How Is It Possible?

Daniel Defoe was a nonconformist Dissenter who lived and wrote political essays and social commentary in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century England.  He published his first novel, Robinson Crusoe, when he was almost sixty years old.  While many of us harbor adolescent recollections of this book as an adventure story involving a sailor shipwrecked on a desert island, a fair reading of the unabridged version demonstrates that this novel served as a vehicle for a careful exposition of Defoe’s orthodox Calvinism, targeted at an audience mature in its Reformed Christian faith.  The tale of the castaway resonates with Defoe’s message of unmerited grace bestowed upon an undeserving mankind, and the hand of God’s providence touching even the most profound sinner into faith in Christ and repentance to salvation.

Just as we marvel at God’s grace in redeeming us from our sin and spiritual death, upon his first footfall as he arrives at the island, storm-beaten, nearly drowned, and exhausted, Crusoe remarks, “Lord, how was it possible I could get on shore?”1  In one short passage, found at a considerably later chapter in which the shipwrecked Crusoe endeavors to carve a boat from a large tree (but finds he has completed his vessel too far away from the water to ever launch it), the author expounds in fairly short order the five points of Reformed theology, as his hero reflects on “the good providence of God”:2

I had terrible reflections upon my mind for many months, as I have already observed, on account of my wicked and hardened life past . Here  Crusoe considers the “Total Depravity” of mankind evinced in the hero’s dissipated subsistence. 

. and when I looked about me, and considered what particular providences had attended me since my coming into this place, and how God had dealt bountifully with me-had not only punished me less than my iniquity had deserved, but had so plentifully provided for me . Defoe then notes the dispensation of the providence of God in “Unconditional Election” of the previously impenitent Crusoe. 

. this gave me great hopes that my repentance was accepted, and that God had yet mercy in store for me.  Here the author describes the castaway’s realization ofLimited Atonement” for the faithful elect.      

 With these reflections I worked my mind up, not only to a resignation to the will of God in the present disposition of my circumstances, but even to a sincere thankfulness for my condition; and that I, who was yet a living man, ought not to complain, seeing I had not the due punishment of my sins; that I enjoyed so many mercies which I had no reason to have expected in that place; that I ought never more to repine at my condition, but to rejoice, and to give daily thanks for that daily bread . Crusoe gives praise for “Irresistible Grace”.                       

 In a word, as my life was a life of sorrow one way, so it was a life of mercy another; and I wanted nothing to make it a life of comfort but to be able to make my sense of God’s goodness to me, and care over me in this condition, be my daily consolation . Finally, Defoe relishes in the grace and wisdom of God to give his protagonist “Perseverance” to survive on this desperate planet.


by Doug Rose


1 Defoe, Daniel, Robinson Crusoe (New York, N.Y.: Barnes & Noble Books; 2003), p.41.

2 Id., p.112.

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