Revelation 13:1–8 describes a beast ‘rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads’ who is given power and authority from the great dragon of the previous chapter, a dragon intent on destroying the women and her offspring. The whole earth worships both the dragon and the beast not unlike Israel worshipped the golden calf, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’ (13:4). John goes on:
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. (13:6–8)
In light of this reality that John describes – a current reality for both God and for God’s people – Forsyth’s words are worth chewing on long and hard. Forsyth reminds us that the righteousness of God is not in a requirement, system, book, or Church, but in a Person, and sin is defined by relation to him. He came to reveal not only God but sin. The essence of sin is exposed by the touchstone of his presence, by our attitude to him. He makes explicit what the sinfulness of sin is; he even aggravates it. He rouses the worst as well as the best of human nature. There is nothing that human nature hates like a holy God. All the world’s sin receives its sharpest expression when in contact with Christ; when, in face of his moral beauty, goodness, power, and claim, he is first ignored, then discarded, denounced, called the agent of Beelzebub, and hustled out of the world in the name of God. The great sin against God was done in the name of God by genuine believers, by a Church. The sin against the Holy Ghost is real enough; but it is the sin of an age, rather than of an individual; and it is the sin of an age’s religion; not of its indifference or paganism, but its religion, its Church. It is the sin of those who believe in Satan enough to call satanic the very action of God. It is the sin of a religion. It is the sin of certain Churches in their treatment of others today. And it is preparing for certain Churches a great shock and awakening. The power of the Spirit acts by confounding and humbling the world (especially that part of it in the Church) with this discovery, that there is but one sin, the sin of touching the Son of God in his spiritual effects, and yet practically calling him the child of the devil, as the pre-Christian Church did. The Spirit’s judgement is not on the intellectual sceptic; that person is not a dangerous character in the Bible. It is the moral sceptic that is to be confounded, the Church worldling, the religious Pharisee, the breed of those who tried Christ the Trier of the reins, the living Conscience, and found him wanting. They knew the law as he did not, but they knew no better than to judge their Judge.
Whilst it may begin as indifference, the effect of sin upon God is so severe that it threatens God’s sovereignty, God’s righteousness, even his very being. ‘Sin is the death of God. Die sin must or God’, writes Forsyth. But this does not mean God’s annihilation, but ‘an encroachment upon his harmony’. ‘Sin … cost Godhead not Its existence but Its bliss. It cost the Son of God not His soul but all that makes life a conscious fullness and joy. It cost Him the Cross, and all that that meant for such a life as His.’ Forsyth insists that humanity’s sin has not destroyed or ‘in the least weakened’ God’s power and God’s resources to deal with humanity’s revolt. ‘It has only refused it’; but in refusing it, it has changed God’s mode of action on humanity. God is no less King because of humanity’s sin but that kingship takes another shape.
Forsyth goes on in another place to note how there are churches that seem to live in an atmosphere of affable bustle, where all is heart and nothing is soul, where people decay and worship dies. There is an activity which is an index of more vigour than faith, more haste than speed, more work than power. It is sometimes more inspired by the business passion of efficiency than the Christian passion of fidelity or adoration. Its aim is to make the concern go rather than to compass the Righteousness of God. We want to advance faster than faith can, faster than is compatible with the moral genius of the Cross, and the law of its permanent progress. We occupy more than we can hold. If we take in new ground we have to resort to such devices to accomplish it that the tone of religion suffers and the love or care for Christian truth. And the preacher, as he or she is often the chief of sinners in this respect, is also the chief of sufferers. And so we may lose more in spiritual quality than we gain in Church extension. In God’s name we may thwart God’s will. Faith, ceasing to be communion, becomes mere occupation, and the Church a scene of beneficent bustle, from which the Spirit flees. Religious progress outruns moral, and thus it ceases to be spiritual in the Christian sense, in any but a vague pious sense. Before long the going power flags, the petrol gives out on a desert.
A note: After 19 posts in this series on the Name (and with few more to come) I plan to take a break from this series for a bit. Still to come in the series includes posts on: God as witness, YHWH and Jesus, the hallowing of the Name, God’s name is ‘Father’. I will return to these in a wee while. For my next series of posts, I want to invite readers to develop a theological reading list with me. Until the next post …
Another note: Brevard Childs died at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Until his retirement in 1999, Childs was Sterling Professor of Divinity and Fellow of Davenport College, The Divinity School, Yale University, and author of Biblical Theology in Crisis, and great commentaries on The Book of Exodus and Isaiah (OTL). My friend here at St Andrews, Daniel Driver (not related to S R or G R Driver) is doing research on Childs and maintans a Child’s-related website here. Kevin has also posted an In Memorium here. (HT’s: Jim and Ben).
Also, Jim is currently revising and updating his fine book, Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott, and is considering adding a new chapter. As it stands the final chapter compares Martyn Lloyd Jones and John Stott. He asks, ‘If I were to write a further chapter, comparing and contrasting two contemporary leading Evangelicals, who should they be?’ A tough question. Jim is keen to hear suggestions. Got any? You can read (and respond to) his full post here.
Also, for those who haven’t seen it, there’s a video of Bill Hybels interviewing Bono on YouTube, beginning here.