Forsyth on Luther’s merit

luther-1‘Luther’s merit was not the heroism of his conscience, but the rediscovery of a new conscience beyond the natural, and beyond the institutional – whether canonical in the Church, or civil in the State. He found a conscience higher and deeper than the natural, the ecclesiastical, or the Political – the individual, the canonical, or the civil; more royal than culture, clergy, or crown. He found a conscience within the conscience. He found anew the evangelical conscience, whose ideal is not heroism at all, but the humility and obedience of the conscience itself, its lostness and its nothingness except as rescued and set on its feet by Christ, in whom no man is a hero, but every man a beggar for his life’. – Peter T. Forsyth, Rome, Reform and Reaction: Four Lectures on the Religious Situation (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1899), 121. 

Forsyth is aware that Christianity’s concern is not with the self-assertion or self-glorification of human nature, but with the redemption and reconstituting of wills. The conquered conscience recognises this ‘Another, greater and better … Who comes to us, gives Himself to us’ in such a way that we are enabled, in faith, to give ourselves to, and find ourselves in, him. There is, Forsyth avers, no higher relation possible to human persons. However, although faith consoles the conscience, it does not necessarily follow that the testimony of the gospel and the feeling of the conscience enter into some sort of harmony in faith. In fact, as Zachman notes in his brilliant study (The Assurance Of Faith: Conscience In The Theology Of Martin Luther And John Calvin), ‘in the experience of tribulation (Anfechtung), the opposition between the Word of God and the feeling of the conscience is intensified’ (p. 63; see also pp. 63-8, 80-7, 151, 182, 192, 198-203, 210-23, 226, 246). This is because, as Forsyth notes, the unconquerable relationship between conscience and Conscience entails the acquisition of a new and final authority:

The prime question of religion is not, “How do I stand to the spiritual universe?” but “How shall I stand before my Judge?” The last authority must be the authority owned by the conscience, and required by the sinful, guilty conscience of a race. It is the authority of a Saviour … One whose absolute property we are … It is the authority of the moral absolute, of the holy, which stands over us and changes us from self-satisfaction to self-scrutiny, self-knowledge, and self-humiliation in the presence of the righteousness loving and eternal. (Peter T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority in Relation to Certainty, Sanctity and Society: An Essay in the Philosophy of Experimental Religion (London: Independent Press, 1952) 303-4; cf. pp. 400; Peter T. Forsyth, The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ (Blackwood: New Creation Publications, 1987) 55-6.)

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