The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens wrote one book that never appears on his “collected works” lists. That is The Life of Our Lord, a “child’s new testament” that he wrote for his own children for Christmas one year. It was first published in 1934, 64 years after Dickens’s death.

In The Life of Our Lord, Charles Dickens retells the major events in the life of Jesus Christ. He obviously omits a lot, but he focuses on what he wants his children to know. It is an intriguing look at the life of Christ and at the specific faith of Charles Dickens. I appreciated the way he wrote as if speaking directly to a child, and I am glad I read it.

All that said, I wasn’t very impressed with this short children’s book. Publishers warned readers not to expect a typical Dickens book from it, and I have to say I agree: I don’t think it’s typical. It was written for children and for specific children at that (his own). For that reason the tone is incredibly casual.

As I read, I kept thinking “I want to write something like this for my own child!” Because Dickens is writing for his own purposes, he writes what he feels is most important, explicating his own theological understanding on the events of Christ’s life. It is perfectly appropriate, and yet it made me want to do the same with my own understanding and beliefs about the life of Christ. I want my children to know what I believe and what I love from the life of Jesus Christ.

While he was alive, Dickens asked that The Life of Our Lord never be published while he was alive; he wrote it for his family and wanted it to say in the family. In the 1930s, it was published by his descendants.  More information can be found at Wikipedia.

The bottom line: I recommend reading The Life of Our Lord if you’re interested in Dickens’ faith and understanding of the life of Jesus Christ. The Life of Our Lord may interest you and inspire you, but I don’t think it’s full of quality Dickens writing. I’m not very inclined to whole-heartedly recommend that you read The Life of Our Lord; it’s purpose wasn’t for me or you or anyone else to read it. I felt like I was reading a personal letter Dickens wrote to his children.

Do you think it was right of Dickens’ descendants to publish The Life of Our Lord? Dickens hadn’t asked that publication be avoided forever, but he obviously wanted to keep it in the family. If you wrote something you never wanted published, what would you think if someone published your writing against your wishes? What if you’ve been dead a long time?

Have you reviewed The Life of Our Lord? Leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on December 10, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I downloaded the pdf because your post intrigued me… What I found interesting (and I kept thinking of you saying you’d like to write the story yourself, for your family, to express your own ideas) was the bits Dickens chose to highlight and which to leave out. For example 40 days in the wilderness goes by in two sentences, but there’s loads of details about honey and locusts which I could do without. Those forty days have always really fascinated me, and i would have thought children today would be interested in the idea of a man testing himself in that way. Clearly not thought appropriate for Victorian children though! It may not be his best work (and I just finished listening to unabridged Christmas Carol, which really is) but it’s extremely interesting and thanks for pointing it out – I’d never even heard of it. 

  • emma t, that’s exactly what I thought: he had some emphasis on things that I wouldn’t have considered most important; I’d like to redo it with my emphasis! I agree it’s interesting. Most people haven’t heard of it, but my husband had it so I had to check it out.

    Welcome to the blogging world! I see you’re new around here!

  • I am just fascinated to learn that this exists. I had never heard of it before. And I am on a Dickens kick.

    As for your questions, although I think of myself as a sentimentalist, I am pretty hard hearted about honoring the wishes of dead people. Maybe something I picked up in my Wills & Trusts class in law school about such wishes being generally unenforceable, so it made me tough.

    But when it comes to “burn my papers” type requests, I usually fall on the side of ignoring the request. Like the “new” book by Nabakov that I am looking forward to reading. What’s it called? Something about “Laura” but I can’t remember the name.

  • I received this book as a child in the 1940’s. I loved it. But the edition was an elongated left to right version with beautiful illustrations suitable as a child’s picture book. I would love to find a copy of that particular edition for my grandchildren.

  • I know this is a very old post…but I have just come across Dickens’ “The Life of Our Lord,” and wanted to add a very important comment. I agreed with all of the comments above, and I believe the famiy should have honored Charles Dickens’ request to keep the manuscript private. But, my biggest objection to the text is the fact that the essential teaching of grace is left out of the book entirely.
    On the last page of the manuscript (not counting the prayers which are in my copy) Dickens’ writes that “by humbly trying to do right in everything…we may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes and enable us to live and die in peace.” This is in strict opposition with the basic teaching of scripture, which says that we are saved by grace and not by good works. We can’t be good enough to deserve the gift of Jesus. That’s the precise reason he came to die, so that in all of the ways we fall short, he would fill the gap with his selfless, perfect sacrifice. We need just believe in that sacrifice. The good works follow because of the change of our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit. This book reminds me more of the Islamic faith wich does require good works in order to inherit heaven.

  • Thank you Leanne for your comment, as I just came across this last paragraph from Dickens’ book, The Life of our Lord, on p.70 in the book A Family Program for Reading Aloud by Rosalie J. Slater. It piqued my interest, as I’d never heard of this Dickens book, and just now PBS Masterpiece Classics is featuring Dickens novels on their programs. I was going to present this quote to my bookclub to see what they thought, and I still may.

    We are currently reading The Mark of a Christian by Francis Schaeffer. Jan,. 2012 was Francis Schaeffer’s Centennial ~~ 30 January 1912 – 15 May 1984. I agree with your thoughts about the doctrine of grace and wonder if the whole book reflects this thinking that he wanted to pass on to his children. I do hope he was a Christian and it seems he was sincere in teaching his children his faith. However, although he was a celebrated classic writer, I have trouble with some of his books and the details and depravity of man are so troublesome at times. I guess I am not that well read in the Dickens’ novels. I think this brings to light some great discussion, though.

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