It was October 1843. Charles Dickens stepped out of his brick-and-stone home near Regent’s Park in London to go for a walk. He was normally a buoyant, optimistic person, but on that particular evening he had a heavy heart.
At 31, he’d been at the peak of his writing career. Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby—they all sold well. But his newest novel—Martin Chuzzlewit—was a flop. And just a few months earlier his publisher told Dickens that his advances were about to be reduced … by a lot.
The news had stunned him. Supporting a large, extended family, his expenses were nearly more than he could handle. His father and brothers were pleading for loans. His wife, Kate, was expecting their fifth child.
All summer long, he’d worried about his mounting bills, especially the large mortgage he owed on his house. Dickens knew he needed an idea that would earn him a lot of money fast. But his depression was giving him writer’s block.
As he went on his nightly walk on that October evening, he was hoping for a breakthrough. He wandered through London’s better neighborhoods, but, as he got closer to the Thames River, things changed. There were tenement houses, open sewers, and litter strewn everywhere. It reminded him of a nightmare he’d been having most of his life of a 12-year-old boy sitting at a worktable. There he’d work twelve hours a day, six days a week, attaching labels on an endless stream of shoe polish pots to earn the six shillings that will keep him alive. With his father in debtors’ prison, this boy’s only schooling was the one-hour lesson he would get during his dinner break at the warehouse.
The scary part was that this dream didn’t come out of Dickens’ imagination. It was a replay of his early life. He was that boy working twelve hours a day—until his father inherited some money, paid off his debts, and got out of prison.
It was on this night that the fear of destitution rose up in Dickens again. But as he headed home, he had a flash of inspiration. What about writing a Christmas story about a destitute family? But Christmas was less than three months away. The book would have to be short. It would have to be finished by the end of November to be printed in time for Christmas sales.
He began to write. The manuscript grew, page by page. He wrote about the kind of Christmas he loved—one of joyous family parties with clusters of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling, delicious feasts of roast goose, plum pudding, fresh breads, all enjoyed in front of a blazing Yule log. But then he wrote about a destitute family who couldn’t afford that kind of Christmas, and about the stingy Scrooge who could have helped but only cared about himself.
At last, on December 2, he finished the manuscript and sent it to the printers. On December 17, it went on sale and the first edition of 6,000 copies were sold out by Christmas Eve. Dickens’ financial situation was reversed and the world got a great story.
If you’ve been listening to the program this December, you know we’ve been talking a lot about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and what happens to old Ebenezer Scrooge. After retiring alone to his cold, barren apartment on Christmas Eve he gets a visit from the spirit of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Doomed by his greed, Marley’s ghost wanders the world in chains. He warns Scrooge that he must change, or suffer the same fate. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come appear and show Scrooge scenes from his life.
In this way, Dickens does a masterful job of describing how Scrooge is brought to repentance. Scrooge can barely stand to see his sin revealed and yet it works this wonderful change in him. It shows him the consequences of his actions. It gives him a foretaste of the great regret he’s going to have one day. It humbles him and instills compassion in his hard heart for Tiny Tim and his family. And the best part is the relief he has when he realizes it’s not too late to change.
It’s a great story, but there’s one thing missing—Jesus. In Dickens’ story, Scrooge goes from being a villain to a savior, seemingly without ever turning in faith to the real Savior Jesus Christ.
If taken at face value, we might lose sight of Scrooge’s true need of a savior. The most profound repentance in the world isn’t enough without Jesus. It’s natural to think that we can redeem our past by doing better in the future, but it’s not true. Nothing we can do can ever pay for what we’ve done and not done—only the atoning death of Jesus on the cross can pay for our past.
No one knew this better than the apostle Peter. There was a before and after in Peter’s life but Peter didn’t change himself—it was Jesus who changed him. Peter bragged about his bravery and denied the Lord out of fear before finally running away. He’d learned the hard way how all the best intentions in the world couldn’t make him into a different person. But then Jesus sought him out—this Jesus who had paid the price for his sin on the cross. He came to him and called him into a new life.
The change you see in Scrooge can really only happen through the living Word of the gospel. Ultimately, Charles Dickens’ shows us what transformation looks like in the life of Ebenezer Scrooge. When those church bells ring at the end of the story, he is truly a changed man. But let us never forget that this impossible change can only be made wholly possible through the help of a loving, forgiving Savior.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
1 Peter 1:3
About the Author
As the leader of the Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” A former secular journalist, Charles has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He and his wife, Janet, have authored several books, including Missing Jesus. Charles’ latest book is Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus: The Real Story of God At Work.
Most of the thoughts above are taken from broadcasts of Haven Today. Corum Hughes serves as the editor of this blog and coordinator for Haven’s social media content. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Corum lives in Boise, ID with his wife Molly.