Robinson Crusoe the Christian Classic

Robinson Crusoe was published, on April 25, 1719.

Based loosely on the real life adventures of one Alexander Selkirk, Daniel Defoe penned this best seller, which became one of the world’s greatest adventure stories – at the age of 54, in poor health and confined to this bedroom.

In today’s reprints much of the religious element has been omitted, but in the original version Defoe “produced one of the world’s wisest and most tolerant books in the whole field of applied Christianity”.  In the original preface to his work Defoe tells us that, whilst historically basing much of his research on the life of Selkirk, yet at the same time he was revealing something of his own spiritual pilgrimage through his writing. Defoe records his castaway’s conversion, of his leading Man Friday to faith in Christ, and of his constant calling upon the Lord in times of trouble.

Crusoe’s eventual rescue by a Spanish galleon posed problems … “I had rather be delivered up to savages and be devoured alive, than fall into the merciless claws of the priests, and be carried into the Inquisition…”

Thus it was in thousands of Christian homes, that the adventures of Robinson Crusoe became Sabbath afternoon reading material.

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Adam Clarke, Wesleyan commentator par excellence, tells how he “learned more of his duty to God, his neighbour and himself from Robinson Crusoe than from all the books except the Bible that were known in his youth”.

Daniel Defoe had been born into a non-conformist family, and in later life displayed fanatical anti-High Church views. Romanism likewise was anathema to him.

He was an enterprising man who made several attempts at business, which left him deeply in debt. He found in life’s experience the forge in which the real lessons are learned. He said, “In the School of Affliction I have learnt more Philosophy than at the Academy, and more Divinity than from the Pulpit: In Prison I have learnt to know that Liberty does not consist in open Doors, and the free Egress and Regress of Locomotion. I have seen the rough side of the World as well as the smooth, and have in less than half a Year tasted the difference between the Closet of a King, and the Dungeon of Newgate.”

He was also no stranger to controversy, engaging in the various political issues of his day. On one occasion, hiding in a graveyard, he saw the name Robinson Crusoe engraved on a tombstone. That is where he took the name of his famous fiction character.

Along with Samuel Richardson, Defoe is considered the founder of the English novel. Earlier prose was usually written in the form of long poems or dramas. Defoe produced some 200 works of non-fiction prose in addition to almost 2,000 short essays in publications, some of which he also edited.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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