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Puritan Book Reviews – The Mind on Fire: An Anthology of the writings of Blaise Pascal Including the Penses
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
The Mind on Fire: An Anthology of the writings of Blaise Pascal Including the Penses
by Blaise Pascal
(with an Introduction by Os Guinness.)
Multnomah Press, Portland, OR: 1989.
333 Pages, Paperback.
Blaise Pascal was a talented and gifted 17th century mathematician, physicist, and religious thinker. He zealously attempted through his notes and letters to refute the false idea that in becoming a Christian you must commit “intellectual suicide.” His Penses were a collection of notes which he scribbled down as he had ideas. They were compiled after his death but the order of the notes, and the order of the Penses, is disputed. However, in any order you read them, they are a joy to the soul. After his conversion (at age 31) he continued to describe his mind “on fire” for Christ. His mind, as he said, was on fire with light. Before he knew God only conceptually, but now his mind was on fire with the power of the Divine and supernatural light which shone upon his fallen man and renewed him in Christ. As a result of this transformation, Pascal took up his pen and wrote as thoughts and ideas inspired him. Now his thoughts inspire us.
It is the status quo f today’s church to throw teaching and doctrine away while holding to a more existential aspect of religion, though this is not the heart and soul of the Christian religion. Thinking is essential. Without thought we cannot think God’s thoughts after Him, and consequently, we cannot know Him. The ecstatic feelings of charismania do not witness to the God of the Bible. It is the eternal power of the Spirit of God transforming the mind and setting it ablaze with holy fire that the Christian is able to enter into an intimacy with the Lord of Glory. Without this “fire” or “light” the Christian ceases to be a Christian since Christianity is utterly rational. This is what Pascal desired to express in his writings.
I have found that Pascal’s writing are very devotional, while remaining extremely theological and philosophical. The need to sit and ponder the insights on many subjects which he had is important to take in the real fruit of this book. For some, many parts of this book will be overwhelming. There are deep theological and philosophical ideas to meditate upon. However, there are still great numbers of easy to read, and easy to enjoy quotes, paragraphs and pages of thoughts for any Christian to be brought into a deeper understanding of the Bible. The book is for everyone, and should be read by everyone. It is a help to the Christian duty of meditation since it forces the reader to ponder, more deeply, what he read to gain some sanctifying help to his soul.
“The Christian faith teaches men these two truths: There is a God whom men are capable of knowing, and they have a corrupt nature which makes them unworthy of Him.”
“For the philosophers, there are some 280 different kinds of sovereign good.” (I love this quote!)
“I am aware that I might never have existed, for my self consists in my thought. My self therefore, which thinks, would never have been if my mother had been killed before I came to life. So I am not a necessary being. I am not eternal or infinite. But I see there is in nature a necessary Being, who is eternal and infinite.”
“Man is nothing but a subject so naturally full of error that it can only be eradicated through grace. There is nothing to show him the truth, for everything deceives him. The two so-called principles of truth – reason and the senses- are not only genuine but are engaged in mutual deception. Through false appearances the senses deceive reason. And just as they trick the soul, they are in turn tricked by it. It takes revenge. The sense are influenced by the passions which produce false impressions.”
“Man’s sensitivity to trivia, and his insensitivity to matters of major importance, reveal he has a strange disorder.”
“In order to maintain His sovereignty, God bestows the gift of prayer on whom He pleases.”