Peter Taylor Forsyth.

The justification of God; lectures for war-time on a Christian theodicy online

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at best and Paganism at worst, lose the world-Christ in
a tribal God.



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. 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. 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

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. The Gnostics found in the
Silence the Fullness. There is a judgment which is not
visitation but irony. Its tarrying works upon us more
than its coming. It enlists our imagination as its ally.
It broods evasive, provoking, potent. 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 na'ive 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 dis-
tance 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 worldli-
ness, 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 contri-
bution to God's kingdom. The great agents of the
divine purpose have often no idea of it. ' Cyrus, my
servant.' 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 naivete of Christ.
This 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. A German defeat to-day would have begun
with the victory of 1870, for which God was rapturously
praised, and with the Siegestrunkenheit that started there.
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 King-
dom "of Heaven, but was purely and wholly engrossed
with it. We are faced with the gigantic and ironic para-
dox of the Cross, which crushes the best to raise both
them and the world.

To the questions stirred by judgment, delicate or pal-
pable, there is no answer in any philosophy even of history.
But there is in theology in a theology that takes its
stand, first and last, on the judgment in the Cross. This
Act is everywhere in relation with earthly junctures and
passions, and everywhere their master, however evasive
the mastery be and concealed. Love can easily become
impatient of either sublimity or irony, till it find itself
in the Cross of Christ. It can become too soft to scorn,
and too kind to judge. The devotees of the white passions
know little of the red, and nothing of the black. They
have not descended into hell. But in Christ's moral,
historic, final Cross alone do we learn to interpret the
irony of history as the irony of Providence, the tender,
portentous smile of a victorious, patient God. 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
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 cir-
cumambient indifference, it is an irony of the Eternal
power in sure control of human passion, a sleepless judg-
ment 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.

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.




I BEGAN this book with an outline as overture, I would
close it with a resume as coda.

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. Literature after all has
but a small Christ ; and a small Christ, a small salvation,
fits ill to so great a world. And we cannot have a great
Christ who is not a theological Christ. The Christ of the
world, and of its eternity, must be substantially the Christ
of the great creeds. The deeper thought is the more it
must theologise. To overcome the world and master life
takes all the deep resources of Eternal God Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit. ' When the Gospel is duly preached it is
the Trinity that preaches.' Christ, if He is as deep as
His religion, is not the great problem, but the great

1. Life, then, is a problem. It offers a task rather than
an enjoyment. The soul must be achieved. The king-
dom 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. And the war will do much to quench that
spirit. Most people more people than ever, at least feel
life's problem to-day more sharply than ever before.

Indeed, some feel nothing else. The trouble with so
many serious minds among us is that life is no more than
a problem to them. They are loaded with the riddle of
it. They are victims of the age of uncertainty and unrest.
It is not work that kills, but such worry. What does the
life of worry mean but that life is felt to be much more
full of problems than of power ?

2. To take another step. The problem is disquieting,
anxious, and even tragic. It is not simply interesting
and amusing : not like a chess problem, or a mathe-
matical, or a literary, to be solved at arm's length by
our wits for the pleasure of the thing. We are in no
Kriegspiel, but in the real thing always. It touches the
nerve. It is a problem, it is not a riddle. It has become
a war. It involves the realities of life, the things most
dear, solemn, searching, commanding. Darkness is it
the cloud of night or the mist of dawn ? Disaster is it
there to burn up life, or to temper and anneal it ; to crush
life, or to rouse in us the spirit that overcomes it ? Death
does it explode life or expand it, stifle it or solve it ?
Life is not a seductive puzzle ; it is a tragic battle for
existence, for power, for eternal life.

There were two powerful thinkers in Germany last
century whose influence was not only academic but popular
(for they had that gift) ; and they did not only affect
Germany but the world. I mean Strauss and Nietzsche.
Both were apostles of negation. But the negation of
Nietzsche is a far higher and deeper thing than that of
Strauss. And it is a more hopeful thing because more
thorough. It is a proof of progress that the negation of
the one has displaced that of the other, and superseded it.
Strauss grows obsolete. He was the supreme rationalist
and optimist. He represented civilisation, culture without


tragedy, sanity with its aplomb and its self-satisfaction.
He came with a Hegelian system into which everything
could be fitted, and where everything was right. He saw
life as a vast plane in which everything was to be ' placed '
or taken up. But Nietzsche saw life as a vast depth, as
a throbbing reality, a tragic tangle, a debacle of the soul,
and not as a varied landscape or a cosmic process. The
engrossing thing in life for him was not in the rational,
but in what refused rationality, and could not be placed
and appraised. Life was not evolutionary but revolu-
tionary. Its value was more personal ; whereas to Strauss
it was more processional and mechanical. Nietzsche felt,
as millions feel, that life culminated in its tragic experi-
ences, and that whatever solved the tragedy of life solved
all life. That is why I say his challenge of Christianity is
greater, more incisive, more searching and taxing than
that of Strauss, and therefore more promising and more
sympathetic, for all his contempt. He was not a spectator
but an actor in this tragedy, so much so that it unhinged
his mind. 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.

But life's tragic problem to-day is not merely discussed
in salons by philosophers and their circles, nor by petits-
maitres and amateurs of thought ; it lays hold of almost
every man who takes things seriously at all. And especi-
ally it takes religion seriously and gets beyond the Cheeryble
brothers. Life is not a riddle for a tea-party, but a battle
of blood. It is certainly not a matter of snug optimism
in philosophy, nor of mauve religion in fiction.

3. The next step is that there is a solution to the
problem. Our battle is not a sport for heaven. I am
thinking of the a-theology of Thomas Hardy, and the
close of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Life's tragedy is not
God's jest. It is working out a real issue with Him. The
struggle is not an end in itself. We are not here like


hunters who care everything for the chase and nothing
for the quarry. The quest does promise conquest. The
riddle of the painful earth has its final answer. Tho
Christian message is that the answer is there, and is the
gift of God. It is provided. And it is practical. It is
done more than spoken, and done to our hand. We are
not asked to waste our labour on the insoluble. At the
risk of being called dogmatists the Church, the pulpit, the
Gospel are all there to say that there is a solution, that it
is given us rather than won by us, and already done and
not merely shown. If there is no foregone solution, these
voices have no right to speak. But they say there is a
solution, and they not only say there is, but they are
there to bring it, and give it, and stake life on it. As
man dogmatises to nature, God dogmatises to man.
' There remaineth a rest for the people of God.'

4. Still, a step is to be taken which I have partly antici-
pated. 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. Philosophy
itself begins by trusting ; it trusts our faculties.

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 chal-
lenge, but it has not faith's final word. 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, to-day, and for ever. It is Christ
dead and risen that has the key of life. It is living faith
in His living, giving, and saving God.

5. So, the practical solution of life by the soul is out-
side life. The destiny of experience is beyond itself. The
lines of life's moral movement and of thought's nisus con-
verge in a point beyond life and history. 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.

We may illustrate from that great mirror of life the
stage. History is a grand drama, it is not a mere process.
It is not a book of Genesis but a book of Job, not a succes-
sion of generations, but one vast act of regeneration. (It
is certainly more than a mere school or palaestra for train-
ing.) It is not a swelling procession of people or of prin-
ciples. It has a providence, an issue, a teleology, a
denouement. And all great drama, Greek or Shakespearean,
has a divinity over it for its providence. That was the
judgment of these great seers on life. God is in human
affairs, and not simply as an immanence (what does that
matter ?), but as a control. All life has God and His
vast providence and purpose in it. Now all dramas are
either comedies or tragedies. If life were a great comedy,
the grand solution and reconcilement would come in its
palpable close. All would be gathered up and finished off


there. Life would be rounded, after some jars, with a
heavenly smile. We should have but the story with the
happy ending, all in one volume. But life is too large,
and it moves in curves too great, to be trimmed down and
rounded off in our brief first volume. There are two
volumes at least. The powers at war in it (if I change the
figure) are too vast to settle the eternal issue in a campaign
so short.

' History,' says Wellhausen, meaning the course of
history, ' takes no account of the good will. Indeed,
altogether, it does not reckon with men but with acts. It
does not confine the effects of actions to the doer ; it
punishes folly and weakness heavier than sin. It can
make no act as if it had never been. It takes no notice
of change of heart. In short, history is, in its effect on
the individual, a tragedy ; and no tragedy has a satis-
fying close. And in the case of the prophets, history
carried their position far beyond their people yea, beyond
the world.'

jlf we turn to the modern mind, and if we read the series
of Shakespeare's plays in their order, we should see this
illustrated as we moved from As You Like It to Hamlet,
Lear, and Othello. As the passions grow in greatness, the
solution at death becomes more incomplete, more of a
patchwork. The action is not concluded within the play.
It goes sounding on a dim and perilous way beyond. The
curtain does not end all. Even if the close be no more
than a dim celestial sound of harpers harping on their
harps, Shakespeare does stir the prophetic sense of the
Divinity throughout all, and the great surmise of a solution
beyond. J Such serious art issues in religion the moral
realism of tragedy in supernatural faith. (And so, as the
scale, complexity, and gravity of human lif e grow in history
and civilisation, as the dimensions of the soul expand, the
divine solution is pushed outside life more and more. The
key is in the Beyond ; though not necessarily beyond


death, but beyond the world of the obvious, and palpable,
and common-sensible. (Yea, beyond the inward it really
is.) The solution of all is indicated as outside all.J But
it is indicated. The unhappy endings do so indicate to
the seer's eye. Failure is not yet destruction nor final
defeat. Such closes are both prayers and prophecies.
They mean that God alone may end things when they
become as bad as they are great. ' Real life is always
misrepresented by those who wish to make it lead up to
a conclusion. God alone may do that. The greatest
geniuses have never concluded ' (Flaubert). -

And so it should always be in great art. Why should
any writer throw down before us the sordid, confused,
miserable, or tragic in life if he cannot set them in that
divine light or its dawn ? For writer or reader to be able
to linger on these things, and carefully set them out
unrelieved and unredeemed, may betoken hard nerves or
shrewd sense more than true insight or triumphant faith.
We need not demand happy endings if only we are made
to feel the atmosphere of moral triumph, the presentiment
of a grand consummation, and the dawn of an eternal
reconciliation. ' The play, with Shakespeare, is not all.
It but shapes for something beyond. And so we take our
stand according to the judgment of the Divinity beyond.
We believe what we cannot see, and so we are exalted and
purged in our outlook on life ' (Darrell Figgis on Shake-
speare). We settle down at last only in God's estimate
of life, God's judgment of it all, God's gift to it, God's
product from it. We sit down in His kingdom. The
course of history is not the world judgment, as has been
too lightly said since Schiller. It is not time that judges
time, but eternity always looking in upon time. After death
the real judgment ! ' But what a terror to add to life ! '
it may be said. ' Why haunt and cow us thus ? ' But
surely rather, what a hope and joy ! Judgment is the
grand rectification of all things. Such is the Bible, the


Christian, idea of judgment. It is a joy, a glorious hope.
You think of hell and heaven but think of righteousness,
with all things lying glorious in that golden light, and
their traffic moving mightily and sweetly in its glow.

Was it not pre-eminently as I have described with the
greatest of all life-dramas, the tragedy of Christ ? Did
the earthly fate of that soul fit its sanctity ? Did death
make a rounded, closed, finished thing of that life a thing
aesthetically complete like the life of the aged Goethe or
Wordsworth ? No, indeed. So much so that some have
ventured to say He never was, and never claimed to be,
Messiah on earth ; He was only to be Messiah when He
returned from heaven to earth for a new and glorious
career. That view is but partly true true in what it
affirms, not in what it denies. It is true in so far as that
the only explanation of that death comes from beyond it ;
not from Christ's earthly teaching among His disciples,
but from His posthumous inspiration which made them
apostles of a victorious Cross that settled eternal things.
That Cross was not for them a martyrdom sealing the past
but a redemption securing the future. If the Cross was a
mere martyrdom, and ended all, it really upset all. It did
not overcome the world. It solved nothing. Nay, it aggra-
vated everything. It deepened the problem. The best
of men met the worst of fates and succumbed, and God
said nothing and did nothing. No solemn shock of
judgment justified Christ or confounded His slayers. His
faith was the great illusion. Nay, the Cross alone is no
solution without the solution for the Cross itself, the
Resurrection, and all its train beyond Christ's death. The
solution of life is death shown practically as a victory
over death of every kind.

Consider in this light also the vast drama of history.
Again remember my object. It is to glorify the creative
finality of Christ not to enlarge on evolution. There are
happily still people who ask what all the long and tragic


train of history means, what great thing does it intend,
what destiny is it moving to, where its close shall be.
To what do all things work together ? They ask what is
it all worth at last, what is to be the end of earth's long
historic day. Is it sheer oblivion or another morning ?
Has history a destiny worth all its awful cost ? Do all
its large lines converge on anything, its throbbing sorrows,
its soaring aspirations, its tragedies sordid or sublime, its
dreadful conflicts, its splendid achievements, its miserable
failures, its broken hearts and ruined civilisations, its
conquests over nature and its collapses into it do they
all curve in some vast trend and draw together to a due
close ? Is it an end that can ever make them worth while ?
Do they all work together for good and love ? What
does man mean ? Or are you so happy with the children,
or so engrossed in your enterprises, that you can spare
no attention to ask about the movement, the meaning,
the fate of the race ? There is a whole type of religion to

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Online LibraryPeter Taylor ForsythThe justification of God; lectures for war-time on a Christian theodicy → online text (page 18 of 20)