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of the moral soul, God's and man's, in the Cross of Christ,
who has overcome the world for good and all in an eternal
Act of love, judgment, grace and glory. He starts the
new ethic in creative mercy, the new Humanity in regenera-
tive forgiveness ; and the forgiveness has its moral ground
in atonement to the living law, to the holy God, the God
of the whole moral universe, and of the Church in so far
as the Church is the earnest of a whole and holy world.
The Cross is not a theological theme, nor 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. There is no
universal ethic but what is based in that power and deed.
There is no sound theology but what moves in universal
righteousness to a universal Kingdom of peace and joy
to the glory of the holy name. This is a point, or rather
a centre, to which we must return before we are done.




THE questions of a teleology or a theodicy of the universe
are the final questions and the most fascinating for philo-
sophy, and especially modern philosophy ; but they are
also the most tantalising. They are just those where
philosophy most conspicuously breaks down, whether as
an avenue to reality or as a guide of life.

In a great calamity, which goes to the very foundations
of the moral soul, and makes us feel as if the bottom had
dropped out of the moral world, the poetry which used
to delight, uplift, and stay us loses its power ; and we
turn, as many do at this hour, from poet to prophet,
from genius to apostle, from our classics to our New
Testament. We turn from imagination to faith, from
inspiration to redemption, from all men to Christ, and
from all to His Cross. So also we turn from philosophy
not ungrateful, but still unsatisfied. We are slaked rather
than fed. It has indeed its vast and ennobling use. In
culture poetry itself is hardly so ennobling and so steady-
ing, bringing, perhaps, more elation but less grasp, power,
and stay. But philosophy is only the poetry and majesty
of thought. It is truth writ very large and impressive
to that kind of imagination. And there come crises
when from this austere poetry also we turn unfilled and
unstayed, and we must go to deeper springs, more eternal


powers, and more intimate controls. Truths will not do
the work of powers, nor ideals that of faith. From the
poetry of great feeling we had to turn, when it was staying
power and not refreshment that we needed, to the poetry
of great thought from Byron to Wordsworth, from the
empyrean and discursive imagination of Shelley to the
penetrative and masculine imagination of Browning.
So also, passing on from the spacious poetry of truth in
thought, we must turn to the driving power of revelation,
from the vast contours of philosophy to the vaster orbits
of theology, to the energetic poetry of the Holy and the
Eternal. As in the trenches, it is said, some cultured
soldiers turn from the love poems that delighted them at
home but are adequate no more, to find the soul's mood
met only in the Epistles of Paul, so with many more to
whom the awful might of evil has been revealed as mid-
Europe has revealed it. Face to face with the utmost,
the most devilish, forms of suffering and wickedness,
they had no stay but in religion's contact with reality,
in God's final conquest of both pain and guilt, which
Christian faith finds in the Cross of Christ alone as the
supreme exercise of the omnipotence of God.

In this ultimate matter of a theodicy philosophy well
points out that we have two questions ; and before each
it is brought to a complete standstill. We have the
question of evil as suffering and the question of evil as
sin. They are distinct though closely connected. All
sin is an ill, but all ill is not sin, nor is it caused by it.
Suffering abounded in the animal world before man ap-
peared with the moral freedom that makes sin possible.
Pain came before sin, and, as it has no connection with
freedom, it is non-moral. And in any theodicy, or justi-
fication of God, His treatment of the two is different, to
our Christian faith at least. The power in Him can con-
vert suffering to a sacrament, but it must destroy sin. It


can transcend and sanctify suffering while the suffering
remains, but sin it must abolish. The Cross of Christ can
submerge suffering, and make it a means of salvation, but
with sin it can make neither use nor terms ; it can only
make an end of it. God in Christ is capable of suffering
and of transmuting sorrow; but of sin He is incapable, and
His work is to destroy it. And, by a mystery hard to
search, His conversion of the one is the same act as His
destruction of the other. His transfiguration of suffering
in the Cross is also His conquest of sin. No doubt insoluble
problems remain. Why in His creation must the way
upward lie through suffering ? Why, on this hard hill
road, should we be met by sin descending upon us, seized,
and flung into the abyss ? But at least we can say that
it is only one of these, it is the sin not the suffering, that
impugns the holiness which makes God God. A holy God
might ordain the pain He took on Himself, but he could
not ordain the sin. Suffering He could bear directly, but
sin only sympathetically. Or though he might sweep
away the good and the bad in some great catastrophe of
nature, how can He allow the moral perdition even of
those who were on the way to goodness, the fall even of
the saint ?

These questions are quite unanswerable. That is why
a book on such a subject is at a disadvantage. We can
but fall back on the last choice and committal which we
call faith. And that seems to suggest a sermon rather
than a discussion. Yet when God came to deal with the
position practically and finally it was by the folly of
preaching. He took the dogmatic note and not the dialectic.
He did not put thought on a new line, but the thinker in a
new life. The situation is insolubly irrational, so far as
we are concerned. The solution is in action, as Carlyle
said, but in God's, as he did not say. We can but
trust God, who by a saving Act masters the thinker and
His world, as possessing an answer for thought that He


does not yet see fit to give. And above all we must
regard Him as having destroyed sin in principle by a
way which carries with it also the end of pain. We
must regard Him also as destroying evil in practice by
methods which seem to us often very devoid and inadequate
when we criticise His campaign, but which to Him are
perfectly adequate and victorious. We can give God the
glory even when He does not increase our joy ; for our
great object is not the delight of our soul but the glory of
God. That sense of sin destroyed He does give us in the
experience of our own faith and conscience ; but He does
not let us pierce with our theoretic reason the deep method
and long strategy of His saving Will with the whole world.
We may be more sure of our theodicy than clear about
our theology. If a science of history be hardly possible,
far less possible is a science of God's vindication in history
drawn by induction from its course.

Some hard humility becomes our reason here. For its
efforts at a solution almost always run out into a slight
on conscience. They move the previous question. They
pass into a denial of the great crux, either by postulating
a limitation on the power of God other than He imposes
on Himself (which is to reduce His deity), or by denying
the fundamental principle of the conscience, which is the
radical and eternal antagonism of good and bad. The
philosophic temperament, like the mystic, is too often
accompanied by a certain lack of poignant moral sensibility,
a certain acquiescence in the morally intolerable, and a
lack of the sense of moral tragedy, as of concern for the
soul. It is more interested in process than in action, in
cohesion than in crisis, in order than in miracle, in growth
than in grace. Its tendency is to substitute the aesthetic
class of consideration for the moral. It seeks for connec-
tion rather than cultivates communion. It does not feel
the sting of sin so much as the nuisance of it. It feels
it to be an impertinence rather than a revolt. And it


is tempted to regard the gulf between the holy and the
sinful as more apparent than real, as adjustable in due
course by some bridge of device rather than to be closed
by a moral crisis and redemption, as something that will
yield to evolutionary treatment, to nursing and not
operation ; as if sin would in due course be abolished like
a dangerous blood clot in the general circulation. Sin
becomes but a relative stage like everything else, and
therefore a relative boon were it only as something to
push against in our ascent. Any notion of an absolute
incompatibility and eternal conflict of good and bad is
therefore an illusion in this point of view. Progress,
culture, will dispel that illusion, and these extreme esti-
mates will vanish, and their antagonisms converge, as they
are drawn up into the ascending stream of things. That
is to say, ethical values must yield to the mere dynamic
movement of a natura naturans, quality being submerged
in force. This to most will seem the relapse into bar-
barism. It is always barbarism where moral considera-
tions must be submerged in the natural expansion of a
power, a system, or a race, as Germany has shown.

This theory of a development essentially dynamic and
not moral is a mere faith in progress now getting out of
date. It is a faith but of the inferior and ungrounded
kind which easily becomes credulity. This destiny to
endless progress cannot be a matter of knowledge ; and
it may be a superstition, if it has no guarantee beyond a
presumption more or less high, and no certainty of a
goal. It is at least an illusion, which many cherish, that
history must mean advance and not mere movement,
and that civilisation carries in it progress as a sort of
natural law. Civilisation and progress are identical to
so many, that it costs them a great effort to think the
two apart. Hence the shock from the war as the out-
come of civilisation. We have an almost incurable belief,
partly innate, partly inbred, in a Golden Age awaiting


society ; and it takes much historic thought to discern
that the belief in progress was not in antiquity at all, and
to realise what an importation it is from Christian faith, and
how little there is to sustain it in historic sight. Before
Christianity, and outside Israel, the Golden Age was only in
the past. When we take a large enough survey, and especi-
ally a survey with the ethical eye, the tendency to relapse
and degenerate is but little less apparent than the tendency
to advance, as Ranke says. And at certain points it gets
the upper hand, as it does to-day. The salt and sterile
sea rushes up the stream with a huge ' bore.' At any
rate, the value before God of each race or stage is not
that which can be set forth in terms of civilisation. It is
not even to be expressed in terms of culture 1 intellectual
and aesthetic. It is something interior to most that is
called progress, something which may cause God to think
less than we do of our wondrous age, and more than we
do of ages that we consider we have long outgrown. A
time process like progress cannot be of first moment to
the Eternal Spirit who has no after nor before. What is
of such moment to Him is timeless acts like grace, re-
demption, faith, and love. Christ can make good and
godly men under any system. Eternity is a much more
powerful factor hi history than progress. At any rate, the
value of an age or people for God (who is an Eternal
Simultaneity) is not just what it contributes to other
and later stages, but its own response and devotion to
Him ; and His connection with progress though real is
indirect. Progress is much more rapid in the more ex-
ternal and less eternal things ; which indicates how little
stay it has in itself. Europe has arrived at a crisis in
which the expansion of civilisation has rent its crust.
Its pace has ruptured its heart. Its collapse reveals the

1 The historian Lamprecht said that America had civilisation but no cul-
ture. By culture he was thinking probably of the mentality produced by .
long history and a regard for the past.


spiritual hollowness and the moral perdition within. And
the painful process of restoring to progress eternal values
is judgment.

It is the practical and moral interests of life that raise
these great questions. They did not condense out of the
blue sky of abstract themes and speculative dreams.
Therefore it is in the region of the soul's moral life that
any solution must be found that enables us to go on. It
is in the region of faith and in the terms of its theology.
The secret of the Lord is not with the philosopher (though
God whispers in his ear, it is not that He whispers), but
with the prophet.


God's justification of us is also His Self-justification. It
js in saving our conscience from a doubt of His that He
satisfies it and its world problems. That we may have
seen. Yet the mind whose peace gives it leisure to think
will never cease to find delight and hope in efforts to
frame a philosophic theodicy, and to graft the untoward
into the general good in some rational way. It has been
so from the Stoics to the Illumination, from Leibnitz to
De Maistre, and even the Bridgewater Treatises. Philo-
sophy deals but with the ordered course or content of the
world under its eyes. It has gradually grown in the power
to grasp such law, and to extend its sphere of influence.
It is alien to the idea of crisis and tragedy. It cannot
therefore admit an absolute contradiction to the world's
general success like sin. It is helpless before anything so
entirely irrational in kind ; hence its tendency to deny sin
as more than the crude instincts unduly prolonged, and its
efforts to bring to manageable order the general anomalies
of life, and adjust them to its world scheme. It says
they are exaggerated, and sets about to reduce the swell-
ing. For this object it has two methods, which we might


venture to call those of the buffer and of the shunt. Either
it minimises the collision, or it runs the trouble on to a loop
line which debouches further ahead into the mam line up.
It ascribes a good deal to imagination with its habit of
exaggerating, or it shows the evil curving round to good
and flowing into the general weal. By which I mean
more expressly this.

1. The first effort of a philosophic theodicy is to ease
the jar, and reduce the impact of the perverse fact on the
general mass. The assault on the beneficent scheme of the
world is admitted, but it is less than it seems, especially
less than it seems to the victims. And it may not be so
great as we think even within the consciousness of God,
which holds in it but the best of worlds. The Lisbon
earthquake, for instance, was explained away by the
optimism of the time as no more than a condensation of
normal suffering, a precipitation of it at one spot as
on the other side the wide creative processes of growth
could be condensed into a miracle like the multiplying of
the loaves.

But this is a treatment of evil which, when applied to
its worst form, moral evil, is resented by the soul and
conscience. The conscience especially has always pro-
tested against the comfort got by minimising sin, whose
shock to God cannot be reduced without reducing His
holiness pro tanto. Even our personality has a sense of
shock and damage to it from evil too severe and deep to
be met by pooh-pooh treatment from the morbidly robust,
the ideally vague, the morally dull, or the sentimentally
keen a treatment which comes to a popular head in
what is called Christian Science. Pain is not abolished
by denying it except in certain individual cases where
the denial superinduces a more or less hypnotic state
by auto-suggestion. And the reaction of the personality
against such consolations goes so far that it tends to
bound into the extreme of pessimism, or a denial of any


possible mitigation, any justification, any fundamental
teleology. This ends, of course, in the hope for a return
to the unconscious chaos from which the world should
never have blundered out in the original sin and fall of all.
But that pessimism again is resented by the personality
on other grounds.

2. So recourse is had to the second method, which is
not to soften the collision by a buffer but to avert it by a
shunt. The grievance is turned into a loop line, which
further on restores it, after some delay, to the main line of
harmony. Banes are boons, indirect or inchoate. Grief
is but joy misunderstood. Evil is but good in the making.
And pain is but friction or detour on a course which is
on the whole right. It is a tack to windward. The un-
toward is only a long and tedious curve into our blessed
place in the whole. And the curve itself is still in the

This view is more or less pantheistic, and its monism
denies the reality of evil, as dualism denies the Sover-
eignty of God. Like the other, the ' buffer,' solution, it is
resented by the moral personality. It starts with the
whole, which is the true good, and where we must reso-
lutely live. It reduces the individual therefore to a resolute
subordination. The universal State polices the citizen
to his place. The blow or the ache is called but growing
pains, or features inevitable in the settling of the atom
into this world, where they are but the squeeze at the
door. The pain is due to our impatience, our imperfect
vision, and our partial treatment of an evolving process.
The right sense of the blessed whole would be an anodyne
submerging our contributory pain. If we rose to that
philosophic height we should ' triumph in a conclusive
bliss,' whereas, on the low levels, we ' ache, smallness still,
in good that knows no bound.' But this cosmic elevation
is not every man's affair, and pain and guilt are. And,
in the failure of such a nepenthe, the mind falls again to



pessimism from another side, despairs of any teleology
or theodicy, and again comes to hope but in a dissolution
of reason, and a Nirvana in chaos.

So the philosophic theodicies are apt to break in our
hand when applied to the last anomalies of the soul,
and to die of their own dialectic. Our faith in God's
care for the individual does not arise from our faith in
His care for the whole. It is the other way. It is true
that His care for me is the source of my faith in His care
for the world. I am saved in a saved world. ' Lamb
of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy
on we.' But it was my salvation that brought home to
me how deep it was grounded in the salvation of a world.
And I am not saved by my place in the whole, but by
my place in Him who redeemed the whole. You may
of course speak of a best of all worlds while you deny a
providence individual and momentary. But if you do,
you are only inverting the error of those who speak of the
salvation of a very few, and the consignment of the world
at large to neglect or destruction. You are contradicting
yourself. If the world of trifles has no providence, and
is the region of accident, the world can neither be good
nor permanent. There is nothing casual to the good.
Trifles flow from eternal laws, and it is Providence in the
minute that makes the whole good. The Crucified was
amongst the most despised things of earth in that hour ;
but He has become to the soul that which carries also the
burden and future of the whole world.

There is a Christian way of presenting a theodicy of
salvation, which is considerably affected by the philo-
sophical method. It tends therefore to be a theosophy
rather than a theology, rooted in a thought or idea instead
of an act and its experience. And by this leaning it has
enjoyed much vogue amongst those who desired to specu-
late from a Christian and revelationary basis. It did not


identify revelation with redemption but treated it as the
larger thing, to which redemption was but ancillary.
So, starting from this base, it constructed a scheme of the
world without reference to sin. It felt, soundly enough,
that sin and evil did not possess the right, and therefore
had not the power, to thwart for ever God's plan and
destiny for mankind. But it tended to underestimate
what power they did have, to construe revelation out of
relation to them (as if sin affected but a section of the
personality), to find it in the process of rational nature
or the verdict of the genial soul, and not in the crisis of our
last distress and central tragedy, to handle sin in the course
of a wider sweep, as the weed goes down under the swath
that harvests the corn. It belittled the treatment of guilt
to a healing rather than a judgment and a new creation.
It was very noble, but it lacked incisive moral realism.
It dilated our horizon but it did not search to our marrow.
It was in soul too pure, perhaps in blood too poor, to
feel the sting of sin, its burning stound and deadly wound.
Its conception of the holy was perhaps too celestial and
passionless to gauge duly the reaction on sin in the Passion
of Christ. It grasped the notion of reconciliation as the
nature of God's ideal process in all things, but it did not
give its full value to redemption. It did not found
reconciliation in the redemption of man or the atone-
ment to God (2 Cor. v. 19 and 21). Its object was to
justify God, as it showed by refusing to sin the thwarting
power I have named, but it might be said to have failed
to glorify God, through its underestimate of sin's malignity
and inveteracy which He overcame only in a crisis of
Eternity itself. It could not appreciate the passionate
tragedy and slavery of man's combined love and hate of
sin. It loved in Romans viii., but it had not got there
through Romans vii. That is, it made more of the grand
and noble than of the holy, and it did not treat sin's an-
tagonism to holiness as killing the life of God in the eye.


It justified God by its effort to picture a world of love
and order without sin, and by trusting the healing and
recuperative power of this grand moral cosmos in God's
hand, its power to reconcile all that marred it, as nature
blooms again upon the bloodiest field. This sinless, sub-
duing, reconciling order of the world it saw emerging
with commanding power in the history of revelation,
and starting there its last stage in the conquest of evil
for God's will. But it is doubtful if by its conquest more
was really meant than its submersion. The drastic,
tragic element of judgment was missing. The critical
nature of the conflict was hardly realised in any way
adequate to a belief that to destroy sin cost God His life
in His Son. The conception of life and of the world was
too speculative, too processional, and too little dramatic.
Things were not done there. Will and conscience did not
come by their own. The world was not God's Act so much
as His Movement. Vitality took the place of action, pro-
cess of crisis, sanity of tragedy. The process of the world
was an externalisation of the process in God. It reflected,
spread out in time, that balance of movements and ten-
sions which was the eternal stability within the divine
nature itself. And it believed that, in due course of this
process, the Son would have become incarnate whether
sin had entered or not, though in another and happy form,
corresponding to the essential divinity of human nature.
It worked with natures rather than wills. It was in
human nature that sin made most havoc of the divine
order. Sin was a flaw there rather than a vice of will.
But it could not destroy God's order there ; and the
divineness of all things was so continued in even fallen
man that it must in course submerge and transmute evil
as the oyster divinely turns the grit to a pearl. Theology
could not therefore in this view be organised from the one
centre of grace. Soteriology was not the focus and genius
of all revelation. Man is indelibly the summit and com-


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Online LibraryPeter Taylor ForsythThe justification of God; lectures for war-time on a Christian theodicy → online text (page 12 of 20)