It’s been over a dozen years since I read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a tale of a shipwrecked English sailor on a deserted island. Given the fact that I read the abridged children’s version when I was a kid, I’ve technically never read the original version. While reading the original this time, fond visual images of Defoe’s detailed descriptions of the island from previous readings were brought to mind.
But there was much in this reading that was either missing or inconspicuous from the abridged version – or perhaps certain themes were above my pre-teen understanding. Themes of rebellion, redemption, Providence, general and special revelation, colonialism, capitalism, and even cultural relativism were abundant throughout Defoe’s writing. This helped make Robinson Crusoe an easier, more interesting read than what I was expecting.
Perhaps my favourite theme was that of God’s sovereign Providence throughout Crusoe’s Jonah-like rebellion and subsequent shipwreck and conversion. Though it takes a while to break Crusoe’s pride and independence, he eventually acknowledges God’s sovereignty and abundant mercy in preserving his life. Further, because Crusoe is immersed in the spectacular beauty and plentiful resources of the island, his thoughts tend toward a powerful creator. This is reminiscent of Paul commenting on general revelation in Romans 1 that man is without excuse because God’s “invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
But Crusoe’s conversion is not complete until he is driven to read one of the Bibles he saved from the ship. Through the studying of the Word (special revelation), he comes to an understanding of his sin, his need for a Saviour, and the redemption and salvation found through Christ. In other words, his salvation is accomplished not exclusively through general revelation, suggestive of Paul’s discourse in Romans 10: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Obviously Crusoe did not have the benefit of having the Word preached to him while alone on the island, but the words of Hebrews were brought to fruition in his life because the Holy Spirit illumined and convicted his heart of sin. Truly, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:12,13).
Robinson Crusoe isn’t a perfect book, with its depictions of slavery and the slave trade, cultural imperialism, ethnocentrism mixed with hints of xenophobia, and even a type of blind optimism. But it was a truly enjoyable read and though there is almost no dialogue in the entire 254 pages, Defoe keeps the pages turning through his mastery of description. Additionally, Crusoe is an effective, transparent tour-guide for his physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual experience on the island. If you haven’t read it recently, I’d recommend doing so. Here are some of my favourite quotations from the book:
“In the morning I took the Bible, and, beginning at the New Testament, I began seriously to read it, and imposed upon myself to read a while every morning and every night, not tying myself to the number of chapters, but as long as my thoughts should engage me. It was not long after I set seriously to this work, but I found my heart more deeply and sincerely affected with the wickedness of my past life…I was earnestly begging of God to give me repentance, when it happened providentially the very day that, reading the Scriptures, I came to these words, ‘He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance, and to give remission.’ I threw down the book, and with my heart as well as my hands lifted up to heaven, in a kind of ecstasy of joy, I cried aloud, ‘Jesus, thou Son of David, Jesus, thou exalted Prince and Saviour, give me repentance!'” (p. 82)
“…Whenever [the reader] come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction.” (p. 83)
“All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.” (p. 110)