Listening to MP3’s for THE WORD

14 12 2008

We have:

(1) the Incarnate Word (John 1:14), Jesus

(2) the Inscripturated Word, the OT and NT,

(3) the Preached Word, (Romans 10:17) [JESUS preaching thru’ us] and

(4) the Implanted Word (James 1:21)

Listening to MP3’s is a new, popular way to receive the Word:

For those who prefer to listen to some MP3’s rather than read, there are some posted on the Topic of “Theodicy”, and a couple of other topics too – please try Sermon Audio link below. You can read the PDF file of he message, while listening:

SermonAudio.com – Sermons by Trevor Faggotter .

Cheers!

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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





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





The Cross Crucial For Destiny

14 10 2008

THE CROSS CRUCIAL FOR DESTINY

 

Study 8

 

Trevor Faggotter

 

INTRODUCTION

 

There is a strange statement in the New Testament, where the Apostle Paul speaks of God the Father’s active involvement in the event of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, saying:

 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

 

Given that human sin is not ‘but a remora, or drag, on Humanity’, but rather, ‘its death and hell’ – and given that, ‘the wrongest thing with the world is its sin’, then the need to deal with sin finally and fully is the matter upon which the destiny of humanity, and the holy character of God, must centre. What it means for Jesus Christ, God’s Son, to be made to be sin lies at the heart of the gospel.

 

THE CRUCIALITY OF THE CROSS

 

In following P.T. Forsyth’s book, The Justification of God, (1917), we now come in our series, to Chapter IX.  It is entitled ‘The Eternal Cruciality of the Cross for Destiny’, and it may remind you (if you know of Forsyth’s other books), of his work first published in 1909, entitled The Cruciality of the Cross. While we have much to read, digest, and study already, I would nevertheless like to include in this study some quotations (taken slowly), from the final few pages of The Cruciality of the Cross.

 

In being “made sin,” treated as sin (though not as a sinner), Christ experienced sin as God does, while he experienced its effects as man does. He felt sin with God, and sin’s judgment with men. He realised, as God, how real sin was, how radical, how malignant, how deadly to the Holy One’s very being.

 

When Christ died at sin’s hands it meant that sin was death to the holiness of God, and both could not live in the same world. When He rose it meant that what was to live and rule in the world was the holy God.

 

Dying as man, Christ placed His whole self beside man under the judgment of God. He was beside man in court but on God’s side in the issue, confessing God’s holiness in the judgment, and justifying His treatment of sin. Justifying God!

 

Forsyth then gives a poignant illustration, with a comment, which is pure theodicy:

 

A missionary to the North American Indians records that having seen his wife and children killed before his eyes, and being himself harried in bonds across the prairie amid his tormentors, he “justified God in this thing.” I do not know a sublimer order of experience than from the heart to bless and praise a good and holy God in despairs like these. It is to this order of experience that the work, the blood, of Christ belongs. And there is no justification of men except by this justification, this self-justification, of God.

 

Never is man so just with God as when his broken, holy heart calls just the judgment of God which he feels but has not himself earned; and never could man be just with God but through God’s justification of Himself in the blood of Christ.

 

In speaking here of atonement, Forsyth is keen to retain the word ‘satisfaction’:

 

We cannot in any theology which is duly ethicised dispense with the word satisfaction. It was of course not a quantitative replacement of anything God had lost, nor was it the glutting of a God’s anger by an equivalent suffering on who cares whom. It was no satisfaction of a jus talionis.

 

But it was the adequate confession, in act and suffering, “Thou art holy as Thou judgest.” That man should confess this vicariously and victoriously in Christ crucified and risen is the re-establishment of God’s holiness in the world. We can only understand any justification of man as it is grounded in this justification—this self-justification—of God. The sinner could only be saved by something that thus damned the sin.

 

In a far more nuanced manner, than is employed by many evangelicals today, Forsyth then speaks of what is not the Father’s action in the cross (punishing Jesus), as well as what is his action in the cross, (namely imparting unto Christ, the penalty upon sin). 

 

The Saviour was not punished, but He took the penalty of sin, the chastisement of our peace. It was in no sense as if He felt chastised or condemned (as even Calvin said), but because He willingly bowed, with a moral understanding possible only to the sinless, under the divine ordinance of a suffering death and judgment which was holily ordained to wait on the sin of His kin.

 

The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. The metaphor denotes the radicality, totality, and finality of the whole action in the realism of the moral world which even high sacrifice, not resisting unto blood, only slurs or shelves—when it does not toy with it. 

 

Forsyth notes that Jesus early teaching wholly relates to his suffering deeds in the cross:

 

It is notable that Christ speaks of His blood only at His life’s end, while during life He spoke only of forgiving grace without any such expiation (except in the ransom passage). Why was this so?

 

Two reasons are given:

 

1. Was it not, first, because His grand total witness, which death but pointed, was to the grace of God’s holy love; and the exposure of sin could only come by the light of that revelation?

 

2. And was it not, second, because His revelation and offer of holy grace without sacrifice and judgment failed of its effect; because even the great, uplifted, and joyful invitation, “Come unto Me,” failed till it was enacted from the mighty gloom of the cross; because only the uplifting of the cross, and not the uplifting of His voice, draws all men unto Him;

 

The cross draws people. It does so as the holy love of God breaks through to human beings by revelation. God’s very wonderful loving kindness is brought home livingly by the Spirit of God – the mystery of the cross is opened, and poured into hearts and minds.

 

THE CROSS AND GRACE

 

Forsyth saw the biblical relationship between the cross and grace, in a way, that many others failed, and fail still to see and proclaim (that is why many abandon atonement theology).  Robert McAfee Brown followed Forsyth’s corrective theology well:

 

God is willing to go to the length of suffering and dying to enter into fellowship with man. There is a misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of atonement that goes something like this: God is an angry God, angry at men because men have sinned, and he decides to condemn mankind; but Christ intercedes for man, and God’s vengeance is sated by punishing Christ instead. Although this is a travesty of the Christian position it has unfortunately been too often suggested by interpreters of the atonement as well as by their critics. But Forsyth, who said, “The doctrine of grace and the doctrine of the atonement are identical,” the true interpretation is that the atonement flows from grace, it does not “procure” grace. This extremely important insight means that our reading of the atonement is more like this: Because God loves men, he suffers on their behalf, bears himself the weight of their wrongdoing, and this restores fellowship, or reconciles. Grace is not something Christ earned for us from God; grace is rather something God gave us in Christ. “Do not say: ‘God is love. Why atone?’ Say: ‘God has atoned. What love!’

 

SALVATION IS THE SOLUTION

 

We are not taught or argued by proofs, or theology into the kingdom of God.  Rather we are transferred, by way of rescue.  He has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14) The victory of the resurrected Christ is our salvation. The work of the crucified Christ is our forgiveness of sins, and it means the redemption of the world. We are not seeking our own solution. We are given one.

 

Not only can God solve the world, He has solved it, in His own practical way of solution, by saving it—by an act done, and not a proof led, nor a scheme shown. His wisdom none can trace, and His ways are past finding out; but His work finds us; and His grace, His victory, and His goal become sure.

 

The message of the apostles was always of what God had done, in the death and resurrection of Christ (see Romans 5-8). And yet, Forsyth identifies good reasons why God’s ways in revelation, are unsearchable; Drawing upon apostolic insight – O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33) – Forsyth comments:

 

If we saw all His scheme our faith would be compelled, and not free. It might do more to overwhelm us than to raise or fortify. It would be sight—something too satisfactory to a merely distributive justice; it would not be faith creative and constitutive for the holy soul. The faith we keep means more for our soul than the views we win.

 

Faith in receiving the truth of God in the cross is an absolutely essential factor.  Faith is not some well-reasoned conclusion. Faith is at once a gift from God, and an action of personal trust, of belief, of receptivity.

 

Job’s friends had sounder views on some points than he, but they did not receive the reward that his desperate faith had. In the Cross of Christ we learn the faith that things not willed by God are yet worked up by God. In a divine irony, man’s greatest crime turns God’s greatest boon. 0 Felix culpa! The riddle is insoluble but the fact is sure. The new man, remade in Christ and not simply impressed by Christ, is sure amid a world of strident problems. We know what God has done for the world in redeeming it; we have tasted that in our soul; but we do not know why He took the way with it that He did, why it must mean the Cross. He speaks not an all-solving but an all-liberating word.

 

THE FATHER AND SON CARRY AND SUFFER THE MISERY OF THE AGES

 

Jesus said: the Father and I are one (John 10:3). He also said, the Father is in me and I am in the Father (John 14:10). When we see the Cruciality of the Cross, we see the action of the Father giving up his Son in love, and the Son honoring the Father. God, the Father, was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. We are often made aware of the sufferings of Christ. However, Forsyth draws our attention to the depth of the Father’s suffering too, saying: ‘And the Father suffered in His Son even more than the Son did’.

 

There is an Eye, a Mind, a Heart, before Whom the whole bloody and tortured stream of evolutionary growth has flowed. We are horrified, beyond word or conception, by the agony and devilry of war, but, after all, it only discharges upon us, as it were from a nozzle, a far vaster accumulation of such things, permeating the total career of history since ever a sensitive organism and a heartless egoism appeared.

 

The war is an occasion, to turn anew to the sufferings of God throughout human history:

 

This misery of the ages, I have said, vanishes from human thought or feeling, till some experience like war carries some idea of it home. But there is a consciousness to which it is all and always present. And in the full view of it He has spoken. As it might be thus: ‘Do you stumble at the cost? It has cost Me more than you—Me who see and feel it all more than you who feel it but as atoms might. “Groanings all and moanings, none of it I lose.” Yea, it has cost Me more than if the price paid were all Mankind. For it cost Me My only and beloved Son to justify My name of righteousness, and to realise the destiny of My creature in holy love.

 

Forsyth spotlights the love of the Father, for the Son, and calls us to consider this. (We are often very self-centred when we ask questions concerning theodicy).  He continues, along the lines that the Father, might say, concerning his Son, Jesus:

 

And all mankind is not so great and dear as He. Nor is its suffering the enormity in a moral world that His Cross is. I am no spectator of the course of things, and no speculator on the result. I spared not My own Son. We carried the load that crushed you. It bowed Him into the ground.

 

This suffering however, achieved the Father and the Son’s shared purpose for the world:

 

On the third day He rose with a new creation in His hand, and a regenerate world, and all things working together for good to love and the holy purpose in love. And what He did I did. How I did it? How I do it?  This you know not how, and could not, but you shall know hereafter. There are things the Father must keep in His own hand. Be still and know that I am God, whose mercy is as His majesty, and His omnipotence is chiefly in forgiving, and redeeming, and settling all souls in worship in the temple of a new heaven and earth full of holiness.

 

THE SUPREME THEODICY IS ATONEMENT

 

As we have been saying in other studies ‘that day’ – the coming close of history as we know it, the telos – is an essential part of God’s plan, through the cross and Christ’s resurrection; this is a continuation of what Forsyth, understands the Father is saying to us.

 

In that day the anguish will be forgotten for joy that a New Humanity is born into the world.’

 

However, the matter is never just hoping for heaven. It is the holy name of God fully honoured, through atonement. It means leaving no room or place for sin, eternally.

 

But all this is groundless if in the Cross of Christ we have but the love of God shown in sacrifice and not its holiness secured in judgment; if the Cross be but to reconcile man and not atone to God, to impress many and not first to hallow the holy name.

 

In hallowing the Father’s holy name, Christ is doing more than being obedient unto death he is being obedient unto judgment, the final judgment of holiness. Paul says, ‘For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.’ (Romans 5:19) Others who have studied Forsyth have also pointed out that he saw Christ’s obedience as of prime importance:

 

The important thing is not the “wounds of Jesus”, but the fact that in going to the cross he offered a perfect obedience to the holy will of God. This has never been sufficiently emphasized.

 

As this series of studies, is looking at this whole matter of theodicy, it is appropriate that we close this study, with Forsyth’s closing words for the chapter:

 

Christ was the new Humanity doing the one needful and right thing before God. God’s justification of man, therefore, was by His justification of Himself in man. The last theodicy is a gift of God and not man’s discovery nor an achievement. It is not a rational triumph but the victory of faith. Christ is the theodicy of God and the justifier both of God and the ungodly. The supreme theodicy is atonement.


Luke also draws attention to the Father’s involvement in the cross, saying that Jesus was handed over to the Israelites, ‘according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God ‘ (Acts 2:23); In Acts 8:32-33 Luke shows how Isaiah 53 is a prophecy including the Father’s involvement in the cross – the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6); similarly Matthew 26:31 takes the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered, indicating the Father’s sovereign activity. 

Remora a suckerfish – which attaches itself to sharks, whales, sea turtles or the hulls of ships

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 146

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 167

P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, NCPI, (1909), 1984, p. 212

P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, p. 213

P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, p. 213

P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, p. 213-214

P. T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, p. 214

Jus talionis:  an eye for an eye; quoted from P.T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, p. 214

P.T. Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, p. 214

Robert McAfee Brown, P. T. Forsyth: Prophet For Today, Westminster Press, 1952, p. 82-83

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 154

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 154

Felix culpa – Blessed fault or fortunate fall’, or “O happy fault”.

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 154

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 169

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 164

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 164

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 164

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 164

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 165

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 165

Robert McAfee Brown, P. T. Forsyth: Prophet For Today, p. 83

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, p. 169





The Coming Event in History

14 10 2008

THE COMING EVENT IN HISTORY

 

Study 7

 

Trevor Faggotter

 

ONE FAR-OFF DIVINE EVENT

 

Jesus said: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware; keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 

(Mark 13:31-32).

 

The poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, concluded his poem, In Memoriam with these words:

 

That God, which ever lives and loves,

One God, one law, one element,

And one far-off divine event,

To which the whole creation moves.

 

Just as there was a day when the Messiah, and Saviour of the world, Jesus, was born into this world in a town called Bethlehem, so too there will be a day when Christ’s coming-appearing will be an actual event in our very real, daily human history. Tennyson described that occasion as “one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves”.  The seeming delay in Jesus Christ’s coming-appearing – coupled with this expectation but non-arrival in every age since that of the early Christians – has driven some people to mistrust all such prophecy, and to doubt or deny the Christian story, and gospel. 

 

This coming anew of the ascended, reigning Christ into human history, to put things right, and close off this age with finality, is an essential part of a biblical theodicy. It is one component, which is always lacking in a philosophical theodicy, where an understanding of the world is sought apart from the action of God in Christ. The difficult, or seemingly unanswerable questions of theodicy have often produced great doubt, and a kind of faithlessness in many people. 

 

Only this week I noticed that a well-known University Professor in New Testament studies, by the name of Bart Ehrman has concluded that the questions of theodicy, and the unsatisfactory answers he has found, have forced him to take up the stance of an agnostic, rather than hold to his former Christian faith. He has now authored a book telling why. One of the reasons given is his unbelief in much of the Christian creed – such as the resurrected, ascended, currently reigning Christ, an his coming appearing. 

 

We should note that P.T. Forsyth draws our attention to the importance of faith, which looks forward to a teleology – God’s planned goal –arriving in history.

The faith of a teleology in history protects us from the vagrancy of soul, which dogs the notion that things are but staggering on, or flitting upon chance winds over a trackless waste. It saves us from the timidity, which so easily besets us before the incalculable.

 

Praying and not losing heart are important qualities for a human being to have, and to wrestle to maintain, and sustain.  Jesus asked a good question about this persistent, enduring approach, especially when living amidst human injustice and suffering: ‘When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:8).

 

LIVING IN THE MYSTERY

 

Jesus said… ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables’. (Mark 4:11).

 

He went on to say: ‘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 8:18).

 

Geoffrey Bingham has helped us to see that a mystery is not a problem to be solved, but a revealed reality in which one lives:

 

The Scriptures do not seem to us to be mysterious, since we can read and noetically understand every idea put forward, but in what we think we understand, there is, nevertheless, mystery. Christ said that in certain cases it has to be given to understand certain mysteries. That is, such mysteries cannot be understood by intellectual endeavour. Somewhere—and somehow—the heart and the will are involved in true comprehension. This is a baffling thought; namely, that such mysteries are not puzzles to be solved. God is Himself the great mystery, and He retains the right to open up Himself and all concomitant mysteries, or to close them off. This is a fearful thought—that mysteries may be shut off from us, and we from them! 

 

Humility is especially necessary in the matter of theodicy, and in understanding the nature and origins and activity of evil. In our previous study we commenced by including these two passages from Scripture, concerning the matter of evil:

 

For the mystery of lawlessness (or mystery of iniquity) is already at work (2Thessalonians 2:7).

 

And he (Jesus) said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly (Mark 7:22).

 

Paul’s phrase in 2Thessalonians 2:7 teaches and cautions us that sin, lawlessness or iniquity is a mystery. Aware of this one can consider carefully such questions as:

 

  1. The origin, cause or reason for evil, as well as, perhaps, a prior question about its essence or nature. What is evil? St. Augustine (354-430) denounced as absurd all efforts to reflect upon the origin of evil as long as one does not know what it is.

 

  1. How long O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? (Habakkuk 1:2)

 

  1. What is Victory? And, when does it arrive, this Victory over evil? For a humanity that is overwhelmed by suffering (evil endured) and guilt (evil committed), that is the question that matters.

 

Whilst we are reading and listening to Forsyth seeking understanding – especially of his exposition of the significance of the cross of Christ – we need to bear in mind that we are not merely searching for intellectual insights, but rather, gospel insight – which comes by hearing with faith as Christ speaks!

 

EVIL TOUCHING OUR NERVE

 

Forsyth recognizes that there is a greater problem than merely staggering on to nowhere:

 

But our worst trouble is not due to a mere tracklessness in the course of history.  That is too negative to try us keenly. We are exposed to positive assault. The iron enters our soul. The worst question rises, and the chief protest, when the disorder in the world touches our nerve in the shape of positive pain, evil, or guilt; when our personal life is deranged by that alien invasion, or is crushed, instead of stayed, by our connection with the course of things; when conscience rises in protest at the fate of the good, or the falsity of ourselves.  Questions then come home about the connection of evil and suffering, sin and sorrow, grief and goodness. Then it is that the desire for a teleology deepens into a passion for a theodicy. Has the teleology a moral end?

 

Other writers reflecting upon the more horrendous crimes of World War 2, seem to keep looking at the issue of guilt, and the need for it to be attributed, acknowledged and dealt with. But how is guilt to be dealt with, if you have done such things? Is there any hope for a person who has committed gross evil? What about our own less than righteous lives?  It is valuable, even if very painful to recount what has happened and keeps happening in human history.  In searching for a theology for Auschwitz, Simon writes:

 

We are dealing with the deaths of millions, mostly non-combatant Jews, who had been rounded up and sent to various concentration-camps designed entirely for their extermination.  Auschwitz was the largest but by no means the only place of infamy. At Treblinka, Maideneck, Ravensbruck, Dachau, Buchenwald, Belsen, Chelmo, Sohibor, Mauthausen and many lesser known places the same dimensions of sin and suffering prevailed.  Auschwitz stands here for the whole guilt which has stained the earth, not only in Europe but also in Asia. 

     This guilt must in the first place be ascribed to Hitler, the German Chancellor from 1933 until his death by suicide, probably on April 30th, 1945, in Berlin.  He appointed the men who carried out the task of extermination with ruthless efficiency.

 

Our problem is evil as it affects our own lives, so terribly. Over Nyholm produced a film documentary entitled ‘The Anatomy of Evil’, in which he interviewed mostly the perpetrators of mass murder in World War 2 and the Balkans War.  In setting out on his task, he said. “I have decided to confront heartlessness, heartlessness itself, face to face.” The interviewer’s final conclusion is honest, as he asks about what he might have done in the same circumstances:  “I cannot answer if I would do it; if I say I know myself it is not correct; I can’t predict if I can handle it; I no longer have certainty…from certainty to maybe – that is a profound loss. That is my condition!”

 

WHEN GOD TRUSTED MAN WITH FREEDOM

 

When a film documentary maker, cautiously, fearfully, and sadly concludes that virtually all human beings are capable of terrible evil, and many have exercised it in such an atrocious manner, then it seems clear enough that we have been given such freedom as to include even a terrifying capacity for genocide.  What then are we to say of our Creator?

 

There was never such a fatal experiment as when God trusted man with freedom.  But our Christian faith is that He knew well what He was about.  He did not do that as a mere adventure, not without knowing that he had the power to remedy any abuse of it that might occur, and to do this by a new creation more mighty, marvellous, and mysterious than the first. He had means to emancipate even freedom, to convert moral freedom, even in its ruin, into spiritual. If the first creation drew on His might, the second taxed His all-might. It revealed His power as moral majesty, as holy omnipotence, most chiefly shown in the mercy that redeems and reconciles.

 

In the light of the Cross’s power, Forsyth goes on the revel in God’s grand plan:

 

To redeem creation is a more creative act than it was to create it. …The supreme power in the world is not simply the power of God but of a holy God, upon whose rule all things wait, and may wait long. It is no slack knot that the Saviour has to undo. All the energy of a perverse world in its created freedom pulled on the tangle to tighten it. And its undoing has give the supreme form to all God’s dealing with the world. But at the same time the snarl is not beyond being untied. Man is born to be redeemed. The final key to the first creation is the second; and the first was done with the second in view… The first creation was the prophecy of the second; the second was the first tragically ‘arrived’. There was moral resource in the Creator equal to anything that might happen to the creature or by him

 

The Cross is at once creation’s fatal jar and final recovery. And there is no theodicy for the world except for a theology of the Cross … No reason of man can justify God in a world like this. He must justify Himself, and He did so in the Cross of His Son.

 

As Forsyth reflects upon the 1914-1917 (1918) war to end all wars, he urges us to see the greatness of the gospel of redemption, and the role the church has to know her Lord, and proclaim his Act of Redemption, accomplished, (and recounted), in the power of the weakness of the cross:

 

We are now in a crisis that no individual can measure, nor his piety deal with and it is beyond any philosophy or idealism of a time.  In needs that faith of an agelong holy Church to grasp it. Would that the Church’s faith could always handle it in the true power of that crisis greater still which made the Church – in the power of the Church’s Cross and Gospel. An awful crisis of wickedness like war can only be met on the Church’s height and range of faith; and it forces us up to levels and aspects of our belief which our common hours or moral slackness too easily feel extreme.  Nothing but the great theologies of redemption are adequate to the great tragedies of the world. …Christ finished the world-work given Him to do. He brought the world home.

 

Isaiah once said of the suffering servant to come – Jesus – that ‘He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied’. (Isaiah 53:11 RSV). Forsyth takes up the same words and applies them to the whole creation, and its travail:

 

In Him the whole creation sees the travail of its soul and is satisfied. He who can take away the sin of the world has in His reversion the reason, completion, peace, joy, and glory of all things.  The Destroyer of guilt pacifies all grief, the Reconciler of our enmity ends all question. To see the devastator a truly penitent thief would compensate any Christian victim. The Justifier of men is the one and only theodicy of God.

 

 

Further reflection upon the sadness and horror of the war, brings Forsyth to describe the situation as elements of hell breaking through into the daily life of humanity, as judgment on the world, but also upon the Church’s failure to serve the world well:

 

After all, the present cataclysm is an acute condensation of what has been going on in nature, human and other, for millenniums. If faith could survive that, need it succumb to this? If the existence of hell is compatible with faith in God, and is even of His ordinance, must we lose faith when it comes through the earth’s crust in a volcano?

 

The dirty chimney needed to be fired.

The present situation is a monument to the failure of the Church!

 

We are driven to a very personal involvement in the cross, where we can not consider it from afar, nor just talk about it – rather, by the Spirit, we are taken into its action, in the embrace of our Saviour, as he bears our sin, we say – I have been crucified with Christ:

 

The Cross is not a theological theme, not a forensic device, but the crisis of the moral universe on a scale far greater than earthly war. It is the theodicy of the whole God dealing with the whole soul of the whole world in holy love, righteous judgment, and redeeming grace.

 

HOW WEIGHTY IS THE GLORY THAT IS TO COME?

 

Concerning the coming glory, Alister McGrath chimes in with a helpful word:

 

Some say that nothing could ever be adequate recompense for suffering in this world. But how do they know?  Have they spoken to anyone who has suffered and subsequently been raised to glory?  Have they been through this experience themselves?  One of the greatest tragedies of much writing about human suffering this century has been its crude use of rhetoric. ‘Nothing can ever compensate for suffering!’ rolls off the tongue with the greatest of ease.  It has a certain oratorical force. It discourages argument.  It suggests that what has been said represents the distillation of human wisdom in the subject, and is so evidently correct that it does not require justification. It implies that anyone who disagrees is a fool. But how do they know nothing can compensate for suffering? Paul believed passionately that the sufferings of the present life would be outweighed by the glory that is to come (Romans 8:18). How do they know that he is wrong, and that they are right?  Have they tasted the glory of the life to come, so that they can make the comparison? Have they talked to others who have been through the bitter experience of suffering and death, and have been caught up in the risen and glorious life of Christ, and asked them how they now feel about their past suffering? No. Of course they haven’t.  The simple truth is that this confident assertion of the critics of Christianity is just so much whistling in the wind. Their comments are made from our side of the veil which separates history from eternity.


Bart D. Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question – Why we Suffer’, HarperOne, 2008. He says he has never had discussions with other lecturers about personal belief.

Theology apart from doxology, outside the Christian community, can become merely academic.

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 120

Geoffrey C. Bingham, The Glory of the Mystery and the Mystery of the Glory, NCPI, Blackwood, 1998, p. xii

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross, Apollos, IVP, England, 1994, p. 12-13

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 120

Ulrich Simon, A Theology of Auschwitz, SPCK, London, 1967, p. 11

The following are comments made by men who once killed their civilian victims, so mercilessly:

Ø   Many people will ask, is there no light in this murderous dark? The light in the darkness is the shame.

Ø       Generally speaking I am not a good man at all. I am not a good Christian. I succumbed to instincts to do evil to others.

Ø       I envy people who have normal lives BBQ and go to the beach. I envy tramps. I am no longer like them. Now I don’t belong anywhere, any particular place. I belong here (prison). I’ve lost what is most important – morality.

P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 123-124

Forsyth, p. 123-124

Forsyth, p. 122

Forsyth p. 126

Forsyth p. 127

Forsyth p. 129

Forsyth p. 133

Alister McGrath, Suffering, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1992, p. 96-97





The Failure of the Church as International

14 10 2008

FAILURE OF THE CHURCH AS

INTERNATIONAL

 

Study 6

 

Trevor Faggotter

 

CHURCH FAILURE

Read Mark 7:`4-23; 2Thess. 2:7

It is, unfortunately, simple enough to recall our own failures. Small wholly geriatric congregations and the selling off of stacks of local church buildings – shout or whisper to us of congregational failure.  In the New Testament local churches (Rev. 2-3), where failure was rife, Jesus gave severe warnings concerning their future.  Many of the distinctive public failures of denominational or national churches have been well documented and evaluated; however, as far as I can see, it is not customary for church leaders to speak of the Failure of the Church International. However, P.T. Forsyth drew attention to this fact. The historical context of international relations was of course unique, and unrepeatable. During World War One he noted:

 

That the greatest and cruellest war in the world should take place between the two nations for which evangelical Christianity has done the most, and to which its history owes most…

 

A general reading of history will show that prior to WW1 the British Empire and Germany had both been greatly influenced for good, by the gospel. But, how did people of the day grasp and interpret what was happening across Europe?  Forsyth observed:

 

It is a staggering blow to a faith that grew up in a long peace, a high culture, a shallow notion of history, society, or morality, and a view of religion as but a divine blessing upon life instead of a fundamental judgment and regeneration of it. It is fatal to the piety of pony carriage, shaven lawn, or aesthetic tea.

 

In the light of this, Forsyth raised the question as to whether the church had anything substantial to give to the wider world as it contemplated the significance of this war. What could it offer to the many perplexed people looked for understanding?

 

Can the Church give the ravaged and bewildered world a theodicy equal in power to the challenge? Or is its own faith but staggering on to its goal, with many falling out to die by the way? Is its God justified in expecting the trust and the control of a world, which He has allowed to get unto such a state? Has He gone deeper than its tragedy?  Is the Cross He bore really a greater tragedy and monstrosity than war?

 

Statistics for World War 1 reveal that there were some 37.5 million casualties, consisting of 8.5 million people killed, 21.2 million wounded, and some 7.75 million taken as prisoners or missing in action.  While Forsyth would not have had these grim statistics to hand when he wrote, he was nevertheless a fellow sufferer, together with all members of his own nation during these days. He writes as a preacher of the cross of Christ:

 

The war is a greater misery and curse than we know, greater than we have imagination to realise – even if we had more facts for imagination to work on.  Are we quite sure that it is a greater cross to God than to us, that it is but a part of the tragic and bloody course of history whose sword pierced through His own heart also, and that His Redemption still is in command of all, and His Kingdom sure?  His insight misses nothing of all the facts and His holiness none of the horror;

 

Forsyth earnestly wants people to consider, and then rediscover the power of the cross for the healing of the nations of the world.  Of the horror and global grief brought about by the war, he asks, regarding the power of Christ:

 

does it unhinge Him? Or is the Word of His Cross a vaster salvation than we dream, who are blinded by fears and tears, and whose conscience is not equal to conceiving either the enormity or the salvation?

 

GRATUITOUS OPTIMISM

 

To be realistic as a person secure in Jesus Christ is to be neither unduly pessimistic, nor superficially optimistic. It has been said that someone who is unduly optimistic has a misty optic. Forsyth addressed the light and easy optimism of his day, which seemed to stubbornly persist – even during the war – within the church:

 

One reads appeals made sans gêne by some whose measure of the situation is not equal to their good intention, and who even give the impression of meeting the Atlantic with a mop.  We come across machine-made appeals to the Church to be getting ready to handle the situation when the war is over.  As if a Church which could not prevent its coming about would have much effect on the awful situation when it is done!  If the Churches so little gauged the civilization, which they had allowed to grow up, and which carried the war in its womb, are they more likely to grasp the case when the moral confusion is worse.  If they were so impotent before, how are they going to be more powerful now?  What new source of strength have they tapped? 

 

Clearly Forsyth believed the Church, globally had some more work to do in order to grasp the true authority and power which lies at the heart of their message and mission:

 

The Church reared the nations but it is not able to control them for the Kingdom of God. Why? What is missing in its message for adult peoples?

 

He believed that the matter of real international power lay in integrating the peoples with moral and not merely political force.  The source of this moral force is ever the cross of Christ, where sinful humanity is crucified with Christ, and raised to a new dignity and vision for the world in him. Even national parochialism gives way to the larger vision of the purity of, and service to, the human race, and the present will and desire to speak to one’s own nation of such things, believing that a fresh hearing of the gospel is possible. Forsyth said somewhere in his writings, ‘that which goes deepest to the conscience goes widest to the world’. So he was keen to speak with global vision, about the matter of salvation, holy love, and its – at certain times in history – amazing effects.

 

A CALL TO REDISCOVER THE RADICAL METHOD

 

If the Church left such a war possible, what encourages us to think that it will discover the radical method by which ‘a recurrence of these experiences may be rendered impossible’?  Democratic control!  Who or what is controlling or instructing the democracy?  The ideologues? A parliament of blue birds!  If ‘it has been shown how inadequate the influence of the Churches has been to restrain the forces of international strife,’ it is not because the Churches have been inactive. They have been active even to bustle, not to say fuss.  Is there something wrong or inept in the rear of their activity, in the matter of it, in their mental purview, spiritual message, and moral power?  And is it more than fumbling with the subject to indulge in platform platitudes about ‘wielding a universal influence over the actions not only of individuals but of the whole community of nations’. This kind of speech does something to depreciate the value of language, and to lighten the moral coinage. 

    The Gospel is not primarily and offhand a message of peace among men, but among peace of men of goodwill. If the amateur advisers of the Church will realise that its first work, which carries all else with it, it not to lubricate friction but to create among men that goodwill, to revise and brace the belief which has failed to do it, to think less of uniting the Church and more of piercing to a deep Gospel that will; if they will distrust the bustling forms of activity, the harder beating of the old drums, the provision of ever more buns and beverages;

 

Today there is much talk in churches of the importance of food and table fellowship. But it is still crucial that we open, and are opened time and again to the content of the gospel – Christ himself, and him crucified, bearing our evil away. A person I knew well, often said of potluck suppers, with little content of the Word: ‘The church is stuffing itself again’.  We so quickly depart, and desert the one who called us in the grace of Christ, and turn to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6).  Of Jesus, we must rediscover as nations, and as individuals: “He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, and King and Lord of the race!

 

THE BRITISH EMPIRE – AND PATRIOTIC PRAYER

 

It might be valuable to take in some of Forsyth’s historical reflections from our text book; and at the same time to bear in mind what has happened in the British Empire in recent years, particularly the advance of Islam into the very heart of British Society.

                 

 “February 8, 2008; LONDON — The archbishop of Canterbury called Thursday for Britain to adopt aspects of Islamic Shariah law alongside the existing legal system. His speech set off a storm of opposition among politicians, lawyers and others, including some Muslims. The archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, said in his speech and a BBC radio interview that the introduction of Shariah in family law was “unavoidable.”.

 

One wonders how Forsyth, Wesley, and Churchill, to name but a few, would view this nation, Britain, today.  We might ask, and observe again, with Forsyth:

           

  1. We of this country have indeed much to answer for. Some of our greatest leaders and policies have been but pagan.  Much of our conduct is still.  But we remember that twice we have saved the liberty of the world – in the Armada, and at Waterloo. Have we become unworthy to do it again? 
  2. We sent forth the great free people of the West. 
  3. There are those who think that Britain’s record in such things as Slave Emancipation, Catholic Emancipation, the emancipation of the workman, the woman, and the child;  […show a growing repentance]
  4. In the self-denying ordinance taking effect in the government of India by way of atonement for its acquisition;
  5. In the treatment of South Africa since the Boer War, and especially of our enemies there (a treatment of which no other country than England was capable).
  6. – I say there are those who think that such and other like things show a growing repentance which only prigs could call Pharisaism, and a moral power which only pagans would call quixotic [i.e. idealistic].
  7. These things place us in another class, so far as God’s Kingdom goes, from a nationalism which is ostentatiously outside moral or humane regards, and is abetted by its Church in their neglect
  8. We have at least begun to reverse our engines. The cause of the weaker nations has often owed us much….
  9. If there be a kingdom coming with all God’s might to rule the earth, then, as nations go, Britain, by God’s grace, has done more for it than most. We are at least on the way to serve God’s Kingdom rather than extend our own.

He went on to encourage patriotic prayer, in so far as victory in the war, would be “a means to continue a service to that Kingdom which other nations have not yet given”…

 

 “And yet, and yet. The present judgment is one upon a whole egoist and godless civilisation, of which we also are a part, and whose end is public madness.”


P. T. Forsyth, The Justification of God, NCPI, 1988, p. 99

German Composers:  Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, Wagner;

   English Composers: Purcell, S. Wesley, Handel, etc. – all indicative of cultural achievement and success .

Forsyth, p. 99

Ibid.

Sans gêne: without embarrassment or constraint

Forsyth, p. 100

Forsyth, p. 101

Ibid.

Ibid.

Forsyth, p. 77

Forsyth p. 103








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