The Gift of Hearing the Mysteries

8 08 2009

LISTEN, I WILL TELL YOU A MYSTERY![1]

It is a momentous occasion to stand as a servant of Christ at the graveside of a much loved person – who has died – and to declare these words of the Apostle Paul – Listen, I will tell you a mystery! – to those who are pondering – what’s next? – for that person in the coffin.  The very utterance of the mystery[2]– a word picture -, which follows, can open a person’s ear to hear God, and their heart to respond to the Risen Jesus – bringing all the love, comfort and assurance of Our Father, and the gift of eternal life. But not all will hear.

One person hears the word and understands it, embraces the truth of it, and bears fruit in their life (Matthew 13:23) while another hears the words that are uttered, but at best makes a superficial response, and at worst hears nothing but religious god-speak. This further hardens them to words of eternal life.  Markedly different responses to the Word – apathy, hostility, or joy and gladness – can baffle and perplex[3] the speaker. After telling the parable of the sower to the whole crowd, Jesus later told his disciples:

To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.’ (Matthew 13:11)

The powerful interaction between God’s spoken word, and receptivity – or not, within the human heart is inscrutable (Romans 11:33).  We do know that it has to do with the will, and the degree of readiness to know the will of God, and to do it.[4]

On one occasion Jesus marvelled at the unbelief that he encountered (Mark 6:6), while on another he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and gave thanks to the Father for the twin action of revelation and concealment:

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 11:21-22)

Apart from the gift of new birth – from above, Nicodemus could not even see the kingdom of God let alone enter it. And if he had not begun to comprehend the earthly things: such as the wind-blowing attribute of new birth – then he could never grasp the heavenly things: such as the incarnation (John 3:13), the atonement (John 3:14), God’s love (3:16), cosmic salvation (3:17), condemnation (3:18), and judgment (3:19)[5]. The gift from above is a must.

IT HAS TO BE GIVEN TO YOU

Matthew 13:1-9 is the familiar parable of the sower ((Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8). We note:

1.     The Sower[6] is Jesus. (Matthew 13:3; 13:37 the one who sowsis the Son of Man).

2.     The seed – the word of the kingdom – falls upon four different soil types, but only the seed, which falls on good soil, bears fruit. This is genuine hearing.

3.     Jesus appeals for willingness to hear: Luke 8:8 says that Jesus “cried out” (Gk: phoneo echo) to the crowd: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

4.     Within human history, the disciples (in Matthew) are given a unique part to play. Those who were around him along with the twelve (in Mark) – are informed alone (in Mark), of their highly significant role within the vast plan for human history. They are being given something, that other godly people had longed for:

a.      To you it has been given to know the secrets [mysteries] of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (Matthew 13:11b).

b.     But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matt. 13:16-17)

5.     Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted to show ‘the inevitable outcome’ of Jesus simple message will be hardened hearts, and judgment.[7] The disciples learn that this is the way a parable functions. It sifts the hearers: Fruit as faith is present, otherwise judgment.

6.     The setting of Matthew 13, seems to highlight a vital connection between doing the will of my Father in heaven (Matthew12:50) and the deed of hearing Jesus. Cf. Matthew 13:38, where the refusal to hear Jesus, results in unbelief in Nazareth.

More will be given

Jesus urges the disciples to keep listening, hearing and learning, promising them that – more will be given: “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. (Matthew 13:12).

All of Jesus teaching would be integral to the future role of the disciples. Further mysteries – he told them many things in parables (Matthew 13:3) – were revealed somewhat progressively concerning the kingdom of God.  More would be given to the men who were to be the Apostles – the preachers of the word of the cross – between this point of Jesus ministry, and the full revelation of the mystery of the gospel. They would be given rich insights – revelation – into the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and the mystery of the gospel – you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). And even this revelation came out of the blue – from the Father, and would be further transformed in the light of the Cross. All inadequate concepts of both ‘Messiah’ and ‘Son’ would be replaced in future days.

Their ongoing glorious glimpses of Jesus identity (Matthew 17:1-8; 2Peter 1:18), their subsequent failures – when they would all desert Jesus and flee (Matthew 26:56) – and then their being present as Jesus suffered and died – their reception of forgiveness and peace as they witnessed and heard the resurrected living Jesus, his post-resurrection teaching concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), his astonishing ascension into heaven, and his community shaking outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33), and the further understanding that came at that point (John 16:13) would all constitute a unique ‘living in the mysteries’, and would equip them for their crucial work as apostles and heralds of the gospel. Such insight has been called The Messianic Secret’. [8]

The Apostolic Gospel and the content of the Epistles is Given

The Epistles within the New Testament serve a crucial, unique function in the preaching of the gospel. Although the disciples did not fully understand much of what Jesus taught them at the time – what they did grasp was a deposit, which later came into its own. Jesus’ parables functioned in a cryptic (Gk: kruptos) manner:

“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden [Gk: kruptov: concealed] that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret [Gk: apokrufov: kept secret] that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.” (Luke 8:16-18)

Like a cryptic crossword, essential clues were yet to be revealed. The early conversations that the disciples had with Jesus alone  – in the dark – could never have broken open to them fully, until the light of the cross and resurrection, and the day of Pentecost had come (John 16:13). Then, that which had been but whispered was proclaimed ‘from the housetops’.   (Cf. Matthew 10:26-27)

P. T. Forsyth writes:

The apostolic interpretation is an integral part of the revelationary fact, process, and purpose, a real though posthumous part of Christ’s own continued teaching. In the Apostles took place a revelation of revelation – and a revelation of it once for all.[9] And Forsyth again:  The Gospels float in the Apostolic Gospel. Not only is Luke Pauline but even Mark.[10]

Every Message is a Gift

The Apostle Paul asks for prayer, from the church, to enable his daily proclamation.

Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak (Ephesians 6:19-20)

God had set Paul apart before he was born, called him through his grace, and was pleased to reveal his Son “in” him. On the Damascus road, Paul had undergone a ‘Christological explosion’, as the Risen Jesus – a mystery, confronted him. He ‘heard a voice’ (Acts 9:4). That he might proclaim Christ among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16). Yet even Paul was always contingent upon the Lord’s giving him a message, for each occasion.

MYSTERY AND MYSTERIES

The New Testament refers to numerous mysteries, as well as one mystery.  In the parable of the sower, the singular and plural are used of the same incident.[11] Geoff Bingham’s comment is a clear summary of this matter:  We can safely say that ‘the mystery’ is the overall reality of God, and His plan for the history of creation.  We can also safely say that ‘the mysteries’[12], though each one in itself, yet all are parts of the one great mystery[13].

The Mystery of Lawlessness – or Iniquity

‘For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed’. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

Paul wrote this to alert his readers, that ‘an immense blasphemy will take place, the like of which they would never imagine.  Evil being and evil action do constitute a mystery, but for the believer a revealed mystery, warning him of what lies ahead’.[14]

Insight into the dynamics of the clash of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan is not something that can be grasped by mere explanation.  Revelation is needed. To perceive dark, sinister elements at work in the world, can be – to say the least – perplexing and disturbing.  Rod James depicts Satan as ‘the cosmic terrorist’.[15] The working of his woe is a mystery.  Also, the deceptive, addictive and seductive powers of sin are yet at work in us who believe. I know that sin and guilt combine to reign o’er every thought of mine, and turn from good to ill.[16] We often feel deeply the hidden evil of our own hearts, and we are shocked to the core at the depths of our corruption, as we discover, by revelation, something of what it means that the thoughts and intentions of the human heart are only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Evil lies close at hand, and sin clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1) even as we delight in the law of God in our inmost being (Romans 7:22).  The mystery of iniquity, or lawlessness may never be fully understood but we are alerted to it, for wise living.

Mystery a Positive Concept in the NT

A mystery… in the New Testament, is a truth which is revealed to the initiated – the person who is born anew of the Spirit – but which remains closed off from the uninitiated, that is, those unable to receive the truth.[17]

It is crucial to distinguish between hearing the mysteries, and all forms of religious mysticism, including so-called Christian mysticism.[18] A finger placed to the lips is a gesture well known to Buddhist piety.  Such a gesture is made as an affirmation that mystery is ‘that about which one must remain silent and really only can remain silent’.[19] It is not uncommon for theologians, philosophers, and religious leaders to employ the word ‘mystery’ to denote ideas such as ineffability, darkness, and impenetrability. In order to avoid wrong ideas conveyed by the English word ‘mystery’, and to emphasise the revelation that has come in human history, fully disclosed in Jesus, Marcus Barth prefers to translate the Greek ‘mysterion’ as ‘secret’. God’s secret has been make known.  He claims:

It is impossible to demonstrate that at any place in the New Testament it signifies an insoluble puzzle or incomprehensible – and yet believed – mystery, though the English translation ‘mystery’ may suggest this meaning.[20]

In Christian history, a negative spin has often been given to the term ‘mystery’.[21]

One of the dark puzzles of the history of theology is the way in which this positive New Testament understanding of mystery has constantly been suppressed hermeneutically in theology. Talk about God is often understood in the tradition as mysterious talk. But it was thought to be mysterious because its object, God, cannot actually be known by our thinking. Talk about God is accordingly regarded as inauthentic talk. This hermeneutical scepticism with regard to the speakability of God can be so intensified that the demand is made not to speak of God at all because our thought cannot genuinely know him. It is virtually a kind of theological self-commendation to introduce “God” as an unspeakable term. As doubly enlightened theologians, we have been taught that what cannot be known is something we cannot talk about.  And “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” [22]

John 1:18a says: “No one has ever seen God”. But what follows, is at the heart of the New Testament:  “It is God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has made him known” (John 1:18b). The Word has become flesh. God himself is now accessible:

One can discover what distinguishes the Christian mystery from all others. In the Hellenistic mysteries revelation took place through special rites and ecstasies. In the apocalyptic literature the mysteries of God are revealed by visions or angelic beings.  But in the NT the disciples meet the revelation or mystery of God in a historical event, in Jesus who is the Christ.[23]

TAKE HEED HOW YOU HEAR

Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (Luke 8:18 – RSV)

Jesus was and is genuinely concerned that people should hear him. P. T. Forsyth wrote:

“The more we fix our attention on the object of our certitude, the more we humbly realise that it is a something given. Its source is not in us. It is of grace.  The men of discovery, of inspiration, tell the same tale.  Truth finds them not they it.  All that is in us is a welcome, a response, a correspondence to it – not indeed a passivity but a receptivity.”[24]

Hebrews 3:12-19 amd 4:2 warns and exhorts believers, to exhort one another every day to keep hearing. Sin is deceitful. Any of us can become hardened! Our ministries can become crusty. Our participation in the mysteries is dependent upon continually hearing God’s voice with faith. This always necessitates a personal encounter with the Giver – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and a subsequent worshipful action in life. Struggle and genuine disturbance are likely at this point. Open our ears Lord! And help us to listen.

These mysteries are so wonderful – marriage – the profound mystery, and the mystery of glorification, to name but two, and all that they mean for the future of creation.  How could we grow dull about such things?  It was said that deficient ecclesiology kills soteriology.  Perhaps it often has. How could we as Christians ever sing of the mysteries as a Sunday morning dirge?  How could we really grow tired of the mystery?  It happens.

Substitutes are devised daily, in our ‘idol factory’ (Calvin), as replacements for the authentic mystery.  Of ourselves, we can never reason our way to know God, as he is in Christ, although we may fathom out some conclusion that there is a God: theism (Antony Flew)[25] But this is neither hearing God, nor a saving faith. We can easily look on at unbelievers dabbling in religious endeavour, in the occult, in atheistic philosophy, and new age forms of age-old Gnosticism, in secret societies, and the like. All are a rejection of God’s word to us in history, and are the judgment of a crass refusal to hear the mysteries of God. However, as believers, we too can devise our substitutes for living in the mysteries.

When this occurs, faith must come once again by hearing. Hearing must be given by the preaching of Christ – the Living Jesus preaching to us. We hear him (Romans 10:17). He deals with our guilt, he obliterates our dullness, he imparts his love (a joyous mystery) we hear him gladly – and he gives to us the knowledge of, and a share in the whole dynamic plan of God’s history, from the beginning of creation through to the new creation, and all that this entails – the whole counsel of God.  The key to our stewardship is to be a person who is ‘always living in the mystery’[26]. We must be persistently acting upon what we hear, and not giving way to cowardice, laziness or apathy. I will tell you a mystery: in Christ, that person in the coffin has a great future!

* Paper Previously published as © 2005 T. R. Faggotter New Creation Teaching Ministry School


[1] 1Corinthians 15:51 Also1Corinthians 4:1  ‘Think of us in this way as…stewards of God’s mysteries’.

[2] ‘A mystery is a reality disclosed, a reality, which could not be otherwise known’. See Geoffrey C. Bingham, The Glory of the Mystery and the Mystery of the Glory, NCPI, 1998, p. 17

[3] ‘…mysteries are not puzzles to be solved, but realities in which to live’ ,  Ibid. p. 5

[4] Leslie Newbigin, in Proper Confidence, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 38-9 says: “Because the ultimate reality in the Bible is personal, we are brought into conformity with this reality not by the two-step process of theory and practice, vision and action, but by a single action comprised of hearing, believing, and obeying. The operative contrast is not between theory and practice; it is between believing and obeying on the one hand and the refusal of belief and obedience on the other.  Believing and obeying are not two separate moves. When Jesus says to Simon, “Follow me,” the response is a single act of faith and obedience; there is no gap between a mental action of believing and a bodily action of following.  The human person is not a mind attached to a body but a single psychosomatic being.’

[5] Nicodemus was quite possibly born from above, but we don’t quite know. (John 7:50; 19:39)

[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, IVP, 1992, p. 335

[7] Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, IVP, 1993, p.79

[8] William Wrede, The Messianic Secret, Cambridge: Mowbrays, 1971. See also J.D.G. Dunn, “The Messianic Secret in Mark”, TSF Bulletin 69, 1974, p. 7-14.

[9] P.T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, NCPI, 2004, p. 133

[10] Ibid. p. 140

[11] Mathew 13:11 and Luke 8:10 refer to “the mysteries” (ta mysteria) – plural, of the kingdom of God, while in Mark 4:11 the word used is “mystery” (ton mysterion) – singular.  When Jesus likened the Kingdom of heaven to various examples: a mustard seed – yeast that a woman mixed – treasure hidden – a merchant searching for pearls – a net thrown out for fish – and so on, each parable is really a mystery within the primary mystery.  Likewise, Paul writes in 1Corinthians 4:1 of being stewards of “the mysteries”  – plural, while in Ephesians 3:9 the reference is to “the mystery” – singular.

[12] A comprehensive list of the NT mysteries would include the following references:

1.     The Mystery of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10)

2.     The Mystery of the Hardening of Israel (Romans 11:25)

3.     The Revelation of the Mystery (Romans 11:25-26)

4.     The Mystery of God (1Corinthians 2:1)

5.     The Mystery of Glorification (1Corinthians 2:7)

6.     The Mysteries of God (1Corinthians 4:1) –Stewards

7.     All Mysteries (1Corinthians 13:2)

8.     A Mystery (1Corinthians 15:51f)

9.     Mysteries uttered in the Spirit (1Corinthians 14:2)

10.   The Mystery of His will (Ephesians 1:9)

11.   The Mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:3)

12.   The Mystery of the Integration of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:6, 3:9)

13.   Marriage: the Profound Mystery (Ephesians 5:32)

14.   The Mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 6:19)

15.   The Mystery hidden throughout the ages (Colossians 1:25-27)

16.   God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself (Colossians 2:2; 4:3)

17.   The Mystery of Iniquity – or Lawlessness (2Thessalonians 2:7)

18.   The Mystery of our Faith (1Timothy 3:9)

19.   The Mystery of our Religion (1Timothy 3:16)

20.   The Mystery of the Seven Stars (Revelation 1:20)

21.   They Mystery of God (Revelation 10:7)

22.   The Mystery of the Woman – Babylon (Revelation 17:5-7)

Many mysteries are not directly named as mysteries, but can be classified as such: For example:(1) Sanctification: See Walter Marshall, Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Tyndale Bible Society.(2) The revelation of God, as love, and the central matter of the propitiation and God’s wrath, in order to deal with sin, and establish peace is a mystery unveiled in the text of 1John 4:7-10.

[13] G.C. Bingham, p. 73 gives further insight into the meaning of the passage.

[14] Ibid, p. 67

[15] Rod James, Unity ‘Fails’ in All the Earth, in The Ministry and Message of Reconciliation, NCTM Ministry School, 2003, p. 141

[16] Frank B. St. John, c. 1879, in New Creation Hymn Book, No. 218

[17] G. C. Bingham, p. 27

[18] ‘Are you listening to God?’ can be an ambiguous question, without Apostolic substance to the teaching.

[19] Eberhard Jüngel, God As The Mystery Of The World, Eerdmans, 1983, p. 251

[20] Markus Barth, Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters 1-3, The Anchor Bible, vol. 34, Doubleday, New York, 1974, p. 124

[21] This has a long history dating back to around 482 AD and the work of a theologian known as Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (not to be confused with the person of Acts 17:34). His teaching has had an enormously detrimental influence on thinking concerning God. He says: “We approach Deity in its concealment only after we have set aside all thinking.”  See E. Jüngel, p. 8

[22] E. Jüngel, p. 251

[23] G.W. Barker, ‘Mystery’ in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. III, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986, p. 453

[24] P.T. Forsyth, p. 82

[25] See ‘Why the world’s most famous atheist, now believes in God’ by James A Beverley, Christianity Today:, April 2005, Vol. 49, No. 4, p. 80 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/004/29.80.html

[26] G.C. Bingham, p. 30





Faith

20 05 2009

“The faith we keep means more for our soul than the views we win”. 

(P. T. Forsyth, p. 154, in “The Justification of God“)





Long Orbits

26 03 2009

A long orbit is a mysterious and captivating course to contemplate. It is called an elliptical orbit.

Something technical, first:

“The Sun isn’t quite at the center of a planet’s elliptical orbit. An ellipse has a point a little bit away from the center called the “focus”. The Sun is at the focus of the ellipse. Because the Sun is at the focus, not the center, of the ellipse, the planet moves closer to and further away from the Sun every orbit. The close point in each orbit is called perihelion. The far away point is called aphelion”

orbits
 
Now….It appears that England, is rapidly losing the precious freedoms, which are the fruit of centuries of Christian faith, and a Christian-based parliament. Certainly this ‘loss’ is a judgment, upon a nation, for whom the gospel has done so much.

There is a rapidly increasing amount of “anti-Christian bigotry” occurring in England (as Bill Muehlenberg calls it).  See: Bill Muehlenberg

Q. Why, then, does God not act, for the nation, to turn this sad state of affairs around?
A. It is good to understand that the Living God, moves in long orbits. As that wise man, P. T. Forsyth put it:

“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” (in The Justification of God).

Idols can not help. False god’s are in themselves, judgments. May the Lord, “arrive”, yet again, in English soil.





Music and the Gospel

14 10 2008

MUSIC AND THE GOSPEL

The following quote is from P. T. Forsyth [numbers added]: 

(1) There is at once a compelling grasp and a pervasive idea in great music, which lifts us, if we seek something more than mere amusement, into the vision which sees all things as working together for glory, good, and God

(2) Music is a universal speech, not only in the sense of coming home to almost all hearts. In that sense it is true only of simple and homely music. But great music is universal in a deeper sense than the simple, as Christianity itself is. Its nature and destiny is universal. It sweeps over us with a wave of emotion, which is humane, universal, and submersive of our own petty egoism. 

(3) It exists to purify and organise the selfish emotions, not simply to soothe them, excite them, or indulge them. It lifts us into a world of things which includes our little aches and joys, laps them in a diviner air, and resolves them into the tides and pulses of an eternal life. 

(4) It raises us to our place, if but for an hour, in the universal order of things, and makes our years seem but moments in the eternal process. It is not then our personal welfare we think of, or our private enjoyment. 

(5) Music, like Scripture and Nature, is of no private interpretation. We feel then that our passions and affections, however real, are but rills and streams in an infinite world of love, sympathy, and consummation. (Forsyth, Christ On Parnassus, p. 209-210). 

(6) ‘…we have in a piece of great music the world’s order in miniature.’

(P. T. Forsyth, Christ on Parnassus, p. 212)

Ah, music, blessed, wonderful music.
It was Jonathan Edwards, who said, ultimately, ‘everything will be music‘, rightly understood.
What a symphony the creation is, when tuned by the Risen Lord, to participate in his redemptive love, through the ages.

Thanks to the Lord, for saxophones, piano’s, drum kits, guitars, flutes, violins, trumpets, clarinets, and ’76 trombones’, and the sheer joy of it all.

I might just go, and put some music on.





Glossary of Difficult Words used by P.T. Forsyth

14 10 2008

 See my Glossary, for THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD, on the HOME PAGE





The Conquest of Time By Eternity

14 10 2008

THE CONQUEST OF TIME BY ETERNITY

 

Study 11

 

Trevor Faggotter  

 

Take courage; I have conquered the world! – Jesus (John 16:33b)

 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… (Hebrews 11:1)

 

‘…eternity is doing far more for time than time is doing for eternity’ (P.T. Forsyth)[1]

 

Aware of the complexities of life, the tragedy of war on a global scale, satanic power, and the blindness of humanity among nations, faith sees Jesus!  The Justification of God is written that the church might re-establish a renewed confidence in Jesus Christ, and the gospel, on a grand scale.  P.T. Forsyth confidently asserts his gospel convictions:

 

Faith is more than an individual calm; it is the Church’s collective confidence on the scale of the world for the destiny of the world. The evil world will not win at last, because it failed to win at the only time it ever could. It is a vanquished world where men play their devilries. Christ has overcome it. It can make tribulation, but desolation it can never make.[2]

 

ALL THINGS ARE YOURS[3]

 

The writing of P.T. Forsyth continues to be a highly valuable gift to the church. Forsyth belongs to us. Our appreciation of Forsyth’s enduring theodicy, should serve us well in our ministries – bearing faithful witness to Christ, in the face of all things.

 

All things are ours, even that victory, that elevation over a world’s sin in us; and our very relapses cannot rob us of it. It is easy to believe with a poor sense of what the holy is, of what it makes sin to be, of what the world is, and can do, for the devil. But it needs the supernatural courage of the Cross to believe (at such an hour as this, say,) in the completeness of the Cross and its eternal victory. But there, the more horror, the more hope. The most damning light is the saving light. Therefore, the more holy fear, the more the Cross is working in us; and the sense of the Cross’s judgment is the effect of its grace.[4]

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:21, Paul – having warned his hearers against following party or theological factions – reminds the church that we can learn from and make good use of all things – For all things are Yours! Forsyth may not say everything well.[5] However, he belongs to us.  And we can learn much from him. Forsyth himself, skillfully attributed measured praise to the negative, critical work of the German philosopher – Friedrich Nietzsche[6], who felt as millions feel, that life culminated in its tragic experiences, and that whatever solved the tragedy of life solved all life.[7] Sadly Nietzsche, a vehement critic of Christianity, suffered debilitating mental illness towards the end of his life.  Forsyth comments upon this influential man’s failure to find his answers in the cross of Christ (a salient warning, I think):

 

To grasp the real, deep tragedy of life is enough to unhinge any mind which does not find God’s solution of it in the central tragedy of the Cross and its redemption.[8]

 

Our plethora of ‘why’ questions concerning injustice and the matter of evil, are resolved in the action of Christ’s cross.  For especially here, Jesus gives active praise to the Father, for the rightness of his just and true judgments, as he personally and willingly enters the furnace of God’s holy judgment upon sin, and bears the guilt and evil of humanity. We can replicate the observations of Jesus early ministry, now applying them to his cross, and the fruit of that event for all eternity: ‘He has done everything well.’ (Mark 7:47).

 

FAITH IN CHRIST FOR ALL CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE

 

In the light of:

  1. The worst evil – murdering Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Author of Life, and
  2. The best news of all – the resurrection of Jesus as Man, which opened possibilities, and a reality, not previously dreamed of, 

the early church knew that all things were working together for good for those who loved God and were called according to his purpose. They learned to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Through the cross, understood by faith, in the power of the Holy Spirit the church down through history is assured that nothing is outside of God’s control, nothing is exempt from being used for the purposes of God.[9]

 

Life begins as a problem, but when it ends well it ends as a faith: a great problem, therefore a great faith. Ordinary experience gives us the first half, it sets a problem; but the second half, the answer of faith to us, comes from God’s revelation of grace. As we here pass from the one to the other it should be on large lines, not that we may simply descant on life in a literary way, but that we may magnify the greatness of Christ.

 

FORSYTH’S CLOSING RÉSUMÉ

The final chapter is a résumé of all that Forsyth has been writing about in this book. He expands upon the following 9 essential points:

  1. ‘Life, then, is a problem. If offers a task rather than an enjoyment. The soul must be achieved. The kingdom is above all a gift, but it is also a conquest. We are here to fight the good fight rather than to have a good time. The people to whom life is only an excursion, a picnic, a stroll, or a game grow more and more outlanders in society.[10]
  2. The problem of life is tragic, and no mere riddle. It is not a war game.We are in no Kriegspiel[11], but in the real thing always. It touches the nerve.’[12]Life is not a seductive puzzle; it is a tragic battle for existence, for power, for eternal life’.[13]
  3. There is a solution to the problem. Our battle is not a sport for heaven. The solution is given to us rather than won by us. Already done and not merely shown.
  4. The solution is practical, not philosophical. It is not really an answer to a riddle but a victory in a battle. A life problem cannot be thought out but lived out. Man conquers by faith and not by philosophy.[14]
  5. The practical solution of life by the soul is outside life. The destiny of experience is beyond itself. The lines of life’s moral movement and of thought’s nisus converge in a point beyond life and history.[15]
  6. This world is only complete in another; it is part and prelude of another, and runs up into it, and comes home in it as body does in soul. What is meant when we speak of another world? We do not mean only one that begins at death. We do not mean a new tract of time beyond the grave, but another order, another dimension, of things, that both haunts the precincts and fills the spaces of this life always.
  7. All the crises of His [Jesus] life, I have been saying, had themselves a crisis in His death, where the victory and the solution was won once for all. He did not cheer the disciples with the sanguine optimism of the good time coming. It was not a sanguine optimism, but an optimism of actual faith and conquest. It was not the hope of a conquering Messiah soon. ‘He is here,’ was the Gospel.[16]
  8. The solution in the Gospel is wrought once for all because it was on a world scale, an eternal scale, because He, and He alone of all men, was on such a scale. He was on a scale, which made the New Testament writers give Him not only a human and historic influence but a cosmic, nay, an absolute. He was to command not only the race but the universe, and save not only the soul but the whole groaning and travailing creation.[17]
  9. Trust God. ‘We cannot solve life by moral thought or effort but by trust, which unites us with the invincible, eternal, moral act of God in Christ. Christianity is not the sacrifice we make, but the sacrifice we trust; not the victory we win, but the victory we inherit.  …Christ crucified and risen is the final, eternal answer to the riddle of life. One day, when we sit in heavenly places in Christ, we shall see the tangle of life unroll and fall into shape. We shall see death as the key of life. Our own dead could tell us so already. We shall see guilt destroyed; and, with that, death, wrong, darkness, and grief’.[18]

 

FAITH GREATER THAN THOUGHT

 

Forsyth’s profound thought rouses us to give our own thought process a solid workout. However, the relationship between thought and faith, is an important one to understand:

 

Thought is a mighty and precious power, but on the last things it does more to enlarge our field than to steady our feet. It gives us range, not footing; a horizon rather than a foundation. It does not establish the soul, but widens its vision. It extends our reach more than it fixes our grasp. It therefore often magnifies the problem rather than solves it. Truly, that is a great service. To greaten the problem is to prepare for a great answer. Faith is not there as an asylum for those who are too lazy or shallow to think. But, though thought may tax faith mightily, it cannot do its work. It gives it a grand challenge, but it has not faith’s final word.[19]

 

Rich thought can certainly expand our horizons, but faith steadies our feet, causing us to stand firm, securely, in the strength of the Lord’s power (Ephesians 6:10-18):

 

There is something that gives us power to live and conquer, where thought may only raise challenge and doubt. Thought opens a world ahead of us, but faith forces us back into the soul and its case. Faith must be more conservative than thought; for it is deeper. The vaster the world that thought opens, the vaster is the question it puts; and the answers, the solutions, that fitted a small world, go out of date in a large. But the solution, the secret, of the soul, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is Christ dead and risen that has the key of life. It is living faith in His living, giving, and saving God.[20]

 

It is good to finish our study book! Faith fortified. Yet, of making many books, there is no end. Much study is a weariness of the flesh (Eccl. 12:12). Jesus said: You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).

 

TO THE LAST WORD – LET US COME!

 

We only ever say second-to-last words; God, the Word always has the last Word. So then, let us come to the Word, Jesus Christ in faith, in prayer, in praise and thanks, resting in His finished work, assured of the glorious future, glorified in Him: Thank you Lord, for your servant, P.T. Forsyth! May his writing and insight continue to be a blessing, to many!  Jesus you said: be of good cheer. Jesus, you have overcome the world, triumphed over the power of evil, and secured eternal life. You are our future, and our Life. Amen


[1] P.T. Forsyth, This Life and the Next, London Independent Press Ltd., 1918 (1948), p. 81

[2] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, Blackwood, 1988, p. 223

[3] For the wide application of this short biblical phrase, I am very grateful to Geoffrey C. Bingham, All Things are Yours, NCPI, Blackwood, 1991 (1996).

[4] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 222-223

[5] Indeed Forsyth’s final book commends prayers for the dead, and displays a troublesome tendency towards Universalism:  See P.T. Forsyth, This Life and the Next, London Independent Press Ltd., 1918 (1948). It is worthwhile reading it. But many will have strong reservations about some of his statements.

[6] Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a significant influence in the establishment of an understanding of life known as Existentialism. This is a movement in philosophy that says that it is not God, bur rather individuals, that create the meaning of their own lives. 

[7] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 210

[8] P. T. Forsyth, p. 210

[9] P. T. Forsyth, p. 4

[10] P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 208ff.

[11] Kriegspiel: A full-scale war game between two nations.

[12] P. T. Forsyth,, p. 209

[13] P. T. Forsyth, p. 209

[14] P. T. Forsyth, p. 211

[15] P. T. Forsyth, p. 212

[16] P. T. Forsyth, p. 219

[17] P. T. Forsyth, p. 219

[18] P. T. Forsyth, p. 220-221

[19] P. T. Forsyth, p. 211

[20] P. T. Forsyth, p. 211-212





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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