History and Judgment

14 10 2008

HISTORY AND JUDGMENT

 

Study 10

 

Trevor Faggotter  

 

If we don’t change our course, we’ll end up where we’re headed. — Chinese proverb 



 

Down one road lies disaster, down the other utter catastrophe. Let us hope we have the wisdom to choose wisely. — Woody Allen

 

Perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment (1John 4:18b).

 

YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW

 

In our reading of The Justification of God, from 1917, it is important that we distill the wisdom P.T. Forsyth imparts, and give application to the unique circumstances of our own day. Theology is best when it is doxology. Praise to God – in thinking and serving anew amidst today’s world – is the life we are called to share in.  Forsyth saw the necessity of engaging in public affairs:

 

It has always been the bane of theology when it has been isolated from the course of public affairs, and left neutral to the issues of history – when it has been otherworldly.

 

Take one example: oil consumption is one of our many pressing global problems – where injustice, politics, greed and war, are very real factors to reckon with.

 

March 31st, 2008 “It’s no secret anymore that for every nine barrels of oil we consume, we are only discovering one.”
– The BP Statistical Review of World Energy.  The world is addicted to oil. In just 8 years, it’s projected the world will be consuming nearly 50,000 gallons of oil every second. By that time, the world won’t be able to meet the projected demand… for one simple reason: We’re using up oil at breakneck speed.

Investors are advised to put their hopes and dollars into a variety of other forms of energy stocks, including solar power, steam-engines (water), nuclear fuel, and so on.  But can a sage of yesteryear, like P.T. Forsyth, be of any use to us at this point? These were not his issues. Does his theology – his thought and Word concerning God carry any weight here? We say, ‘yes, it certainly does’. Thoughtfulness, trust, prayer and a working theodicy, are meant to serve us well, as we address the crisis in life and any overwhelming set of worldwide, or local circumstances in which we find ourselves placed.

FACING A FOREBODING FUTURE WITHOUT FEAR

 

Fear of what may happen in the future affects the way we live out our lives.  Fear itself produces certain effects in the course of history.  Self-preservation, greed, fear of other nations, cultures and of people generally; fear of engaging in community life, turning in upon oneself, the quest for meaning (in all the wrong places), the pursuit of a self-styled happiness, frustration and anger at the inability to achieve personal goals, and various reckless and harmful forms of personal and community abuse, hastening onwards unabated – such issues are very much the staple diet of many of today’s people. Underneath is all is the lifelong fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).

 

Undoubtedly the scientific, industrial and political search for practical and appropriate solutions must continue. But can overwhelming concern with such fear, be the wisest, and most urgent of pursuits?  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”. In his writings, Forsyth has been calling his readers to unearth more in the cross of Christ, than they have previously seen or known.  Within our current history, we need to see the outworking of the cross as it bears upon the issues and thinking of all people within our global village:

 

The non-intervention of God bears very heavy interest, and He is greatly to be feared when He does nothing. He moves in long orbits, out of sight and sound. But He always arrives. Nothing can arrest the judgment of the Cross, nothing shake the judgment-seat of Christ. The world gets a long time to pay, but all the accounts are kept—to the uttermost farthing. Lest if anything were forgotten there might be something unforgiven, unredeemed, and unholy still.

 

God has acted in human history, in grace, in Jesus Christ. The persistent deafness of the world to God, and to the redeeming message of the gospel is the reason for so much fear. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love (1 John 4:18). Unbelief in the gospel, and the refusal of Love’s given solution weighs heavily upon the global conscience, as also upon the national conscience, and of course, the personal conscience.

 

P. T. Forsyth never wrote a book on the conscience, but few seem to have understood it better than he did. He said that conscience makes us man, makes us one, and makes us eternal. He appears to be saying that of all creatures man is endowed the conscience, and without conscience he is not truly man. He is also saying that it is one of the most dynamic factors common to every human being, and that transcending class, language, race and creed it gives us that by which we can understand humanity – at least on the moral level. That is why Forsyth also said, ‘That which goes deepest to the conscience goes widest to the world’. Nothing we do of right or wrong can relate only to this world, but to eternity, i.e. sin and wrongdoing meets its judgement in the eternal sphere, and not just in this world.

 

THE CROSS: DISCUSSION AND INTERPRETATION

 

People still discuss the cross of Jesus. They reflect on the meaning of it all.

 

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them but their eyes were kept from recognizing him (Luke 24:15-16)

 

The Risen Jesus is present amidst the discussion, of life, and the cross, and its meaning, and it is He who interprets the things concerning himself, to those who need to know and to understand.  Sharply admonished, new cross-insight evokes great joy (Luke 24:52).

 

Then he said to them. “Oh how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have declared?” (Luke 24:25b)

 

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the scriptures (Luke 24:27).

 

It is so important that we discuss the cross in our present-day context. There are five categories under which Forsyth discusses History and Judgment. Briefly, we note them:

 

1. Scriptural   2. Evangelical   3. Philosophical   4. Critical   5. Ironical

1. SCRIPTURAL

 

Forsyth points us to a Psalm often used in churches as a call to worship, to sing a new song to the Lord. Psalm 96 finishes with the theme of joy, as all the trees of the forest sing for joy (Psalm 96:13b) at the Lord’s coming to judge the world with righteousness:

 

…and so God takes His own text, and preaches, to those that have ears to hear, judgment. His great sermons on crucial occasions are long, and deeply theological. Perhaps now we may grow in the mood to listen, and the skill to read His signs in the times. What is the Christian theology of public judgment? It is not great nations only, but modern civilisation that is at the bar. Does it stand before the judgment-seat of Christ? 

In the Bible, in Christianity, the idea of judgment is not that of a remote and unearthly dies iræa notion which has become a demoralising dream, withdrawing religion from the midst of life. Judgment is the visitation of a Saviour. It comes into affairs. It means less destruction than reconstitution. It has a note of joy in it, the joy of harvest.

 

Once again, Forsyth reminds us that the judgment in history is one of dilemma, choice and crisis, and not that of civilised progress and development. Christ’s death and resurrection is a movement, a build-up, to a crescendo of judgment, closing one world, opening another.  He refers to the parable of the vineyard, and the last judgment being the last of a long train: Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son’ (Matthew 21:37). The final wicked deed of crucifying Jesus was the last judgment. ‘But it always means the dawn of the kingdom more than the doom of the world.

 

2. EVANGELICAL

 

Forsyth has said, ‘theology means thinking in centuries’, and this he does himself, when he surveys the Dark Ages, noting the missing element of teleology, and its detrimental effects through the course of history. Theology lost the sense of history.

 

It is the mark of the Dark Ages and the Churches millennial slumber that theology departed from its historic base and lost the sense of history (my emphasis) in the wilds of speculation. This base and this sense we are only now recovering for faith. The first Christian principle was right, whatever we think of its first form. High history is not possible without the teleology which a final judgment supplies for all other crises. And Christianity alone, by this article of faith, makes a history of the world possible. It restores theology to history, and history to theology.

 

He also notes that excluding the idea of atoning judgment leads to indifference, apathy and disbelief of judgment, and a light sense of spiritual wickedness.

 

That indifference is the symptom of a state of things in which the Cross loses its searching and universal, its ethical and public quality, and comes to be admired as heroic sacrifice, or sweetened to the taste of the piety of religious groups.

 

There is an enormous amount of pessimism among people today. Forsyth is right to note that pessimismis erected into a creed upon the debris of the creeds of hope. So ends a religion of probabilities. Uncertainty denies Christ’s Victory. It fails to see Jesus’ significance, in his death for decisive judgement. Unbelief in what God has done, results in pessimism. A pessimist, being one who always looks on the worst side of life!

 

Evangelical faith has no timidity, concerning the basic facts, even amidst many doubters.

 

For faith we must have facts, and facts eternal and sure. We must have a fact, which ensures all the future because it contains it, creates it, and gives us the final settlement of the moral soul in advance.

 

Facts Eternal and Sure

 

For Christian faith …that fact is Christ’s Cross, as a greater fact than all history, for which now all history moves. He is the last judgment, yesterday, today, and forever, the goal and justification of all the devious, dreadful ways of earth. The deepest thing, whether in progress or catastrophe, is its contribution to His denouement. Christ in His Cross is the theodicy of history, its crisis, its essential, and final, and glorious justice.

 

We noted in the previous study the importance, to our understanding, of Christ’s Words from the cross – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22) – the essence of these words really must be grasped. Geoffrey Bingham has written:

 

If he were not separated, then would sin have been really dealt with? If this alienation of the human spirit from God is the very essence of wrath, then was God’s wrath really poured out on the Cross upon sin, and was it borne by Christ, if he were not forsaken? The answer must surely be, ‘The wrath was poured out upon sin, and for man’s sake he was forsaken’… What we fail to understand is the utter desolation that is indicated by the cry.  If to be forsaken is the utterness of suffering (and it is), then he actually has to suffer this.  If some special knowledge tells him he is not essentially forsaken, then he does not suffer to the full.  Let us understand this: he did suffer to the full.  Failure to understand this cry is failure to understand the terrible nature of sin and the high wrath of the eternal God, who must destroy evil by His burning action of holiness.

 

Jesus must know and bear the dreadful anger of God upon all sin, once, for all. It is only as a person by the Spirit, sees these facts that they can be truly at peace.

 

He must, as man, be taken from the Holy Presence and go out into the place of the damned. He must suffer it all, or not at all.

 

Leon Morris concurs regarding this actual fact of forsaken-ness. The meaning of Jesus words, are that he was cut off from the Father.

 

Another scholar, R. W. Dale would never allow that Christ only felt forsaken. He said,

 

‘I shrink from saying that even in my calmest and brightest hours I have a knowledge of God and the ways of God which is truer than Christ had, even in His agony. I dare not stand before His cross and tell Him that even for a moment He imagines something concerning God which is not a fact and cannot be a fact’.

 

Forsyth alerts us to the wrecked world, where the mending requires something very deep:

 

Things are so profoundly out of joint that only something deeper than the wrecked world can mend them, only a God of love and power infinite, making his sovereignty good once for all, though mountains are cast into the sea. The only theodicy is not a system, but a salvation; it is God’s own saving Act and final judgment, incarnate historically and personally. The Cross of Christ, eternal and universal, immutable and invincible, is the moral goal and principle of nations and affairs.

 

If it seem ridiculous to say that a riot and devilry of wickedness like war is still not out of the providence of Christ’s holy love, it is because we are victims of a prior unfaith.  It is because we have come to think it a theological absurdity to say that the Cross of Christ outweighs for God in awful tragedy, historic moment, and eternal effect a whole world ranged in inhuman arms. We do not really believe that it is Christ, ‘crucified to the end of the world’ (as Pascal says), that pays the last cost of war. That God spared not His own Son is a greater shock to the natural conscience than the collapse of civilisation in blood would be.

 

Again, Forsyth has nailed it.  We too, in our day, have come to think it a theological absurdity to say that the Cross of Christ outweighs for God in awful tragedy, historic moment, and eternal effect a whole world ranged in inhuman arms. Theologians, preachers and churches – we have all too often failed to declare the whole counsel of God in this matter. We have been slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.

 

For civilisation may deserve to collapse, if only because it crucified the Son of God, and crucifies Him afresh. But if God spared not His own Son, He will spare no historic convulsion needful for His kingdom. And if the unspared Son neither complained nor challenged, but praised and hallowed the Father’s name, we may worship and bow the head.

 

3. PHILOSOPHICAL

 

The Church, with a last judgment remote, and an individualist salvation by private bargain at hand, has much failed in relating the Cross to history. And in so far it has been untrue to its Bible.

 

If the Church fails to relate the cross satisfactorily to history, where does it fail?

 

The bane of popular Christianity is that it has severed the Cross from the moral principle for which the world is built, from the creative leaven in active things, and has made it a second best, a supplementary device for the rescue of a section of mankind who occupy to it a certain relation of greater or less piety. Salvation, the Church, the kingdom become but the proceeds from a good sale of the wreck of creation.

Creation – the key to open our understanding the Cross

 

Do we know and proclaim the wonder and joy of creation, redeemed in Christ?  This is essential wisdom, at the heart of the gospel (Ephesians 3:9). Creation, our home, is the dwelling place of God, in Jesus Christ.  The cross is not a supplementary device.  It is at the heart of God’s purpose for creation. All too often the Church has held an escapist theology – a dualist approach to creation – whereby physicality is seen as inferior to spirituality. Many consider this creation should be abandoned to the rubbish dump, while a redeemed section of humanity fly away, to some safer, more homely place, for eternity. Where does that thinking really connect with present history? It doesn’t. As such, it is no real gospel, for creation in primary, and not salvation. If creation fails, God fails.

 

Christianity does believe in a solution already real, however unseen. We now live amid the evolution of the final crisis and last judgment of the sempiternal cross. All the moral judgment moving to effect in the career of souls, societies, and nations is the action of the Cross as the final, crucial, eternal Act of the moral power of the universe.

 

We do well to recognise God’s judgments taking place now. We may hold a general faith that there is a fundamental distinction between right and wrong.  But we are given in Christ something far more decisive than that. A frame of mind of blessed assurance, and confidence arises because God is the decisive Judge. There is finality to this age.

 

It is well that we should know that, as men or nations, we are daily registering our own judgment in the character our conduct is laying down, that we are creating our own Kharma, that we are writing two copies of our life at once—-one of them, through the black carbon of time and death, in the eternal. And it elevates the whole conception of history to view it as at bottom the action, almost automatic, and therefore certain, of the divine judgment—so long as we can rise to think it is moral action with an end, and not incessant moral process.

 

All that is to the good. But the tendency is to lose, in the moral automatism, the sense of judgment as more than sure nemesis, as the work of a living and saving God who has already said His last and endless word in this kind. We tend to miss in judgment the incessant reaction of His personal and absolute holiness as the last creative power in all being, and the organising principle of its slow evolution through time. We are led to think more of the judgment than of the Judge. It then becomes hard, very often, to believe in judgment, or trace the justice at work at all. And we come out of the welter, perhaps, with little more at best than a general faith that there is a distinction between right and wrong, possibly even a fundamental one, but with no assurance which will win at last, whether the far end of it all will be a kingdom of God or a kingdom of Satan.

 

The goal of creation, the regeneration, the new creation, the expulsion of all that is evil, the arrival of that which God always had in mind, gives present history deep significance.

It is now the moment to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far-gone, the day is near (Romans 13:11b-12a).

4. CRITICAL

 

This section was particularly difficult for me to summarise. Forsyth makes reference to a famous phrase of the German philosopher and historian, Frederick Schiller: Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht. It means ‘History is the true criticism and last judgment of the world’. Forsyth concurs that this ‘is a great word’. But requests due caution:

 

But it may hide in it also a great fallacy. It may easily come to mean what is so false in recent pragmatism—that efficiency is the test of right, that only clear fitness survives, that nothing is to be held true till you see it works, that the only success is success. It does not do justice to the Christian idea.

 

Many people, and politicians in particular are mere pragmatists: If something works, it must be right. The problem of this sort of thinking is that it leads us to see the world as simply an immediate ‘cause and effect’ environment. Here, the active role of God is almost superfluous. At best he becomes the Trustee of the moral order. People think of the world, then, as detached from God. Everything becomes relative. We speak of values, but there is no measuring stick. There is no longer any standard by which to measure whether things are improving or not. Life grows more complex… more busy, but more meaningless. Forsyth says: It has nothing to crystallise on. Sounds hauntingly familiar. It describes much of our way of life, as it is lived in Australia, 2008, doesn’t it?

 

The ethical process in mere history has no real closes. The books are never made up. To what does it all move?

 

Forsyth saw the danger of this approach, outworking in WW1, and well in advance of WW2.  Already there were loud political appeals to a tutelary God – a guardian spirit –, but entire silence about Christ, his judgment or His kingdom.  The result is tribalism.

 

What is the end result of such an approach today?  Multiculturalism, at its best can be colourful, joyful, varied and mutually enriching. But mere multiculturalism, as a stable way of structuring society and community, may be a very dangerous, or disastrous. It is a world-Christ who is given for all nations of the world – for the blessing of all peoples.

 

5. IRONICAL

 

In many cases in life the important thing is not what is said but what is not said. That is what the experienced man is most concerned to interpret. That is what he comes either to distrust or to rely on most.

 

This final section reminds me of a title ‘Finally comes the Poet’, by Walter Brueggemann. Forsyth’s dense theology becomes more like poetry. And we can grasp it! 

 

When we have to reckon men up, or to revise our interviews with them, we may attach most weight not to the words we heard but to the one remark we expected but it did not come.

 

Forsyth then builds upon this point with an illustration from creation:

 

It is so in nature. The stillness of the night often seems more full and more impressive than the bustle of the day. Its calm is a rebuke, or at least a monition, to the day’s passion and the day’s haste; the repose is full of subtle question. So as we rise in the scale and business of life the silence may be more eloquent and even active than the sound; and more is meant by reserve than by response. The criticism by silence can be as severe as any. 

 

And then come a series of great insights he has been building toward – God’s laughter and smiles: (taking nothing from the seriousness of all our studies!)

 

God’s judgment on things and in things is not absent because it is still, and it is not out of action because it is not obvious nor obtrusive.

 

If God do not yet intervene on earth He sits in heaven—sits and laughs. And His smile is inscrutable, and elusive, only not cruel: the smile of endless power and patience, very still, and very secure, and deeply, dimly kind. The judgment of God can be as lofty and sleepless as the irony of heaven over earth, or the irony of history upon earth. ‘Thou didst deceive me and I was deceived.’

 

Heine spoke daringly of the Aristophanes of heaven. But that is not the smile that any Christian can see or credit over us. Yet it need not be either faithless or foolish to speak of the Socratic heavens. God seems so slow, so clouded, so fumbling in His ways; and His questions that do reach us seem so irrelevant, so naive—but they are so dangerous.

 

The powers that delay but do not forget are not simple, impotent, or confused as they tarry. If fire do not fall from the heavens they yet rain influence down. There is a world of meaning in their gaze upon men whom they do not yet smite.

 

It is neither a stony nor a bovine stare.

All the world is being summed up by that bland sky.

Its light is invisibly actinic on earth.

What seems distance and irrelevance, weak and unweeting, may well put us on our guard. The heavens are not so simple as they seem, nor is God so mocked as He consents to appear, and to appear for long. He gives our desire, and it shrivels our soul. Of our pleasant vices He is making instruments to scourge us. The passions, ambitions, and adventures of men go on to achieve their end through a riot of worldliness, wickedness, defiance, and guilt; but they are after all the levers for a mightier purpose than theirs, which thrives on their collapse. The wrath of man works the righteousness of God. Satan’s last chagrin is his contribution to God’s kingdom. The great agents of the divine purpose have often no idea of it. ‘Cyrus, my servant.’   [See Isaiah 45:1, 4]

 

One thing they do with all their might, but God accomplishes by them quite another. Julius Caesar never intended nor conceived the Roman Church; but it came by him, and he was murdered. His ambition was his death, but his great function was a thing vaster than the Roman Empire.

 

There is a certain truth (if we will be very careful with it) in the early Christian fantasy that Satan was befooled by the patient naïveté of Christ. That is the irony of history—when the very success of an idea creates the conditions that belie it, smother it, and replace it. Catholicism becomes the Papacy. The care for truth turns to the Inquisition. The religious orders, vowed to poverty, die and rot of wealth. A revival movement becomes a too, too prosperous and egoistic Church. Freedom as soon as it is secured becomes tyranny. Misfortune need not be judgment, nor need defeat; but victory may be. And defeat may be victory.  The irony seems most cruel when it overtakes one who is the slave of no ambition but, like Socrates, is filled with the great idea, or like Christ with the Holy Ghost—men whose passion did not need to be overruled for the Kingdom of Heaven, but was purely and wholly engrossed with it. We are faced with the gigantic and ironic paradox of the Cross, which crushes the best to raise both them and the world.

 

If His words are acts, so is that slow smile. Heaven does not laugh loud but it laughs last—when all the world will laugh in its light. It is a smile more immeasurable than the ocean’s and more deep; it is an irony gentler and more patient than the bending skies, the irony of a long love and the play of its sure mastery; it is the smile of the holy in its silent omnipotence of mercy. The stillness of those heavens that our guns cannot reach is not a circumambient indifference, it is an irony of the Eternal power in sure control of human passion, a sleepless judgment on it, an incessant verdict, very active, mighty, and monitory for those that have ears to hear—yea, very merciful. Greater than the irony in history is the irony over it. Great is the irony of persecution by the Church, of cruelty coming from culture, of corruption from the very success of purity, of a colossal egoism in the wake of much self-denial. But greater and other is the irony of those skies that look down on the whole earth and make its ironies little—look down, so inert yet so ominous, so still yet so eloquent, so vacant yet so charged with the judgment that the Cunctator Maximus is incessantly passing on man——penetrating by its slow insistence, wearing earth down with its monotone of doom. We have that sublime, and ironic, and ceaseless judgment in the irony of Christ before Pilate—-all Heaven taking sentence from rude Rome, the chief outcast of the world judging the world with the last judgment of its God. 

 …He moves in long orbits, out of sight and sound. But he always arrives.


Note: To order a copy of Forsyth’s book – http://www.newcreation.org.au/books/covers/209.html

Doxology – i.e. Praise to God (from Greek words, ‘doxa’ (glory) and ‘logos’ (word) – word of glory!

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 188

Martin Luther’s definition of sin – ‘to be turned in upon yourself’

Forsyth, p. 207

Geoffrey C. Bingham, The Conscience, Conquering or Conquered?, NCPI, Blackwood, 1980, 2001, p. xi 

Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 188-203

dies iræthe first words of a medieval Latin hymn describing the Last Judgment (literally `day of wrath’)

Forsyth, p. 188-189

Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 189

 Teleology – we have previously discussed in Study 3 – Towards the Certain Goal.

Forsyth, p. 190

Forsyth, p. 190

Forsyth, p. 193

Geoffrey C. Bingham, Christ’s Cross Over Man’s Abyss, NCPI, Blackwood, 1987, p. 68

Bingham, Christ’s Cross Over Man’s Abyss, p. 70

Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1965, p. 45

R. W. Dale, The Atonement, London, 1902, p. xli

I believe it may have been David Brainerd, 1718-1747 (the missionary mentioned last week), who was able to praise and hallow the Father’s name even as his own family members were murdered, as he was dragged in a tortuous manner across a prairie, for his testimony to Jesus; all in the service of bringing the gospel to the North American Indians in Delaware.

Forsyth, p. 198

See Geoffrey C. Bingham, Creation and the Liberating Glory, NCPI, Blackwood, 2004, p. 73

sempiternal – having no known beginning and presumably no end; “the dateless rise and fall of the tides”; “time is endless”; “sempiternal truth”; enduring forever;

Forsyth, p. 198

Forsyth, p. 196

Forsyth, p. 199-200

Forsyth, p. 203

Forsyth, p. 201

Forsyth, p. 203

Forsyth, p. 203

Forsyth, p. 203-204; the other quotes that follow are from pp. 204-207, formatted for ease of reading.

Jeremiah 20:7 – Jeremiah’s complaint against God.

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), a German poet who lived during the times of the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon; his lyrics have inspired such composers as Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Schumann.

Aristophanes – An Athenian playwright, some consider him the greatest ancient writer of satirical comedy. Surviving plays include: The Clouds (423) and Lysistrata (411).

I think he means rather docile; certainly the stare of our brown-eyed Jersey cows was quite intelligent.

Actinic: a display caused by chemical charges produced by radiant energy – especially in the visible and ultraviolet sector of the spectrum

Unweeting – unwitting; not knowing; unaware; not intended

Forsyth, p. 207

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Saving Judgment

14 10 2008

SAVING JUDGMENT

 

Study 9

 

Trevor Faggotter  

 

As we pursue the study of P.T. Forsyth’s book, The Justification of God, we look at the matter of salvation – and the apostolic desire for all people, including the kings of the world, to come into the Kingdom of God, and be saved. As Forsyth says: The more we believe in the Kingdom of God the more we must believe in judgment.

 

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God;
 there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

 

God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  God saves his people. The Israelites groaned under their slavery in Egypt, and cried out to God (Exodus 2:23). They were rescued – or saved by passing through the red sea. Salvation involves coming out into a large place – a place of freedom and space. Salvation involves the joy of daily life within creation. Salvation involves liberty and the joy of community life; salvation involves the future glorious freedom, which is given from sin and death. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Salvation extends to the future of creation, set free from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). Salvation is eternal life in Christ Jesus.

 

SALVATION THROUGH JUDGMENT

 

Many people think that the cross of Christ is a sort of legal device designed for avoiding judgment.  This is not so. Rather, salvation comes, not in bypassing judgment, but takes place by passing through judgment.  The judgment of the cross cuts right through us, and we, by faith, pass through it, in Christ. I have been crucified with Christ is our true claim. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

 

P. T. Forsyth says:

 

What is judgment but the setting out in true and full light (i.e. in just relation to the whole) of the actual state of things between the soul’s case and the ruling power of the world? Unless Christ be a dream or a dreamer, that power is God’s grace. That is our final judge. To it we stand or fall. The gospel of grace, in the Cross and its preaching, is the real ultimate judgment of the world, the real and final power at work now.

 

Our salvation cost the Father his own Son. We may think this was but for a moment. That view would be a misreading of the gospel message. That Christ was utterly forsaken – is a fracture, or deep break, within the love-unity of the Triune God himself, and is of immense importance. Paul sees this action as a totally gracious giving to the human race.

 

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

 

Forsyth presses us in the opposite direction in order that we might grasp something of the judgment process both in the cross, and in the course of human history. God who is prepared to forsake his Son, for the sake of humanity’s future, is also prepared to us the most dreadful of circumstances, to further his good purpose for creation.  Forsyth is referring particularly to the tragic world war he was experiencing in 1917.

 

If God spared not His own Son He can bear to see, and rise to use, the most dreadful things that civilisation can produce. History is a long judgment process; but it is not in the course of history with its debacles that we find the last judgment of God, and fix our faith in it, but at a point of history, in the Cross of Christ. It is there that we find the justification of God at first hand, and His own theodicy.

 

THE LOOSING AND BINDING ACTION OF LOVE

 

Hearing the gospel message is not a neutral exercise. It is a crisis, a moment of decision. It has consequences. The disciples understood their actions were not neutral, and learned this from their Lord, when Jesus said:  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah (Matthew 16:19). In John we read: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’. (John 20:23)

 

Their power to forgive is of course ministerial only, and not magisterial. The disciples are heralds of the gospel, servants and agents of Christ, But only God, in Christ, as King has the right to forgive, and pardon. God acts in love, in sending Christ, to reveal this love:

 

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1John 4:10).

 

The great Christian message to the world is not simply love. That is too general, not to say vague. Christianity does not produce only love to God, but also hate.

 

Our message is never neutral.  Forsyth said of gracious loving, direct preaching:

 

It not only produces faith but it also deepens unfaith, and hardens impenitence. If it loose it also binds; and it can do the one only if it do the other—action and reaction being equal. If it draw some near to God, it repels others into distance and estrangement. There is such a thing as the repulsive power of a great affection.

 

Perfect grace was and is final judgment. It is condemnation to ignore salvation. Full and final judgment is not something super-added to the Gospel. It is no corollary, no by-product. It is intrinsic to it. It is an element of Fatherhood, and not a device.

 

John’s Gospel warns people not to ignore this salvation. Following on from the most used evangelical appeal from Scripture, is the warning sound as well. We should weigh it carefully in our minds and hearts.  

 

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; (John 3:16-18a)

 

but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ (John 3:18b-21)

 

Forsyth writes:

 

The same Church that evangelises the world in the very act judges it. It not only divides each soul, but all society, electing and rejecting.

 

The Cross did not, indeed, come directly and expressly to judge (John viii. 15-16, xii. 47-48). It did so only in the course of exerting …God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. But judge it certainly did. It brought to a head for the world the sin of an elect nation—a nation whose sense of privilege and merit repudiated moral for national interests, scouted Christ’s word of mercy and His call to repent, and found no public meaning in His Word of love and humility. It thus became, more than Rome, incarnate Antichrist. It sinned against pure light.

 

The Cross, which that nation inflicted filled up the measure of its guilt and brought it death. And this was not against Christ’s will but with it. He knew He was Israel’s doom. The Holy One knew that the soul of man or nation that chose to sin must go on to die, and that every word of greater love might become a word of more wrath. But He never judged them in the sense of avenging, far less of revenging. Their judgment was the reaction on them, from God’s holiness…

 

THE PERSON OF CHRIST IS NOT KNOWN APART FROM HIS WORK

 

Sin is deceitful, as are the works of the evil One, which Christ came to destroy. Indeed, the powers of Satan and his minions are poorly considered, by our humanistic culture. As Geoffrey Bingham has pointed out: There is quite a bit of shoulder-shrugging in regard to this subject. Forsyth describes deficient teaching in his day as:

 

‘… defective insight into the final nature and victory of the Cross over the diabolism and perdition in the world’.

 

It reflects a certain moral amateurism due to the abeyance of a theology of the Cross. Such religion, certainly, loves the person of Christ. It is in love with His love, and with His Cross as the summit of that love in self-sacrifice. But it has no room nor need for judgment there. It does not feel there God’s judgment on sin, and the crisis of the moral world and of a holy eternity. It needs moralising from a deeper experience of life—an experience older, more secular, more tragic. For want of a theology of conscience such souls do not know the world nor gauge its redemption. Their belief in Christ is impaired for want of a belief in the Satan that Christ felt it His supreme conflict to counter-work and destroy.

 

The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8b). And that he did by bearing our sins, dealing with our guilt, pronouncing God’s word of forgiveness and peace, thus saving humanity from Satan’s deadly accusations. 

 

The grace of God is the greatest judgment ever passed on the world. That is the nature of the Cross—God’s grace (and not God’s law), in moral, saving judgment on man. When we have entered the kingdom through the great judgment in the Cross, we do not escape all judgment; we escape into a new kind of judgment, from that of law to that of grace. We escape condemnation, for we are new creatures, but chastisement we do not escape. Our work may be burned, to our grief, that we may be saved (I Cor. xi. 32). We are judged or chastened with the Church to escape condemnation with the world. And at the last must there not be some great crisis of self-judgment, when we all see Him as He is, and see ourselves as His grace sees us?

 

We are afraid that if we find that moral ground and destiny of the world in the historic Christ and His Cross, and if we say ‘we see not yet all things put under righteousness, but we see Jesus,’ and rest, we shall be called Biblicists instead of historians, more theological than ethical. Well, we must take the risk. The judgment of the world accordingly is not the history of the world, but its Saviour.


P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 170

P. T. Forsyth, p. 184-185

P. T. Forsyth, p. 170

P. T. Forsyth, p. 170

P. T. Forsyth, p. 170

P. T. Forsyth, p. 171

P. T. Forsyth, p. 171

P. T. Forsyth, p. 171

P. T. Forsyth, p. 172

G.C. Bingham, The Clash of the Kingdoms, NCPI, 1989, p. 10

P. T. Forsyth, p. 175

P. T. Forsyth, p. 181

P. T. Forsyth, p. 186





Faith Amidst Catastrophe

14 10 2008

FAITH AMIDST CATASTROPHE

 

Study 5

Trevor Faggotter

 

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. (Jesus in Matt. 7:24-25)

 

‘…when historic progress seems to end around us in a social collapse and a moral anarchy… if the moral soul is anchored on the Gospel of the Cross and Kingdom of God in a historic crisis really greater than any war, it cannot be swept away by any currents or storms in history.’ (P. T. Forsyth)

                       

INTRODUCTION

 

As we pursue our studies in The Justification of God, by P.T. Forsyth, it may be valuable to recall again what is at the core of our studies, namely theodicy. Theodicy has been called ‘Thee-ODD-I-see’. We do see much that seems ODD, particularly in terms of suffering and catastrophe.  In many of the occurrences in our daily lives, things occur which can, and often do cause us to question, or at the very least, re-evaluate what we understand by the mercies and goodness of God.

 

Job had to work things right through, from his worship life as a praying, righteous man, to the onslaught of inexplicable evil, permitted by God to take place, through to the week long silence of his friends as they sat with him, while he suffered greatly; on to the inadequate words of his comfortless theological counsellors; and his own genuine protest; and his trust still – though he slay me, yet will I trust in him; yet finally God, the wonderful counsellor revealed himself as creator, and then acted as redeemer, blessing once again the suffering Job. Job repented. He changed his mind and his disposition.

 

It was Epicurus (341-270 BC) who formulated the classic theodicy dilemma, which David Hume (1711-76) has subsequently expressed in the following way:

 

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

 

It is the incarnation of God in Christ, however, in the very midst of human history, which ultimately shatters this philosophical formulation, rendering it untenable. For God, the Father, and Jesus the Son of God, reveal themselves, together with the Spirit, to be the God who suffers to the full – to the uttermost in abandonment and forsakenness.

 

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

 

At the same time, this is the God who is the only righteous enemy of all evil – human, demonic and satanic. This God comes in human flesh, to conquer evil, by holy love.

 

The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8b).

 

We may give assent to such a biblical statement, and be glad of it, yet still find ourselves at a loss to respond to suffering and evil, when it arises in new, surprising and terrifying forms. Human suffering is so very unpleasant – in particular our own, or that of those near to us. Global suffering is so often tragic beyond comprehension (if we are not sedated and numbed by the sheer frequency of news updates, and the crass lack of reverence for life, often evident in TV programming).  Global tragedy can confront us to Be Still and Know That I am God, and re-evaluate our own lives – when, in particular, faith is present.

 

C.S. LEWIS AND PAIN

 

In the film Shadowlands – the famous C.S. Lewis is giving a university lecture in which he addresses the great issues of life.  In the movie (from my memory), he asks his students this question: ‘…and why does God allow us to suffer?’ There is a thoughtful pause, as the camera pans the lecture hall of students who are eagerly looking on.  They brace themselves for the wisdom they have been seeking of late.  Lewis proceeds confidently – providing the small beginnings of a profound answer to this age-old question.  He has a note of certainty in his voice: ‘God lets us suffer because he wants us to grow up!’

 

Lewis is also well known for his comments regarding pain:

 

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

 

Pain is the flag of truth, planted in a rebel fortress.

 

Fast forward to a later segment in C.S. Lewis’s life. His young wife Joy has died, and Lewis is writing his thoughts, and expressing his emotions. He is engulfed in grief, deep grief.  He acknowledges the hope of the gospel.  But he is negating one significant aspect. To paraphrase (again from memory), he says something like: Speak to me of the sovereign God, and I will listen. But speak to me of the God of comfort, and I cannot agree. I feel no comfort. No consolation. Only numbness. But no comfort!

 

Many will identify with Lewis at this point. It is not so easy just to grow up when it is our turn to suffer, intensely. Lewis reveals his emotions and thoughts. He illustrates the daily human struggle of coming to terms with life as it really is. On occasions, the pain – Christian or not – is very acute. We can ponder the reasons for suffering. We can even set them forth in a lecture, given from a biblical perspective. We can talk about them.  It is another thing however, to be on the receiving end of incidents, for which, discussion seems entirely inappropriate. Words fail us. Doctrines fail us. We need the breast of the Living Jesus on which to lay our head (John 13:23).

 

Suffering and sadness at the death of a loved one under not uncommon circumstances, like cancer, can be very tiring, tearing and most difficult. However, when blatant human evil is in our face as the immediate cause of our pain, and when sinister powers seem to dominate and destroy human life, in murder, massacre and mayhem, then we are likely to ask, or to be faced with the most difficult and most probing of human questions.

 

FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY ON THEODICY

 

The Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his famous book The Brothers Karamazov has a fictional character named Ivan Karamazov, who says of God and creation: 

 

‘I accept God plainly and simply …I accept his divine wisdom and his purpose…  I believe in the underlying order and meaning of life.  I believe in the eternal harmony into which we are all supposed to merge one day’. However, almost immediately he tells his brother Alyosha: ‘I refuse to accept this world of God’s… Please understand, it is not God that I do not accept, but the world he has created. I do not accept God’s world and I refuse to accept it.  Ivan then proceeds to explain why he cannot bring himself to accept this world of God’s.  He mentions a number of cases of extreme and gratuitous cruelty, in particular the report of an army general who fed an eight year-old boy to his hounds because the child had slightly injured his favourite dog with a stone. Ivan says:

Listen: if all have to suffer so as to buy eternal harmony by their suffering, what have children to do with it – tell me please?  It is entirely incomprehensible why they should have to buy harmony by their sufferings. Why should they, too, be used as dung for someone else’s future harmony?

    Ivan then concludes:

I don’t want harmony … too high a price has been placed on harmony.   We cannot afford to pay so much for admission.  And therefore I hasten to return my ticket of admission… It’s not God that I do not accept, Alyosha. I merely most respectfully return him the ticket.

 

Ivan is not an atheist, but he finds it morally repugnant that God should (seem to) expect such a terrible price to be paid for the final bliss and harmony that he will bestow on humankind at the end of time.   Some suggest that too much freedom was given to Adam.

 

How are we to respond to this type of reasoning? Perhaps, with silence, prayer and trust in God? Is it true love to speak of Christ, in the face of tragic and terrible deeds? Is it usually best left for another day?  What then do we say or do on another day?  Have we merely theories of the cross to share, and mere words to offer, for the loss of a loved one? Or is there a time and a season for speaking even into the most difficult of objections, of God’s goodness? Is this all profoundly a matter of ‘soul making’, fitting us for glory? Do we not have a Person, to offer, a Redeemer, Jesus, the friend, glorified flesh and blood, who has been there in the deepest of suffering, made to be sin, in order to redeem?

 

What indeed has God given us in Jesus Christ?

What He has not given us is a scheme of rational optimism, or a visible process of good, dawning and spreading to its perfect day. He has given us no programme of happy things.

 

What then?  It is said that we have nothing but the promises of God. But these are all:

For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God (1 Corinthians 3:21b—23). 

 

Forsyth always draws us back to God’s one moral Act of holiness, destroying sin’s guilt:

 

No reason of man can justify God for His treatment of His Son; but whatever does justify it justifies God’s whole providence with the universe, and solves its problem.  He so spared not His Son as with Him to give us all things. The true theology of the Cross and its atonement is the solution of the world. There is no other. It is that or none.

 

Our faith rose from ‘the sharpest crisis, the greatest war, the deadliest death, and the deepest grave the world ever knew – in Christ’s Cross’.

 

“The chief cause of our being unhinged by catastrophe is twofold”.

 

First, that we have drawn our faith from the order of the world instead of its crisis, from the integrity of the moral order rather than from the tragedy of its recovery in the Cross.

 

And, even if we start there, the second error is that we have been more engrossed with the ill we are saved from than with Him who saves us, and the Kingdom for which we are saved.  We are more taken up with the wrongs so many men have to bear than with the wrong God has to bear from us all – God who yet atones and redeems in giving us a Kingdom which is always His in reality and ours in reversion.

 

It is not as if God first redeemed, and, having thus prepared the ground, brought in the Kingdom; but He redeemed us by bringing in the Kingdom, and setting it up in eternal righteousness and Eternal Life. The Cross of Christ is not the preliminary of the Kingdom; it is the Kingdom breaking in.  It is not the clearing site for the heavenly city; it is the city itself descending out of heaven from God.


P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 85

Job 42:1-6

Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil, Basil Blackwell, 1986, Oxford, p. 2

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Fontana, 1957, p. 81.

C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, Seabury Press, 1961

Job 2:13 ‘They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great’.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, (1880) 2003, Penguin Books

Quoted by Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil, Basil Blackwell, 1986, Oxford, p. 96-97

Forsyth, p. 79

Forsyth, p. 122

Forsyth, p. 57

, p. 76-77 





The Redemption of Creation

14 10 2008

THE REDEMPTION OF CREATION

 

Study 4

 

Trevor Faggotter

 

INTRODUCTION

 

In Christ Jesus, God has spoken, and is speaking. This speaking awakens hope. Some people prefer perpetual silence, and a lifetime of distractions, or even years of pessimistic mumbling and commentary, to a word, which breaks that silence, brings comfort – yet probingly so – and so, demands much more of us.

 

We saw in Study 2 that a tragic guilt has come to the human race. Sin enters the world. Communion has been broken on a large scale, with huge ramifications. Wholeness, unity and peace on a personal, and global scale have been shattered.  However, as Christians we have, by faith, experienced the healing of our broken lives in Jesus Christ.

 

SELF-HEALING AND REPAIR

 

A marvel occurs when we cut our hand: immediately the body goes to work. An anaesthetic, and the great healing power of our own blood flows forth – spreading, congealing and eventually bridging and plugging the gaping gash in our skin, and finally healing over, with what can surely be described as – a remarkable repair job!  Similarly, some months after a scorching bushfire blackens the Australian scrub, we see small, power-filled green shoots emerging from charred stumps.  What then of the whole world?

 

Is there a moral order a self-healing power, as nature overgrows in course of time catastrophes volcanic in violence and in area continental? Has it a Vis medicatrix, a power of innate self-recuperation, corresponding to what we find in physical organisms? Is there in it an indwelling tendency, which moves to repair all damage at last, and a power to overbear those elements, which arrest its development?

 

Creation does appear to have inbuilt dynamic powers of its own. Let the earth bring forth living creatures (Genesis 1:24), and it does; creatures themselves are blessed, commanded and equipped to be fruitful, and they are. Powers of procreation, medicines and powers of healing lie within creation.  As we look to Scripture, and our hear Christ speaking in it, we see that creation has a future. This future is however, always integrally bound up with the person – Jesus Christ.  Scripture records that the earth shook at Christ’s crucifixion and the whole creation now waits with eager longing for the unveiling of the future, the sons of God participating in the life of total liberty, where death and decay are no more; this future is that which God has planned.  But there is not merely, an inbuilt self-directing powerful pressure for good that brings new life to the world.  There is a Person! That person is the Redeemer.

 

THE PERSON

 

It is the personality and deeds of Jesus Christ, as Lord of creation, Lord of life, and Lord over death, which brings the future into being. Firstly, together with the eternal Father, as the eternal Son, he freely selects and sets out what the future goal of creation will be. And he brings this future into being in a way, which is truly moral (not moralistic), where moral actions matter. Forsyth says:

 

…we construe the universe in terms of its crowning product, soul, conscience, and society.  It exists for the growing of personality, which is an end in itself, and, in so far as it serves, it serves only another personality, and grows men of God, who is the end for all ends.

 

In Christ, God is:

 

…that One who has His universal end completely in Himself, who is identical with the end of the disordered universe – with its redemption. He is the Redeemer because He is identical with His own redemption. 

 

What does this mean for our lives?  How does it affect our living?

The following points outline the matter in brief:

  1. There is a Person – Christ –unifying all things, himself the guarantor of the goal.
  2. We are called to participate with Christ, as he takes us towards, and to the goal.
  3. As participants, we nevertheless, of ourselves, have severe limitations.
  4. Creation appears to have innate qualities of self-repair and healing, but in fact, all of these are contingent upon the Living Redeemer.
  5. Evil also has an inbuilt tendency to disorganise itself – to self-destruct.
  6. The atonement of the cross, flowing from a Holy God, however, is the only way of dealing fully with the moral situation of the human race. It is a moral Act that is required, and marks a new beginning for the human race. There is no other.

 

WE DON’T JUST FIND A SPOT TO PARK OUR CARAVAN

 

Christian faith is about willing participation in the workings of Christ. It is a moral struggle to do so (Ephesians 6:12). Many miss this fact. As such, some believers are virtually ‘still-born’, upon their new birth into God’s kingdom. Our lives, our actions have a direct bearing upon what shall be, in eternity. Moral or immoral action has significant bearing on the way in which history unfolds. 

 

Faith in the Living Christ excludes the idea of fate, but includes the realisation of destiny:

 

We do not find our freedom and peace merely by finding ourselves, but by finding ourselves in a world Saviour. We do not reach rest merely by finding our place in an objective order, and reconciling ourselves to it.  For that is rather resignation than reconciliation.  What we find is a power rather than a place, a power working congenially in us both to will and to do.  We do not merely win a fortitude, which accepts our niche in the universe, or takes the room assigned in the caravanserai of life.  We recognise … our own Master’s voice, the voice of One whose mastery of us is our own true self, true power, and true freedom.

 

Hearing God, we begin to participate in his will – at first, and ever anew: 

 

Moral power is, at the last, personality. That is the only form in which we know what power really is – our own sense of acting as persons, or of being acted on by persons.

 

Our destiny, however, is always a gift, a grace, redemptive. It is only possible because there is a Living Redeemer. And this Redeemer carries out many repairs.

 

THE LIMITATIONS OF CREATURE AND CREATION

 

In answer to his own questions, (see the start of this paper), Forsyth thus reminds us:

 

The moral order is self-repairing only in the sense that it is repaired continuously and creatively by the Holy One whose end is in Himself, and who is its true self and more. (So that to love God is to love ourselves in the truest way).

 

For the human race the fact of our mortality, limits any self-repair we may be given:

 

There comes a point when the power of physical self-repair ceases – in death.

 

As to the renewal of this creation; we are not to expect evil to be a self-solvent. Nor does the good make its slow and ebbless way through creation. The wicked are often caught in their own net (Psalm 141:10), and their evil deeds are turned to work together for God’s purposive good, as in Joseph’s life (Gen. 50:20). However, it is in the cross of Christ, (Acts 2:23) that God works Redemption – and in no other way, does history come to its appointed goal. The creature and creation need the Creator for Redemption! Paul teaches that in the new creation, the old things have become new (1Corinthians 5:17). Revelation 21:1 shows the new heaven and new earth is the same heaven and earth, “but gloriously rejuvenated, with no weeds, thorns or thistles, and so on”.

 

The following comment by Forsyth regarding the new creation is consistent with this:

 

The new creation must, of course, arise out of the first, for, though it is an absolute Act, it does not take place in an absolute way.  But it is a more grave matter to regenerate the first creation into the second that it was to organise chaos into the first.  The opposition of chaos, void and formless, was passive, but the opposition of the creature is active. It is a family quarrel, and they are the worst. It is not matter against force but will against will.  It has behind it all the power of the freedom, which makes the first creation what it chiefly is.  So that it is really more true ethically to speak of God’s goal as a New Humanity than as two stages or states of the old Humanity – so long as we do not put the old and the new out of all organic connection whatever…. The Redeemer was not the mere agent of a process. He was the New Creator. 

 

WHAT IS REDEMPTION?

 

It is an Act, with a capital ‘A’. Redemption is not a process. Rather, it is a concentrated Act, with an eternal and universal bearing.

 

Forsyth takes us on, into the cross, as that necessary and crucial Act of God:

 

Nothing offers a future for such a world as this but its redemption.  But by redemption what do we mean? We mean that the last things shall crown the first things, and that the end will justify the means, and the goal glorify a Holy God. We mean (if we will allow ourselves theological language) an eschatology and a theodicy in it – a divine Heaven, a divine Salvation, and a divine Vindication in the result of history. But more. We mean a consummation, which can only come by way of rescue and not mere growth. We mean rescue from evil by a God whose manner of it is moral, which is the act of a moral absolute, the act of a holy God doing justice to righteousness at any cost to Himself. We mean rectification of the present state of things on His own principles; that is, not mere rectification, mere straightening of a tangle, but justification on a transcendent plane of righteousness, the moral adjustment of man and God in one holy, loving, mighty, final, and eternal act.  We mean something more crucial than Meliorism.

 

We will continue to explore and expound these things in the next study.


Mark 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me..”

     John Piper has a thoughtful book title: What Jesus Demands From the World, Crossway Books, 2006.

Vis Medicatrix naturae means: the healing power of nature.

, NCPI, 1988, p. 59

Matthew 27:51, 54 ‘The earth shook, and the rocks were split’ ‘… the centurion saw the earthquake…’

Romans 8:19 For ‘the creation wais with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;’

Forsyth, p. 63

Ibid.

Caravanserai: an inn in some eastern countries with a large courtyard that provides accommodation for caravans

Forsyth, p. 64

Ibid. p. 65

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid. p. 66

Geoffrey C. Bingham, Creation and the Liberating Glory, NCPI, 2004, p. 144

William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, Tyndale Press, 1940, p. 198 says: ‘The word used in the original implies that it was a ‘new’ but not an ‘other’ world. Fn: The original has kainos, not neos.’

See also Geoffrey C. Bingham, Creation and the Liberating Glory, p. 73, 121

Forsyth, p. 68

Forsyth, p. 74

Meliorism: the belief that the world tends to improve and that humans can aid its betterment. 





Towards the Certain Goal

14 10 2008

 

Study 3

 

Trevor Faggotter

 

Prayer: Dear Lord, in your mercy and love, pour your Spirit upon us anew, and help us to love you with all our heart, strength and soul, and particularly in this study, with our mind. Enable us to apply our minds, that we might receive your blessing with joy, and faith – that our hope may be stirred, awakened, renewed. In Jesus name – Amen!

 

INTRODUCTION

 

At the outset of this study – lest we become perturbed by the difficult words and concepts in P. T. Forsyth’s, The Justification of God – let us consider carefully two important theological terms – revelation and teleology. Grasping them afresh should encourage us.

 

Revelation

 

Revelation: That which takes place when the hidden is unveiled, disclosed, revealed.

 

Jesus said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). The hidden God has been revealed. We only know God because he willingly comes to us, to unveil himself and his plan, in the incarnation – the birth, life, deeds, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. The outpouring of the Spirit of the Father, and Son, now enables us to know:

 

“…what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God (1Corinthians 2:9-10).

 

When we ponder the future of creation we are pressed, (yet confined), to the knowledge and understanding, which comes from God to humanity, through revelation. Although at present we see in a mirror, dimly (1Corinthians 13:12), nevertheless, we do see!  In Christ, God has revealed his will and plan, in sufficient detail, and the apostles have made more explicit, that which the Risen Jesus opened to them. For these things God has revealed to us. The creation waits with eager longing (Romans 8:21), for all that the new creation brings, namely, the renewal of all things when the Son of man is seated on the throne of his glory (Matthew 19:28). The regeneration! This is the telos.

 

Teleology

 

Teleology: The study of the telos, or goal, which God the Father, has set.

 

This goal is for the redemption of humanity in Christ, the glorification of all creation.

This was planned in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

THE PROBLEMS: REVELATION AND TELEOLOGY

 

Forsyth conceded that the matters of revelation and teleology did continue to arise for the church, and the world. In an effort to explore how difficult it can be to comprehend history, and grasp what is to be understood of the future, and the coming appearing of Christ and to then to proclaim it, Forsyth asks many difficult yet probing questions (see p. 43-47 of The Justification of God), after this brief introduction:

 

The radical questions of a belief are forced upon us anew by each crisis of the world. And the first task of the Church, before it go to work on the situation that a crisis leaves behind, is to secure the truth and certainty for its own soul of its faith in the overcoming of evil by good; an operation which may mean the recasting of much current and favourite belief.

 

Here are some of his searching questions that follow:

 

1.     Is there a divine government of such a world, a world whose history streams with so much blood, ruin, and misery as to make civilisation seem to many doubtfully worthwhile?

2.     That question means for its answer another, Is there a divine goal of the world?

3.     Because if there is, God who secures it has the right to appoint both its times and its means; and a good government of the world is what helps best in our circumstances to bring us there. But is there such a goal, and where do we find it?

4.      How shall we be sure of it?

5.     Are we to believe in it only if we can sketch its economy, and trace the convergence of all lines, whatever their crook or curve, to that point? 

6.     Do I believe that all is well with my soul only in so far as I see that all goes well?  

7.     Can we be sure that all is well with the world only if the stream of its history run through no dreadful caves, nor shoot wild cataracts, nor ever sink to a trickle in the sand of deserts horrible?

8.     Is there, in spite of all appearance, a divine teleology for the soul and for the race?

 

A revelation will be great, universal, and final just as it does answer such questions, and pacifies even the soul it does not yet satisfy.

 

In other words, the very doctrine of the goal, and the aim, and the destiny set for the creation by God, and being worked out in history – as it is set forth by Scripture, and proclaimed by the church to the world – has an important effect, even on a world who is as yet uncertain, unbelieving or unconvinced. We need to recall, that the blessed assurance we know in the Lord, the certainty of faith, comes to a person by faith. A person who has through revelation, through believing the gospel, met Christ, and come to faith, can say with an indescribable joy:

 

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1 – NIV).

 

Wherever our witness is humble and clear, this certainty has its beneficial effect upon the wider world. As Forsyth says, it pacifies even the soul it does not yet satisfy.

 

The searching questions continue:

 

1.     Nature not only exists, nor only changes; it grows. It certainly grows in complexity.  It grows, with all its order, more heterogeneous. It is full of new departures. It grows in quantity and variety. But does it grow in quality?

2.     Is the evolution process really progress? Is the complexity more than complicated, is it sublimated?   Is it all but a mode of motion, or does the long series rise to action?  Is it really dramatic, or only spectacular? Is it a play or a tableau?  Does it work up to anything?

3.     Does it work anything out?

4.     Has it a denouement, a reconciliation? 

5.     Is there a teleology of nature’s living history?

6.     Is there a growing organism of organisms from the mollusc to the man? And if it come to a head in man, does man come to a head in anything? He is an end – has he an end? Has he a chief end, a destiny? How do you know?

7.     What is it, where, when? Does the human history in which nature issues crown the teleological side of nature or the dysteleological, the fitness of things or their ‘cussedness’? Does it seal the order or the ravage of nature?

8.     Does war exist for peace, or peace for war?  Which element is the natural selection of history? 

9.     Is there a drift in all things?  And is it a torrent over Niagara, or a fine vapour steaming, like praise, to the hills and the heavens?

10.  Is the world a whole? And, if it is, is it a whole marmoreal, statuesque, and symmetrical, or organic, vital and moving. If it move, what is its goal?  Has it a perfection, and is that perfection in itself?

 

Such are the questions that a world calamity brings home in passionate and tragic terms. Perhaps, if we survey them in our calm, we may find an anchorage ready in our storm.  Through the clearer water we may discern a bottom that will hold when our old moorings drag. 

 

Are you clear what the questions are?

 

Forsyth is probing the idea many may have in their minds in the face of a global crisis, which is so tragic, that is defies explanation: is history therefore only dumb?  

 

THAT POINT IS CHRIST

 

We must continually come anew to the purpose for which the Son of God appeared – to destroy the works of the devil (1Jon 3:8) – to deal with our guilt as a race, and to so break the leverage that the devil has in blinding us to the way God gives for a genuine future. Forsyth asks: ‘Is there any divine visitation that puts us in possession, in petto, of the goal of all surmise?  Is there any divine gift and deed that fixes the colours seen by genius in the eternal purpose and Kingdom of God, where all earth’s hues are not mere tints but jewels – not mere perpetual gleams, but enduring, precious foundation stones?’

 

To all such questions Christianity answers with an everlasting yea, however Christendom may blue or belie it. The eternal finality has become an historic event.  There is a point of Time at which Time is no longer, and it passes into pure but concrete Eternity. That point is Christ. In Christ there is a spot where we are known far more than we know.

 


P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 42

The 20th Century catalogue of Genocide is a frightening matter to contemplate:

http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/ 

The term ‘Genocide’ was coined by a jurist named Raphael Lemkin in 1944 by combining the Greek word ‘genos’ (race) with the Latin word ‘cide’ (killing). Genocide as defined by the United Nations in 1948 means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including: (a) killing members of the group (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

 

Recent to Past Occurrences

            Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1992-1995 – 200,000 Deaths

            Rwanda: 1994 – 800,000 Deaths

            Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1975-1979 – 2,000,000 Deaths

            Nazi Holocaust: 1938-1945 – 6,000,000 Deaths

            Rape of Nanking: 1937-1938 – 300,000 Deaths

            Stalin’s Forced Famine: 1932-1933 – 7,000,000 Deaths

            Armenians in Turkey: 1915-1918 – 1,500,000 Deaths

 

Adolf Hitler to his Army commanders, August 22, 1939:

 “Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my ‘Death’s Head Units’ with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?”

, NCPI, 1988, p. 42

Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 43

Heterogenous means: completely different; incongruous; not homogenous

Sublimated means to make nobler, or purer

A tableau is a dramatic scene; in a play, an interlude where everyone freezes.

means: the final resolution of a complex sequence of events

Marmoreal means: Like marble, in whiteness, hardness

Ibid. p. 44

Ibid.

Ibid. p. 45

In Petto means: In secret, or private.

Surmise: An idea or opinion based on insufficiently conclusive evidence; to make a guess or conjecture.

Ibid. p. 45

Ibid. p. 47





Expectations of Culture

19 05 2008

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

AND THEIR OUTCOME

 

Study 2

 

Trevor Faggotter

 

WHY THEODICY IS AN ISSUE

                       

Analysis and commentary upon the major problems in the world, nation, city, family or environment, can be heard daily on radio talkback segments across the globe.  The blame, for our current or impending woes almost always rests with someone else. Cynicism abounds. Theology within the Christian church can all too easily become more a reflection of the popular, or dominant culture of the day, than a proclamation of the mind, and action of God – as revealed in Scripture. Only a thoroughly biblical theodicy can meet the world with the Word of grace, amidst dire judgments, as the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness (Romans 1:18).

 

From Genesis 3 we hear that ever since the entrance of sin into the world, human beings have sought to place the blame for their circumstances upon someone else – mostly God, but also other people and other creatures. Guilt is deeply at work in every human heart, provoking a skewed view of the truth, globally. This is especially so, as God draws near:

 

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  (Genesis 3:8-11)

 

The reflex response to God’s simple, but probing, existential question ‘Where are you?’ finds expression in the deflecting the blame onto another. The man quickly pointed to the woman as the leading cause of his present fear. He also blamed God – who gave the woman to be with him. The woman in turn, blamed the ancient serpent, the devil:

 

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13)[1]

 

Human beings will view God very differently, depending upon whether they have a pure or an impure heart.  Where a person has a pure heart, or cleansed heart, God reveals himself to be pure.  Where genuine faith is not present, God’s wrath acts against the conscience of the guilty person, so that God appears to be unjust, unkind and wrong.

 

…with the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse (Psalm 18:26).

 

Sinful human beings frequently view the world by placing God in the Dock[2] in order that he may give account of himself.  In our humanly devised, God-blaming kangaroo court, we human beings exercise the self-appointed role of prosecutor, and judge.  If God is creator, we reason, then he must answer for the state of the world he has created!  However, the Lord sits in the heavens and laughs (Psalm 2:4).

 

In his Foreword to our text, The Justification of God, Dean Carter exposes the heart of sinful humanity in asking erroneous questions. Dean writes – in brackets:

 

(after all, theodicy is only an issue where there is a rejection of the light).[3]

 

This comment reflects the teaching of Jesus, in John’s gospel, who said:

 

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed (John 3:19-20).

 

Facing the plain truth concerning God, humanity and the world is terribly confronting, if ultimately gloriously liberating.  In the day that you eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall die. Yet, everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die.

 

MAN-CENTRED CULTURE INSTEAD OF GOD-CENTRED FAITH

 

Man-centred cultures and religions, rather than God-centred faith in Christ, seeking his Coming Kingdom, are at the heart of all human evil and mayhem.  A world that ignores the redemptive gift and gracious will of the Living Father soon becomes addicted to the narcotic agendas of progress, technology, escalating wealth, cultural mysticism, religious escapism, substance and environmental abuse and a yearning desire for more power.

 

Everything has come to turn on man’s welfare instead of God’s worship, on man with God to help him and not on God with man to wait upon Him.  The fundamental heresy of the day, now deep in Christian belief itself, is humanist.[4]

 

Humanism had a bitter outcome for those who had embraced it, in the years prior to and during World War 1, as Forsyth points out:

 

I say it is inevitable that world calamities should encourage the denials of those who denied before.  Their shock also makes sceptics of many, whose belief had arisen and gone on only under conditions of fine weather, happy piety, humming progress…[5]

 

Elated by our modern mastery of nature and cult of genius, and ridden by the superstition of progress (now unseated), we came to start with that excellent creature, man, his wonderful resources, his broadening freedom, his widening heart, his conquest of creation, and his expanding career. And, as with man we begin, with man we really end. God is there but to promote and crown this development of man, if there be a God at all…. The Father is the banker of a spendthrift race. He is there to draw upon, to save man’s career at the points where it is most threatened.

 

He is Father in a sense that leaves no room for love’s severity, its searching judgment … He is Father only so long as He meets the instincts and aspirations of man’s heart.[6]

 

GOD ENTERS THE PULPIT AND CASTS US

UPON A GOD OF CRISIS

 

It takes enormous discomfort, in order for humanity to come to grips with the necessity of the cross of Christ, and with the seriousness of the evil in our own human hearts, and the evil endemic among every nation. The sheer kindness and mercy of God, we so badly underestimate. Forsyth recounts something of the type of public conversation that took place prior to World War One.  It sounds all too familiar. He says:  

 

World calamity bears home to us the light way in which, through a long peace and insulation, we were coming to take the problem of the world, and especially its moral problem. ‘We do not now bother about sin’ was said with some satisfaction. The preachers protested in vain against that terrible statement – those of them that had not lost their Gospel in their culture.  But they were damned with the charge of theology.[7]

 

He then goes on to include the war itself, as God’s way of dealing with the human race; it is the disaster that ends dainty and dreamy religion:

 

And now God enters the pulpit, and preaches in His own way by deeds.  And His sermons are long and taxing, and they spoil dinner.  Clearly God’s problem with the world is much more serious than we dreamed.  We are having a revelation of the awful and desperate nature of evil.[8]

 

The task which the Cross has to meet is something much greater than a pacific, domestic, fraternal type of religion allows us to face. Disaster should end dainty and dreamy religion, and give some rest to the winsome Christ and the wooing note…. It is a much wickeder world than our good nature had come to imagine, or our prompt piety to fathom.[9]

 

We, who have known much of the grace of God in our personal lives, know that God has both spoken and enacted a great word of hope, for the nations of the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is a great victory. It is a very great victory. It is The Victory. A godless world needs yet to hear this word, and respond. The church needs to rediscover not only the God of order, which Christendom has enjoyed, but also the God of crisis, who is God most chiefly in the chief tragedy of things.[10] He alone is the One who from the nettle of perdition plucks the flower of salvation.[11] 

 

THE GLOBAL DIMENSIONS OF THE GOSPEL

 

It was world war one, which drew from Forsyth the rich insights he imparts.  We too are faced with many a crisis, on a global scale.  We are equipped with the same cross, and the same Christ, and the same gospel, to which we must make recourse. The gospel has always been of global proportions. We need a theodicy, which is adequate to the task. Let’s take Forsyth words slowly, again and tease out each of these important points:

 

We begin and end with a faith, not in Jesus simply but in His world work…[12]

 

We begin with the faith in which our own soul calls Him its Saviour from what seems an infinite and hopeless evil.  He delivers us from a sin whose guilt lies on our small soul with a pressure from the reservoir of all the high wickedness of the world.[13]

 

It is not from our moral lapses nor from our individual taint that we are delivered, but from world sin, sin in dominion, sin solidary if not hereditary, yea, from sin which integrates us into a Satanic Kingdom.  …An event like war at least aids God’s purpose in this, that it shocks and rouses us into some due sense of what evil is, and what a Saviour’s task with it is.

 

While the Church cannot begin to measure the problem of evil, we need the assurance of its defeat in the cross.  For evil affects and invades every area of human life, and the theology of the cross always applies as God’s Victory, and the only true victory:

 

Is the principle of the war very different from that of a general strike, which would bring society to its knees by sheer impatient force, and which so many avoid only as impolitic and not as immoral?[14]   …It is impossible even to discuss the theodicy all pine for without the theology so many deride.[15]


[1] Rev. 12:9 … that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…

[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970, is a book, which contains a series of short articles.

[5] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 24

[7] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28

[8] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28

[9] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 28-29

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. p. 30-31

[14] Ibid. p. 34

[15] Ibid. p. 37





The Living Word

12 06 2007

You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
(1Peter 1:23)

Yes, the living word of God; the enduring word of God.

The other day, our cat walked past a stuffed toy, which was sitting upright on the bedroom floor – in a new place. The cat was mildly startled, just for a moment: a new living creature in my home? But not so; it was after all, completely unanimated; (although I could have sworn I saw an eye move).

Some people choose to believe that God is just an idea, invented by superstitious people, to explain the inexplicable. Others believe God is passive, never does anything, about anything. But, we believe differently, we relate to the Living Word:

The eternal Son of God is ‘upholding the universe by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1:3).

The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145:14)

The living word of God is not static or dead. Scripture is the written Word of God. Jesus is the living Word of God. He is active, speaking to our lives; present to us; upholding and sustaining all things, according to his will and plan. We worship the Living God – a consuming fire. When Peter suddenly saw who Jesus really was, he blurted out these famous words: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

Living Lord Jesus, in your grace you consume our evil upon the cross; you enliven us again with forgiveness, removing our guilt, by the power of the Holy Spirit. No longer zombies, we truly live in you. O Thank you!








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