Here’s the final part to Forsyth’s essay, Revelation, Old and New. O how we need to regrasp this stuff for today!
If people tell me, as they sometimes do, that all creation and all fife 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 every– where 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 falls 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 than to 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.