From Revelation Old and New: Sermons and Addresses by P.T. Forsyth, edited by John Huxtable (London: Independent Press, 1962)
REVELATION, OLD AND NEW
(delivered under the auspices of the Guilds of St Cuthbert's Parish Church, Edinburgh, 1911.)
But God commendeth His own love to us, in that,
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." —Romans 5:8
MAY I at the outset be a little theological? I must be, to be fair to my text. I promise to be quite religious and quite humane before I am done. But theology is to religion what principle is to life.
First, I would say, Revelation is really Redemption. The light was the life of men. The new light was the new life.
Second, Redemption is a thing of heart and soul and will and mind. Our thought of it must be humanized to the hungry heart, and it must be moralized to the guilty conscience.
First, then, Revelation is really Redemption. And here note three things.
GOD IN CHRIST DOES HIS OWN LOVING, GIVING, SACRIFICING, AND SAVING.
Two mistakes are made about Revelation. It is treated either as mere display of God or as mere statement of Him. We think of God either as allowing Himself to be seen or as allowing Himself to be explained. We think of Revelation either as a picture of God or as a truth about Him. He is regarded either as an object of contemplation or as an object of discussion, as a beatific vision or a dialectic theme, as the object either of a mysticism or of an orthodoxy. We are agreed that, if there be a revelation, it is God's gift, but we are not agreed about what He gives; whether it is a theophany of Himself or a declaration about Himself or something else. Some say Christ came to show us the Father, to show us His portrait, or sketch His character; others that He came to tell us of the Father, to give us His truth, His theology. In either case we have but portrayal. And it is hard to say which mistake has done more mischief—the notion that God's great gift is a picture of Himself to be admired, or the notion that it is a truth about Himself to be credited.
What God gave us was neither His portrait nor His principle; He gave us Himself—His presence, His life, His action. He did more than show us Himself, more than teach us about Himself—He gave us Himself, He sacrificed Himself. It is ourselves He seeks, therefore it was Himself He gave, life for life and soul for soul. He asks us for life-committal, because it was His life He committed to us. He gave us love by giving us Himself to love. He does not make His love and goodness just to pass before us in a panorama; nor does He lay it out parcelled so that we may readily just take it or leave it. Where would then be the urgency of Christ—His fmal and awful dilemma put to us e God carries His love home to us. He will not let us alone with it. He invades us with it. He "commends" it to us—not in the sense of praising it, but of committing it into our hands. He takes the last pains to get it home to us; nay, He carries it home Himself, does it all Himself. He "commends His own love". He does not woo us by proxy. Christ was no mere messenger, but present God. The divine Lover is His own apostle. He did not simply send His Son; He came in His Son, and in His Son's cross. God was in Christ's reconciling. He did not simply make use of death, of His Son's death—He died. 'Surely what the Son suffered cost the Father even more. When Paul spoke to the Galatians about his preaching of Christ, he says he "placarded Christ" before them (Gal. iii. 1), made a great exhibition of Him, writ Him large, made ,a show of Him, and glorified Him openly. That was an apostle's work. He depicted Christ, and pointed to Christ, and commended Christ. He said "Hear me,"—not, "Look to me," but "Look to Christ," "Receive Christ." He preached not himself. No apostle did. They preached Christ, and were Christ's apostles. But Christ did say "Look to me." In Christ God was His own apostle. God directed Himself, nay, sped Himself, to the human heart in Christ. He did not employ another. God was not to Christ as Christ was to Paul. Paul was sacramental to us for Christ, but Christ was mediatorial to us for God. Christ is not vicarious for God as He is for us. He was continuous with God as He is not with us. He did not represent God to us on the same principle as He does us to God. Christ dying therefore was God commending His own love to us. The Cross was no mere assurance of God's love, but its action. Christ was the love of God giving itself to us, the grace of God bestowing, spending, pouring itself out on us, the holiness of God reclaiming us to holiness, not turning us toward it, but replacing us in it. God does not love us by deputy; He does not give us by deputy; He does not save us by deputy. He brings and wings His own love. His holiness takes its own consequences in an evil world. He does His own suffering and ,saving. He is a jealous God. None but Himself shall redeem us for Himself. He is a monopolist of sacrifice. He does not part with the agony and glory of the Cross to any creature. None shall outdo Him in sacrifice. No creature has a right to sit with God on the throne of the Cross. It was no created being that died for us. Creatures as we are, it is in no created Spirit that we can live. Our Redemption is too costly for any but our Creator, and a creature must let it alone for ever.
a word Revelation is Redemption. The new light is new life. God reveals His
own self to us sinners in that
Christ dies for us. We are not sages, we are sinners. Already by its intelligence the world knew not God. And there is no other way of revealing God to sinners but by redeeming them. We must be redeemed into the power of understanding a holy revelation. Does it not come to that? The Revelation is not a glorification of love as a poet might do it. It is not an illustration of it like a parable. The Son of God was not a mere symbol of God, an illustration. God's revelation of love is the bestowal of love as a lover does. It is not a show but a sacrament. Nay, it is more. It is not the donation of love as a thing—as something which God could detach, hand over, pour out, and part with. God's love is God loving. It is the gift of Himself who is love, given in the only way that love could give itself to loveless men, by the way of death. God's answer to us is the word of reconciliation. And we answer it not by being impressed, and not by being convinced, but by being conciliated, by being reconciled,—by an eternal life of communion. For it was a revelation once for all and for ever. Do I carry you with me ?
LET US MOVE ANOTHER STAGE FORWARD.
Revelation to sinners must be redemption, not chiefly because it is love, but because it is holy love. "His own love." God Himself, I have said, does His own revealing of Himself as Saviour without prophet or deputy. But that word "His own" has another shade of meaning. God's love in Christ was not only not vicarious : it was His own in another sense. It was unique in kind. There was, there is, nothing like it anywhere. It is holy love, a love peculiar to Him. God so loved—not so intensely but so peculiarly, in such a special way, so holily. He did not come with even the best human love lifted and made infinite. That is sacred but not holy. He came with another kind altogether, of which the love of mortals, however intense and tender, is but a symbol.
Do you ask what love is when it rises as high as God? Here it is. Herein is love, not that we loved passionately, but that He loved holily. Do you want to know what love really is and does at its height? You must not go to love in sinful men who, being evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, but to love in holy God, who gives His native holiness. You must not go to lovable men and women, nor to those who are the great lovers of each other in fact or in romance, but to the love of the evil world by the holy historic God. You want to know what fatherhood is? You must not magnify and cast upon the heavens the image of the best of mortal fathers. You must not go to a deduced fatherhood—deduced from man and imported into God. You must not import fatherhood into God, nor goodness, patience, pity, sacrifice. That would be working in quite the wrong way, moving in quite the wrong direction for religion. Religion begins with a revelation that comes down, not a passion that goes up. We must not reverse the divine current. It would be what is called anthropomorphism. It is imposing man on God instead of revealing God through man. Our love is God's speech but not His Word.
No. We do not understand God from religion but religion from God. But where is He, you say, if not in my heart? He is in history. We must go to history, to Christ, and find the fontal Father there, the absolute Father, from whom all fatherhood is named in heaven and earth. He is in our experience but not of it. We must go to Christ's Holy Father. Christianity is not fatherhood but holy fatherhood. We must go to the Father whose love is holiness going out to love men back to itself, and whose grace is holiness going down to love them up to itself. His own love means it is holy love.
AND ONE STEP MORE
How is holy love to be revealed to unholy men? How is the outgoing holiness to reach theme How but by death God knew what He had to expect when He committed His holy self among evil men. It was shame and death. There is no way but the Cross of committing a holy love to such a world as this. The gospel of a holy God is not soon popular. The holier your love of men is the more you will suffer and be rejected with it. God Almighty knew, for Himself even, no way but the Cross to the hearts and wills of evil men. Nature is to be sanctified by no genial grace, by no loving charm, but by suffering grace. It only sanctifies be-cause it redeems, it only redeems because it atones, it only atones because it dies in holy obedience, it only dies to rise, and it rises, as it died, by the spirit of holiness (Rom. i. 4). God's holiness makes in Christ its own atonement, commends its own love as grace, does its own justification, and redeems us into its own communion.
But you misdoubt me, you pursue me, you press me. And you accuse me of theology. Revelation is a great word, you say. It suggests great things and powers—sea, hill, and sky, a world of living passionate men and women. And Redemption suggests old folios, dead and done with. You ask to know if we must confine revelation to Christ and the Cross with their systems and sermons, if it means but redemption, if it come home but by justification. Must we use these dry old schemes and names? Is there no language, no action of a more human and hearty kind for God and His ways, none of a kind more literary, and poetic, and sympathetic? Is revelation not a word too large for these shrunk theological terms? Is not all illumination revelation—the light of nature, of reason, of the heart? Is there no revelation in earth's daily splendour around us, in heaven's mighty glory above us, in the heart's tender or tragic voice within use The lover, the mother, the child, the poet, the thinker, the hero—is there no revelation there? Oh, surely ! It would be heartless and soulless to deny it. It would disqualify any man for discussing the subject. The inhuman heart is no 'expositor of the love of God. To sear our affections is no way to commend God's. But after all, these things are but as moonlight unto sunlight.
sun at noon
To God is moon."
They reveal a borrowed light. The light they have comes from their reflection of the Sun of the soul—the Saviour. For, in the first place, they but suggest God rather than they assure Him to us. And what we want for our faith, to stake our eternal soul on, is absolute certainty. The matter of religion is God Himself in the soul; the result of it is certainty. And again, they suggest Him to individuals rather than make Him sure to a world. They appeal also to the pure in heart rather than to the sinful soul, soiled and dark and outside God. You will come to a pass one day when the glorious world falls from you, the dearest must leave you, your nerve perhaps is broken, you have no witness of a good conscience, and your self-respect no more sustains you. Poetry and happiness, knowledge and sensibility, end perhaps in moral wreck. That is the time for real revelation. Man's extremity is God's great opportunity. Then, as never before, you need a light that does not fail. You need the revelation indeed, the one certainty for which you would exchange all the mere impressions you ever felt. And then, as when the first light arose, it rises with a new creation. God made us in order to understand His creative love; and so He must make us over again if we are to understand anything so tremendous, so incredible as His redeeming love, the gift of Himself and His mercy. It is beyond human power to believe in the mercy of a holy God when we need it most. Just when you most need it, you cannot rise to it. If you could, you would not need it. It is a miracle. But when you do arrive there, then everything is a revelation. It is a new heaven—and a new earth. You go down to your new house justified.
True enough, we are led on from revelation to revelation as life presses and opens on us. But it is the final revelation that carries the secret and fixes the colours of them all. And is it not your justification?
What is the word to your conscience and its collapse? What moral reserves are you laying up?
Do we not know the passion of knowledge, its joy, its glow; and the knowledge of passion, its fire and sting? Are the young among you not in the midst of it all? Have we not heard the message of the dim woods? And silent upon a peak have we never felt the appeal of the whole world lying in light at our feet? From a sunset the new Jerusalem has descended on us, adorned with all manner of precious stones. The breath of the breeze and the bloom of the flowers, dews in the valley and mist on the hill, cloud shadows lying lightly on long braes and murmuring stripies hidden among the heather—were such things no revelations to us of a kind in their time? Again, do we not know the joy of new truth, poetic beauty, the spell of grand ideals? Was the world not once crystalline for us in Shelley, opal in Tennyson, ruby in Rossetti? Was life not newly intimate for us in Shakespeare, and greatness majestic in Milton? Are we not touched any more by the divine thing in love's young dream? Are we ignorant how it transfigures all the world and uplifts all the soul—all the colour of life in the heart of one pearl, all the wonder of it in the heart of one girl? Do we want to forget the wholeheartedness of our young hero-worship, when we found one man who seemed either to eclipse or glorify all the rest of Humanity? Or again, in the clash of living wills, the successful sense of power, the ruling word of conscience, had we no revelation of the crushing sense of loss and failure, does there come no suggestion of the Cross by which that mastery was won for ever? In the long tale of human history—its romance, its tragedy, its achievement, its fascination—is there no light that leaps out on us from there, nothing that makes us other men, nothing that opens up divine reaches of being ? Is there no call of fife, clarion and trumpet, that takes us from the sensual world and an age without a name, and makes us thrill to the crowded hours of glorious life?
To come quite near home. How many a youth in the years of romance feeds his imagination in this, the loveliest and most romantic city in the world? But the romance of Edinburgh is not in its beauty only, it is in its history, and all its history stands for. The glamour and tragedy of our Scottish past is there—a romantic Queen-Mariolatry it becomes to some who do not feel the mystic Mariolatry of the Queen of Rome at all. Such things enlarge and humanize the spell laid on us by the witchery of this city. All Scot-land's past is in it. And chiefly there is in it the Church of our people, which has made Scotland the best that she is, and sent out from Scotland the best she has done. Our sense of Scotland's beauty rises to the sense of its old romance; and its historic romance passes upwards into its historic faith. The charm of earth turns the power of God. Nature rises to history and history to religion.
That is a parable of the way of the soul and its history—the revelation of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Thus. We begin with a romantic revelation. We go on to a historic. We end in a moral and spiritual. We begin with a romantic religion. We cherish an idealism for which nothing is too good to be true. All geese are swans, and every maid a queen. Every father must surely be to his children what ours is to us. And above all the Father of all. We readily see a generous All-fatherhood brooding over the whole world. Nothing we think could be true which gave that the lie. And then, as our mind grows, our range grows. Knowledge comes of a vaster world. Idealism and poetry and all their glamour are enlarged by real contact with history, with life. Our idolatry of one or two people becomes the idealizing of the race. The charm of nature yields to the spell of all Humanity. Some people could take you to the very spot where at a certain hour the love of nature and home became love of humanity. The revelation is no more in the family but in history. And in the heart of history stands Christ, now more than the Jesus of heart and home. We believed in a universal Father; we now believe also in the Son. We believe in the Christ of the race, the Son of Man, the Man Divine. But we do not stop there. He becomes more than historic, he becomes a Son Eternal, the Son of God, a Son who never dies, never leaves us, a Son brought home in a Church. The Lord is the Spirit. The Holy God of Israel becomes the Holy Spirit of Christ, which makes me a sinner. We believe in a Father and Son who come down in the Spirit to our little door, in our Baptism, and home to our very soul by the saving Word. I perceive a message, a power, a salvation for me, individualized to me. We believe in the Holy Ghost. We believe in the will of the Eternal Father, the work of the historic Son, the Word, the Church of the Holy Ghost. The heart is no revelation for itself. It is too fickle, treacherous.
best of what
we are and feel,
Just God forgive."
History is no revelation, with its awful anomalies, its cruel passions, its egoisms, its barren conflicts and their uncertain ends. Man realizes God more than Nature does, only to defy Him more.
saw Him in the flowering of the field,
I marked Him in the shining of the stars,
But in his ways with men I found Him not."
And Newman found history a scroll written over with mourning and lamentation and woe. The Revelation is not history, though it is in history. It is historic in the Son and in the Church, it is near and searching in the Holy Ghost.
We began seeking God, because we felt so able and so sure to find Him. We end by serving Him, because He has sought and found us, disabled and unsure. We began with a love of justice, we end with a prayer for justification. We begin by willing and knowing, we end by being willed and known. "His will is our peace."
If people tell me, as they sometimes do, that all creation and all life is one vast revelation, one vast miracle, teeming at every particle and pore, that so far from denying revelation they see nothing else, I have a suspicion of the vague, the grandiose, the forced note, those colours that crack in life's heat, and that run in the swellings of Jordan. Truly revelation is the greatest of miracles, and the spiritual life is one vast miracle of revelation, because of the Holy Ghost. But it is not a miracle diffused over creation. The Omnipresence of God is not yet His nearness. Immanence is not yet communion. To know that God is there is one thing, to know that we are known of God is another. And that is true religion. The historic is not for religion the course of history but its core. Revelation is not something out of the everywhere into the here. That ends nowhere. It is a miracle condensed at a moral centre where life has a fierce crisis, not an outspread calm. There is more than the miracle of creation.
And it is the miracle of the creation within creation, of the new creation, the miracle of the Redemption. In all the cosmic ranges of space, in all the long reaches of crowded history, there is nothing so marvellous, so majestic as God's mercy in Christ to me a sinner. That is the revelation in all revelation. That is the new moral life, the new Humanity. That is what makes a religion a GREAT thing. If nature and history be so great and mighty as we now know them to be, what are we to say of the greatness of their God? It is too high, we cannot attain to it. Nature exhausts our imagination; how shall it compass God? If the mind flags and the heart fails in the effort to conceive the boundless power and tragic glory of creation, what strength have we left to pursue that way till it land us in the God of it all? We have none. And we must take another way. Or rather God takes another way with us. We cannot find Him in His world, and He must find us. But not there. He reveals His heart of grace neither in the cosmic scale of things nor in the demonic force of heroes, supermen, who are more ready perhaps to ravage thanto heal, who are not shepherds of the people but wolves. The greatness of power He changes to another order of greatness. The Almighty reveals Himself as the All Holy. A dreadful, crushing revelation, unless the holy God is revealed also as the God of all grace; unless revelation be redemption, unless it be God's self-justification in ours.
Because He is holy to see, I must not approach Him, but because He is holy to save, He must come to me, that no speck of His world remain which is not covered, claimed, and cured by Him; no soul which is not judged and redeemed into His fellowship. This holy, judging, redeeming, tender love of the awful God is the miracle of the moral world. Nothing is so miraculous in Christ as that union of infinite majesty and intimate mercy.
I began with a text, let me draw to a close with one. Some of the greatest texts of the Bible are not in the Bible but in the Apocrypha. And here is one from Sirach, "As is His majesty, so is His mercy." What a phrase to make music in the night ! There is no such majesty conceivable as the holiness of God; and in Christ's Cross, its judgment all comes down in mercy. It comes down, down, down to a poor bent rheumatic figure of a woman creeping and shaking along mean streets with a little old bonnet, a little old basket, and a pennyworth of stale bread in it. And one day the crooked shall be made straight, and her rough life plain. And it comes, that mercy comes down, if we could but get it to her, to that still poorer creature, dishevelled and unsexed, shot cursing of a Saturday night from a dram-shop in the Canongate. If such things lie somehow within the majesty of an immanent, patient, silent God, they are not outside His mercy. But it is a light thing that God should have mercy where we have pity. To such ruins our own pity flows promptly, and it is not God's crowning mercy that He should pity and restore these. Does His majesty go as far as mercy on Mephistopheles? Has He any mercy on those blackmailers and panders who batten on men's vices like vultures, spend their life jeering at goodness, and drink down souls like wine? Has He any mercy on those who grow rich by hounding on the nations to war? Any of those who ravage continents in the sheer lust of power? We can have none. Nor should we. If there be any, it is God's alone. True, the revelation is a world's redemption; but must these creatures survive to complete the world?
And yet there are times when we who judge thus can and should have no mercy on ourselves. There are dreadful hours, in souls of whom you would never think it, who do not argue "if God be merciful to that poor wreck, He can be merciful to me." The greatest hour is not reached till we have come to say, with him who called himself the chief of sinners, "If God has been merciful to me, there are none to whom He cannot."
That is the revelation of the Lord which is the beginning of heavenly wisdom. And with it the Church underlies the University and the State.
The Revelation we need most is that which comes to our darkest and most terrible hour, to man's centre in the conscience, and to the conscience in its impotent despair. It comes to the hour of our guilt. And what makes our guilt? Our guilt is made, and especially our best repentance is made, when we see the holiness of God, and care more that that should be made good than for our own salvation. And nothing else can save or quiet us but more revelation of more holiness, ,and that is redemption, the last revelation. The coming of perfect holiness is in the cross of Christ, which at once confounds, crowns, and recreates our moral world.