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

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ism, the cult of material efficiency, and the growth of
terrorism in the social action of, for instance, the women
and the workmen. In the course of history it is hard to
trace any unitary and beneficent plan of operations. War,
which is the triumph of plan, is moral anarchy. Nothing
is so efficient as a bomb. Civilisation, as mere organisation
and machinery, ends there. It is deadly bombast (if the
play were allowed) worked, like a Zeppelin, by inflation.
As we become civilised, we grow in power over every-



THEODICY 11

thing but ourselves, we grow in everything but power
to control our power over everything. Man, from the
land, can harness the seas to serve him, but the winds and
the waves do not obey him.

Shall we, then, in search of a unity of the race, turn from
questioning either human origins or the historic career ?
From the past shall we turn to the future ? Shall we turn
to seek a common destiny a goal of values if not a scheme
of operations, a meaning if not a system of the world?
But if we could scarcely find a conspiracy of righteousness
in the historic career we do know, shall we succeed better
in speculating about the trend of a future we do not ?
Does the study of history breed the spirit of prophecy ?
If a sure past do not promise a reign of love, is there more
hope from a conjectural future ? % Is there then some
combination of past and future in our hands, of life's deep
ground and its final goal ? If the course of history promise
little by induction, is there a point of history which does
more by insight ; which at once exhibits a goal both of
God's purpose and man's progress, and has power to
make that goal realise itself, power to make it, while goal,
at the same time the active ground of the historic career ?
If we have no self -projected goal which is more than an
ideal, have we one given, descending from God, to be
within us the final principle and deep dynamic of human
growth ? Is it there, in a redeemed destiny, that we
find a faith and a unity refused by our first origin or our
long career ?

Such at least is the Christian faith, which is the religion
of a historic point in Christ's Cross, and of a moral point
in the human conscience, with their crisis of grace and
guilt. The focus of the race is moral, in the conscience.
' Morality is the nature of things.' Guilt is therefore
the last problem of the race, its one central moral
crisis ; and the Cross that destroys it is the race's



12 THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD

historic crisis and turning-point. Were there no sin,
there would be no war. Were there no world sin,
there would be no world war. War makes at least one
contribution to human salvation it is sin's apocalypse.
It reveals the greatness and the awfulness of evil, and
corrects that light and easy conception of it which had
come to mark culture and belittle redemption. This war's
revelation of human wickedness may perhaps do some-
thing to relieve us of a comely and aesthetic type of religion
which is founded, not on a salvation, but on the divine excel-
lence of that glorious creature man, and on the facilities
for his evolution. It may recall us to the estimate of
him presented by the very existence of Christianity as a
religion, which declares his one need to be redemption.

' I still, to suppose that true for my part
See reasons and reasons ; this, to begin,

'Tis the faith that launched pointblank her dart
At the head of a lie taught original sin

The corruption of man's heart. '

The final revelation of God is a redemption, and not a
mere manifestation. It is something done and not just
shown. And it is effected in man at the depth of his
moral despair, and not at the height of his esthetic pride
and cultured insight.

All deep and earnest experience shows us, and not
Christianity alone, that the unity of the race lies in its
moral centre, its moral crisis, and its moral destiny. It
is in the moral region that all our beneficent hopes and
efforts for others wreck ; we can deal with their bad luck,
but not with their moral failure. It is there we find that
the deepest thing* in life is not an ordered process but a
tragic collision and despair. ' Thou hast delivered my
soul from the lowest hell.' Life is not a mere movement
but a battle. And it is there that the battle must be
won which carries sound culture and everything else with



THEODICY 13

it. All comes back to the conscience, to a will in relation
to a Will. The only universal religion is the religion of '
the conscience and its redemption. It is a religion of
moral redemption. All its affectional power and beauty
centres there, in holy love. And the Church is divided,
and the world is at strife, because this note has been
lost from Christianity, or made other than central and
creative. Almost all who are driven to unfaith by '
the horrors of history seem to have cherished a faith
based entirely on the teaching of Christ ; they had been
cherishing, that is, not a faith but an ideal, not a power
but a programme. The Gospel owes its world power to its
revealing the righteousness of God in action on the Cross
(Rom. i. 16, 17). There springs the dynamic for the
Christian ideal. There rises the new creation that realises
it. It is a matter of righteousness. If there is a unity of
the race, its source is the unity of God (that is, His moral
holiness) ; its power is righteousness, its field is the
conscience, and its warrant is in God's treatment of the
conscience once for all in Christ's Cross. The root of
conscience is in our sense of responsibility, our sense of
being trustees and subjects i.e. our sense of divine
power and majesty over us. We are not here for free- I
dom, but for responsibility. We are responsible for
our very freedom. It is in his conscience then that
man is one, and, above all, in what is done with his
conscience by the power it owns supreme. Conscience is
conscience because it owns to that power an obligation,
which, as a matter of actual fact, is guilt. Morality
culminates in repentance. Human unity is therefore one
of deliverance. It is one of dependence, true, but of a
sinner's dependence, of forgiveness, reconciliation, re-
generation, the sense of a descending power and a giving,
saving grace. We do not achieve unity by our resource,
we receive it as a gift to our spiritual poverty, and as a
creation out of our last distress of dissolution. Our



14 THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD

destiny is found in our tragedy and not in our idyll, not
in our hour of triumph but in our depth of distress. If
man is one in conscience, he is not one by conscience ;
for by itself it reveals guilt and division. The unity is a
unity effected by God in conscience, in the tragedy of
our conscience, and not simply its voice or law. It is
His gift of release to conscience, His reconstruction of it.
It is not at last a matter of our conscience but of Christ
in our conscience. It is a divine reconciliation, but a
reconciliation of the conscience more even than of the
affections (cp. 2 Cor. v. 19 with 21) ; it is a recall
from guilt and not from mere coldness. And it is a recon-
ciliation which means re-creation and not mere rehabilita-
tion, as being the birth of a power in us and not merely
the gift to us of a state. It is the reconciliation given to
the conscience of the race by a holy grace, which must
judge conscience, but which judges it in Christ and upon
Him. This reconciliation comes to a head in our worship
of a moral Redeemer, and the faith of a destiny of righteous-
ness, which, though now working in history, is not to be
traced on its course but trusted at its source in Him.
Paul, in the whole of Romans, holds closely together the
universality of the Gospel and the seat of its power in the
righteousness of God (Rom. i. 17).

That moral certainty of God's conquering holiness is the
only foundation of any faith in man's unity, when the last
pinch comes. It is not in himself but in his God as his
Saviour. It is his unity in a Redeemer and a Redemption,
a unity not natural but supernatural, not by evolutionary
career but by mortal crisis, not in the first creation but the
second, not in generation but regeneration. Nothing can
give us footing or hope amid the degeneration of man but
his regeneration by God. God's method with evil is not
prevention but cure. And this is the note of the Church,
moral reconciliation, holy regeneration, upon a world
scale the new Humanity. This faith is the only con-



THEODICY 15

dition, nay, the only creator, of Church unity ; and it is
the only creator, through the Church's Gospel, of the unity
of the race and its peace. In the crises which shake all the
foundations of society, the Church of the Gospel alone is
sure of the end. Augustine wrote the City of God after the
sack of Rome. But even the Church has neither a word
to say nor a power to act except by this evangelical faith
and this theological ethic. If the redeeming act of God is
but a theological theme, then the Church must be as
ineffectual and negligible as any community of hobbyists or
essayists may be. But with a theological faith in God's real
act and presence we have the world goal in advance, with-
out such a faith we have no world goal assured ; and there-
fore we have no world ethic, for lack of a world standard.
And the ethic of the State then becomes absolute, as
it is made in Germany there being neither a holy God
nor a solidary race to overrule national egoism. And yet
the neglect, and even contempt, of such an evangelical
ground has spread from the world into the Church itself.
And so the first work before the Church is to set her own
house in order, to return to the Cross as the source of the
Spirit, to moralise her conceptions of a Holy Spirit, and,
by courting anew at such a Gospel her own moral re-
generation, to acquire that note of moral authority which
gives practical power and historic weight to all her mystic
insight and her sympathetic help. It is not help that
either the Church or the world needs most. It is power.
It is life. It is moral regeneration. If the greatest boon
in the world is Christ's Holy Father, the greatest curse in
the world is man's unfilial guilt. Whatever, therefore,
undoes the guilt is the solution of the world. Everything
will follow upon that peace and power. The righteous-
ness which reconciles and secures everything is the holi-
ness which destroys guilt in its very exposure. It is God's
holy and atoning love making a new world in Christ's
Cross.



16 THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD

This means, for the Church, not only a fresh submission
of her conduct to the testing light of the Gospel, but a
fresh grasp and construction of that Gospel ; so as to
bring, indeed, the old searching ray to bear on her deeds,
but, still more, so as to create and kindle a new ideal,
standard, and power of moral life in the spiritual society
itself.



I.] EXPECTATIONS OF POPULAR RELIGION 17



CHAPTER I

THE EXPECTATIONS OF POPULAR RELIGION AND THEIR
FATE. RELIGION AS CENTRED ON GOD AND CENTRED
ON MAN

A FIRST-RATE calamity to humanity like a European war
is to the Christian insight the suicide of natural civilisa-
tion, which always tends to die dissolved in its own keen
dialectic, or stupefied by its own crude surfeit. It is God
in judgment of godlessness. But it must create in many
minds, whose faith, perhaps, has owed more to Christian
culture than to its moral Gospel, something beyond a
doubt a denial, of a God and Providence in the world.
Of Providence and God, I say. When the one goes, the
other goes ; for there is no place for a God who reigns
but does not govern. If the belief in a Providence goes,
there is little occasion for belief in a God. Not as though
belief in a God rested on a traceable Providence. It does
not. But such belief is the only ground for trusting a
Providence whose ways are beyond us and His strategy
past finding out. We do not find God from His provi-
dential conduct of history. We cannot discern His plan
of campaign. We cannot follow out His thought, how-
ever we trust His will. The tactics of Providence cannot
be traced. His judgments pass knowledge. But, ' where
God's judgments are not to be discovered, His counsel is
not to be neglected ' (Augustine). His purpose we have,
and His heart. We have Him. And we find Him elsewhere
than in a sustained policy of affairs at a revelationary
point of history. But at the same time, if we could find

B



18 THE JUSTIFICATION OP GOD [CH.

no trace of His conduct of man's career, or no possibility
of it, we might well ask whether His existence was called
for at all. Cui bono ? If the victory went to the mere
tutelar deity of a race, and not to the God of the Kingdom,
there would be plenty of people to say at present that
the world is no better for such a God.

I say it is inevitable that world calamities should
encourage the denials of those who denied before. Their
shock also makes sceptics of many whose belief had arisen
and gone on only under conditions of fine weather, happy
piety, humming progress, and of a religion drawing but on
the sympathies and not the ethic of the soul, on heart
without conscience. Such a result is inevitable for many,
with the presuppositions that underlie much popular faith,
and that have even come to dominate modern faith at
levels higher than the popular. For what is the tacit
understanding in current religion which leaves it at the
mercy of social or other convulsions ? I have hinted it
in the preceding lecture. In theological language it is
anthropocentric religion, which has displaced theocentric.
That is to say, it is man's preoccupation with humanity
and its spiritual civilisation or culture. It is the religious
egoism of Humanity, i.e. man's absorption with himself,
instead of with God, His purpose, His service, and His
glory. It is a greater anxiety to have God on our side
than to be upon His. We are willing to owe many things
to God, only not ourselves and our destiny absolutely.

Everything has come to turn on man's welfare instead
of God's worship, on man with God to help him and not
on God with man to wait upon Him. The fundamental
heresy of the day, now deep in Christian belief itself, is
humanist. It is the humanism and humanitarianism
which events are now reducing to an absurdity as a
religion. This tendency may have been prepared by the
Catholic principle that God became Man that man might



i.] EXPECTATIONS OF POPULAR RELIGION 19

become God, or by Pelagian synergism ; but it represents
the extreme reaction, under Rousseau, from that Jesuitism
and that Calvinism which, in the seventeenth century,
saved religion in both camps by beginning and ending
with God and His glory instead of man and his weal.
Elated by our modern mastery of nature and cult of genius,
and ridden by the superstition of progress (now unseated) ,
we came to start with that excellent creature, man, his
wonderful resources, his broadening freedom, his widening
heart, his conquest of creation, and his expanding career.
And, as with man we begin, with man we really end. God
is there but to promote and crown this development of
man, if there be a God at all. To this has come a Gospel
of mere Fatherhood, of divine value without divine right,
of God as an asset instead of a King, a God of great kind-
ness without absolute Majesty, of swift pity without holy
mercy, of sacrificing love without atoning righteousness
or reigning power. ' Ye have made me to serve.' The
Father is the banker of a spendthrift race. He is there
to draw upon, to save man's career at the points where
it is most threatened. He is a God of nothing but loving
sacrifice for His son man, who, with such a Father, grows
up the spoilt child that parental service without parental
demand is sure to make. To that has come the Father-
hood, though for Christ its first claim, and the first peti-
tion in His prayer, was that it should be hallowed and
not exploited. It was the one issue between Christ and
Israel. He would sanctify God, they would use Him. They
had most things in common with Christ but that object,
as indeed we have. But the thing they had not wrecked
all they had. They had a zeal for God, and a God benign.
And to our zeal He has become a God of loving- kindness
more than of loving power, of everlasting pity and no moral
majesty, no holiness. He is of infinite value to us with-
out absolute right. He is Father in a sense that leaves no
room for love's severity, its searching judgment, or its



20 THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD [OH.

absolute sovereignty with the right to make demand on
man and no reason given, and no light shown on the spot.
He is Father only so long as He meets the instincts and
aspirations of man's heart. We are familiar with the
heathen habit of beating the god who is too stingy to the
worshippers' prayers. It survives in unexpected quarters
at the severest strains. ' If God permit my heartbreak,
He shall have no more of my faith. If He put out the light
of my home, He is too heartless for my heart. If He
permit the wreck, by its own unsupported weight, of any-
thing which my heart calls so good as humanitarian
civilisation, He is no God for worship of mine. How can
I trust such a God ? ' There is a tale of which only the
form is childish : ' I will pray to Him all this week for
an engine, and if He don't give it me I shall worship
idols.'

We may here impale in passing two complementary
fallacies about love. First, that it is enjoyment, and not
service and sacrifice. This was Bossuet's vulgar and
popular error in his conflict with Fenelon. And, second,
that love, when it becomes holy love, has no duties or
sacrifices to itself. The correction of these two errors is
the great function of Christian history, the moralisation
of love. Truly, God alone knows the love of God, and
how entirely we owe everything to it. But it is some-
thing else than human affection raised to infinity.

It is indeed hard to discuss such a frame of mind as I
have described when it meets us in people who cannot
see for tears, cannot think for heartbreak, and cannot
believe for shock their best and dearest hopes, private or
public, being in ruins at their feet. There seems no God
in a black world. ' If Thou hadst been here, my son, my
husband had not died.'

The insistence on a heroic and theocentric faith may seem
but heartless to those who are helpless in the last distress.



I.J EXPECTATIONS OF POPULAR RELIGION 21

Let this then be said about an anthropocentric Christianity.
It has its precious place and great rights. It is the first
stage of sainthood. Christ, indeed, means ' God for us,'
and our need, our despair, is His opportunity ; but in
such a way that He converts our blessings into His praise,
and His Spirit does not return to Him void. That is to
say, whereas we begin with ' God for us ' by His grace,
we end with ' We for God ' by our faith. He so answers
our prayer that we come to ask Him nothing, and we are
lifted in self-oblivion to adore. His supreme value to us is
to lift us to realise His loving right to us. He so hears our
' Lord, do my will,' that we close with ' Thy will be done,'
in a mood which is co-operant much more than resigned.
And, after all, if we seek Him for His blessing to us, that
is still incipiently theocentric ; for it is His will, and not
our dream, that He should be thus sought.

But another thing. It may be wrong to transfer the
craving frame of mind directly to the larger egoisms,
social or patriotic. In our personal religion we begin
with God for us. God, by His own will, is for our soul
first its redeemer, then its sanctifier into self-forgetfulness.
He so saves us from ourselves that some have risen to say
they were willing to be lost for His glory. But it may not
follow that such anthropocentrism is His providential way
for the larger unities, the group-unities whose personality
is incomplete. The nations are from the first for God and
His Kingdom more than He for them. No nation is an
end in itself as a soul is. The idea of a group-personality
is a great and fertile one, but it can hardly be allowed
to go as far as that. It befits the Church better than the
nation, since the Church has what no nation has a per-
sonal Holy Spirit at its core for the permanent source of
all its life and change. But we cannot offhand transfer
to a people the features or the destinies of the individual
soul. We have not, for instance, learned to think of
nationality as immortal in the way a soul is immortal.



22 THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD [CH.

Nor can we think of it as communing with God like either
the soul or the Church. It is not easy to think that God
loves the perishable nation in the sense in which He loves
either the souls that compose it or the human race it is
there to bless. Nor is the nation entitled to the absolute
devotion of any soul, since in its history necessity plays, if
not a greater part than freedom, yet a part too great for
the allegiance of a soul, where freedom takes the lead.
Patriotism is not religion. God does not love one nation
at the cost of the rest. In His free grace He is for nations
only as they are for Him, though He is there for our souls
before we are for Him, and as the only means of making
us for Him. They are ends in themselves as nations
are not. Nations are too impersonal to be the objects
of His grace as souls are. They may be His instruments
more than His servants, and both more than His friends.
They are there for Him more than He for them. A
theodicy of history must take this into account, and must
not treat national ambitions as sympathetically as those
egoist desires which are sound enough for private religion
in its beginning. We have, as nations, the right to expect
the help of God not as we have a pride of place, but only
as we may be of more use than our foes to the Kingdom
of God in the world, and not to mere civilisation. In
the diplomacy of war it might be an error, stupid and
grave, perhaps fatal, that one nation should leave another
out of account. But it would be more dense and disastrous
still for both to leave out of account the Kingdom of
God, and in the policy of States to ignore entirely the
principle of the Church.

World calamity bears home to us the light way in
which, through a long peace and insulation, we were
coming to take the problem of the world, and especially
its moral problem. ' We do not now bother about sin '
was said with some satisfaction. The preachers pro-



L] EXPECTATIONS OF POPULAR RELIGION 23

tested in vain against that terrible statement those of
them that had not lost their Gospel in their culture.
But they were damned with the charge of theology. And
now God enters the pulpit, and preaches in His own way
by deeds. And His sermons are long and taxing, and they
spoil the dinner. Clearly God's problem with the world
is much more serious than we dreamed. We are having a
revelation of the awful and desperate nature of evil. The
task which the Cross has to meet is something much greater
than a pacific, domestic, fraternal type of religion allows
us to face. Disaster should end dainty and dreamy
religion, and give some rest to the winsome Christ and
the wooing note. It should discourage a religion more
romantic than classic, which sacrifices the institutional
truth of faith entirely to its intimate mood, a religion
but bland and brotherly, in which the ethical note of
justification is smothered in a spurious type of recon-
ciliation. Let us hope that all will result in the dis-
covery of a holier mercy, through judgment braced, and
wise by more than pity by the conquest of the last
despair. It is a much wickeder world than our good
nature had come to imagine, or our prompt piety to
fathom. We see more of the world Christ saw. It calls
for a vaster salvation and a diviner Christ than we were
sinking to believe. And it must cast us back on re- .
sources in that Saviour which the mental levity of com-
fortable religion, lying back for a warm bath in its pew,
was coming to stigmatise as gratuitous theology. The
salvation of the world is a much greater agony and victory
than any but the very elite of the Church's faith had
seen, and it calls for more than a Cross merely kind and
sacrificial, or a Gospel but blithe and wise. The object
of God in His Gospel is something more than to multiply
cases of moral excellence in an atmosphere of spiritual
culture ; it is to produce a realm of justifying, glorifying
faith. That is man's chief end such a faith working



24 THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD [CH.

out into a kingdom of love God justifying man, and


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Online LibraryPeter Taylor ForsythThe justification of God; lectures for war-time on a Christian theodicy → online text (page 2 of 20)