In 1942, C.S. Lewis published a book entitled The Screwtape Letters that presented the fictional correspondence between two fictional demons. The correspondence addressed one issue and one issue alone: the best method with which to secure and safeguard mankind’s eternal damnation. The book states clearly to the reader know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. What’s more, this extra bit about the road to Hell — quite the opposite of the narrow way into Heaven spoken of in the Bible in Matthew 7:13 -14 — is also found in the book:
It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
In Baltimore’s The Morning Herald on January 2, 1888 they ran an article entitled “Better Pay Old Vows.” The story was about the Reverend Wayland D. Ball, pastor of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church, who began the New Year with a sermon on using New Year’s Day to pay vows to God. His sermon read in part:
We make some resolution of self-sacrifice, and then become happy over thinking how brave we are going to be and how good are going to become. And contemplation is so much more pleasant and easy than performance that we are content with that. but there is no virtue in good thoughts alone. Religious emotion that comes from the mere making of vows is very often nothing but the Devil ticking us into a good humor with ourselves. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
In a letter to the editor of the Daily Southern Cross in New Zealand on April 20, 1855 entitled “Taranaki Versus His Excellency And His Executive” the author, identified only by his initials, E.M., began his comments with:
Sir, The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and his Excellency Colonel Wynyard appears anxious to complete the Taranaki portion of the pavement with the least possible delay.
That same year, the expression is found in H.G. Bohn’s Hand-book of Proverbs. The proverb is from Portugal and states that:
Hell is paved with good intentions, and roofed with lost opportunities.
Even earlier than that, thought, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) is quoted as saying:
L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs” (Translated: “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”)
The expression has evolved since the days of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, but the meaning remains the same.