Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it. ~ George MacDonald
Oswald Chambers (1874–1917) wrote in Christian Disciplines, vol. 1, (pub. 1934) that "it is a striking indication of the trend and shallowness of the modern reading public that George MacDonald's books have been so neglected".
C.S. Lewis wrote of MacDonald:
"... I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined. ... In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it."
Lewis also wrote:
"This collection, as I have said, was designed not to revive MacDonald's literary reputation but to spread his religious teaching. Hence most of my extracts are taken from the three volumes of Unspoken Sermons ." [Emphasis added]
MacDonald pointed people to Christ, and told people that he was just like his Father. (Good teachers do.) I believe no theologian or preacher surpassed MacDonald in this regard. He understood the goodness of God better than Augustine, Luther, or Calvin; and consequently, better represented God in his writing.
"George MacDonald presents a comprehensive picture of God’s Fatherhood that in my opinion is unmatched in scope and clarity in all Christian literature or theology." - Michael Phillips
If you believe God is a loving Father (or you hope he is a loving Father), you will appreciate MacDonald's fictional books—they contain great spiritual truths. If you've never read one of MacDonald's books, a good place to start is with David Jack's translation of Donal Grant, Malcolm, or Castle Warlock (or perhaps Michael Phillip's much shortened and edited version of Heather and Snow).
Episode 1 - Introduction to George MacDonald (a podcast)
MacDonald taught that only Christ can fill our deepest longings for intimacy, and that without Christ we can do nothing (see The Hope of the Gospel ). He believed that no one would perfectly obey Jesus in this life, but we must trust Jesus and try to obey Him. We will often fail in our attempts to obey Him; but our failure to do what He asks, as He asks, ought to drive us to God for help (see here). If we try to obey Jesus, He will help us to become more like him.
“A free will is not the liberty to do whatever one likes, but the power of doing whatever one sees ought to be done, even in the very face of otherwise overwhelming impulse. There lies freedom indeed” ~ George MacDonald
The more we see that we need God's help, the more we will turn to Him for help. Trust and obedience lead to greater intimacy with Jesus.
"He who thinks of his Saviour as far away can have made little progress in the need of him; and he who does not need much cannot know much, any more than he who is not forgiven much can love much" (page 227 in David Jack's translation of Castle Warlock by George MacDonald).
MacDonald didn't just teach people about God, he lived a godly life. (He better reflected Christ's character than any preacher or teacher that I am aware of. That is one of the main reasons he was so admired by Lewis and others.)
“...to try too hard to make people good, is one way to make them worse; ...the only way to make them good is to be good...” (George MacDonald, Sir Gibbie)
If you've never read or heard a sermon by MacDonald, the following sermon is a good place to begin. (See also "The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity".)
After listening to that sermon, it may seem odd to you (as it does to me) that some of today's church leaders have said he was not a Christian. Does something other than confessing ones sins, thanking God for forgiving you, and trusting and obeying Jesus make a person a Christian?
I think some Christian leaders say that MacDonald was not a Christian because he rejected their theory of atonement. MacDonald rightly believed that Jesus did not come to save us from his Father. (The idea that we need to be saved from God the Father is a devil's lie.)
But if Jesus did not come to save us from his Father, what did he come to save us from?
Christ died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust. He died that we might live—but live as he lives, by dying as he died who died to himself that he might live unto God. If we do not die to ourselves, we cannot live to God, and he that does not live to God, is dead.” ~ George MacDonald
In MacDonald’s theology, God hates sin, but only because he loves sinners. It is for this reason that God punishes. (MacDonald did not believe that punishment could save a person, however he did believe that sometimes a person has to hit rock bottom before their eyes are finally opened to the horror of sin and that they need saving from their sins. When they know they need saving, they will be willing to accept the Saviour. Sometimes people need “the eye-opening power of pain” in order to come to their senses. Btw, wanting to be saved from pain, is not the same as wanting to be saved from sin. See Justice.)
It is true that MacDonald did not believe you had to accept any theory of atonement to be a Christian. (Particularly this one. Though he did believe that Christ came to make atonement.) It is also true that most of the early Christians had a different view of atonement to most of the Church today, yet they were obviously Christians (see the video below). The point of this video is simply to show that you don't have to accept a particular theory of atonement to be a Christian.
I highly recommend watching the video on what the early Christians believed about the atonement (above) and reading 1 Corinthians 13:5 and Romans 5:12 in a few different translations. If you read Romans 5:12 carefully you will notice that people die because of their own sin, not because of Adam's sin. We suffer because of Adam's sin, but we are not punished for Adam's sin. A baby might suffer because their mother smoked or drank while pregnant, but the baby is not being punished for their mother's sin. God tells us that children should not be punished for the sins of their fathers (Deut 24:16). Yes it's true we die because Adam sinned, but only because we've followed in his footsteps --"death spread to all men, because all sinned." (Ironically, Jesse Morrell, a man MacDonald would have likely opposed on a number of issues, has some brilliant insights into the doctrine of original sin, which have helped me better understand MacDonald's position. See the first of 8 parts here.)
MacDonald also claimed that the doctrine of eternal torment is unbiblical. For this reason many have claimed he was not a Christian. But where in the Bible does it say that a person has to hold a particular view about the nature, duration, and purpose of hell to be accepted into God’s Kingdom? (See here.) God's justice is far greater than our justice. (For an indepth look at what true justice is see the chapter "Justice" in Unspoken Sermons. See also That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, And Universal Salvation by David Bentley Hart.)
The best introduction I have seen to MacDonald's theology (though I doubt that was the author's primary intent) is The Inescapable Love of God (2nd edition) by Thomas Talbott. After reading that book it would be very hard to dismiss MacDonald's theology on the grounds that it lacks biblical support.
Little Daylight (This is one of MacDonald's children's stories. It's an edited version. The full version can be found in his book At the Back of the North Wind.)
*My favourite George MacDonald books are Sir Gibbie and its sequel Donal Grant. Fortunately, English editions of both books, which stand side by side with the original Scots dialect, have been published by David Jack. A sample can be read here. For a free copy of the original see here. The original is also available on audio through Amazon Books.
At the time of writing this post script (28/12/18), I've started listening to the original and reading the conversations in David Jack's translation at the same time. At first I'd stop listening before each conversation in the Scot's dialect, read the conversation in the translation, and then start listening to the book again. But I found that it was easier to read the entire chapter first and then listen to the audio. This has improved my understanding and made the book more enjoyable.