealed through these imaginative sagas.


These stories touched many and continue to stir people today. In fact, many people would be surprised at the impact they have had on our own Christian society. You see, one of the most well known individuals Mr. Macdonald touched through his writing, was C.S. Lewis. As we all know Mr. Lewis had a very profound impact on Christian theology, and Christianity in general. Well, in the same way Mr. Lewis had impacted many people, Macdonald impacted Mr. Lewis.

Many times in his writing Mr. Lewis will attribute one thing or another to Mr. Macdonald, even referring to him as his master. This would surprise most people, but it is indeed a fact. Mr. Lewis took much of his writing style, and deep understanding of God, from George Macdonald. The implications of that statement of course, are vast, as Mr. Lewis is one of Christianity's most well known authors. So we see that Mr. Macdonald's ministry lives on, even to this day. For every time one of Mr. Lewis' works touches a soul, a word of thanks might be said to Mr. Macdonald; a simple Scotsmen who spent his life teach people, and running after God.

In conclusion I would say, Mr. Macdonald had a profound influence on his own world, and on ours. While he is perhaps not the most well known Christian Church figure, he is one worth studying. His life has much to teach us, if we are willing to listen. After all he was a storyteller ...


Mary Reeder